Deep into Dark Twisted Fantasy, long after it needs to be stated, a voice cuts into “Blame Game” and announces, “You fittin’ to see a mogul get emotional.” As with many of the samples on Kayne West’s fifth opus, the audio quality is blown out and distorted, like a radio transmission to a cosmonaut. Or a voice in a crazy person’s head.
Over the course of this dense, angry and mercurial epic, West compares himself to a pharaoh, Ali, Michael Jackson and LeBron James. The last analogy is particularly apt, as Fantasy, like “The Decision,” is a new manifestation of ego, wherein power is thinly veiled as selflessness. West and James “humbly” surrounding themselves with all-stars (a staggering 20-plus guests pop up alongside Ye) merely underlines their ability to be the center of attention, the king of the game.
Yet it isn’t West’s considerable mic skills (say, rhyming “sarcophagus,” “esophagus” and “swallowship”) and penchant for a punch line that rocket the Chicagoan above the competition. The star is legitimately vulnerable and willing to share his doubts, delusions and fetishes. What makes him so insufferable in person, his lack of a filter, is what makes his music so captivating. In individual songs, conflicting emotions bump uglies. A beautiful breakup number carries a Chris Rock bit about “reupholstering a pussy”; the plaintive closer grows into a political rant; suicidal thoughts close the chest-beating, self-flagellating centerpiece, “Power.”
As a producer, West is unparalleled. Aphex Twin, King Crimson, Black Sabbath and pomo hipster folk are effortlessly incorporated into his established milieu of dusty loops, chilly synths and 808s’ beats. Where his first two records mined soul, here the beat-maker reaches for prog and art-rock. Yes, each track runs on. Sure, the B-side “Chain Heavy” should have replaced a mix-tape exercise like “So Appalled.” But the ups and downs are part of the story. Best bro Kid Cudi, who appears here twice, recently released a moody epic of his drug addiction. If that is rap’s The Wall, Kanye’s cinematic counterpart is nothing short of the genre’s Dark Side of the Moon.