Kanye West reigns as pop culture’s preeminent wild card. He’s the glitch in the matrix, a mad genius who transforms just about everything he does, from Tweeting to attending awards shows to doing interviews, into crazed performance art. West has made going too far a core element of his aesthetic. He’s an artist who lives forever on the edge of embarrassment and public humiliation. On My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, his fifth album and much-ballyhooed return to hip-hop following the moody, Auto-Tuned electro-pop of 808s & Heartbreak, the rapper/producer/visionary seems perpetually on the verge of giving in to darkness and anarchy. He’s the kind of libertine who needs to live on the knife’s edge just to feel alive, and Fantasy is gloriously alive.
The darkly funny, boldly introspective, and characteristically fame-obsessed Fantasy is the album Lil Wayne’s misbegotten Rebirth should have been: a rock album in spirit (and sometimes sound) with an unimpeachable commitment to sex, drugs, and electric guitars. West’s vision is best exemplified by the terrific single “Power,” which soars to adrenaline-fueled heights on the strength of urgent, stomping percussion, serpentine electric guitar, and a show-stopping sample of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man.” Fantasy oscillates between manic highs and depressive lows emotionally, as West and his collaborators create sounds big and cinematic enough to house all that mad-prophet ambition. With a few exceptions, West leaves the Auto-Tune in cold storage while he trades verses with the few superstars fit to breathe his rarified air, including Jay-Z, Rick Ross, and Nicki Minaj, who single-handedly justifies her deafening buzz with her verse on “Monster.” Kanye’s best album since The College Dropout, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy finds its creator in complete control of the chaos swirling inside his vivid imagination.