How Kanye’s ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ Introduced Me to Hip-Hop

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Sometimes you hear an album and suddenly everything you thought you knew about music goes out the window.

Kanye
Album art by George Condo

In 2010 I was that kid who was raised on classic rock and turned his nose up at hip-hop. I enjoyed indie and I’d just begun to get my feet wet in the Philly music scene with the likes of Dr. DogMan Man, and The Extraordinaires. When I came across MBDTF I’d only dabbled in rap, “Big Poppa,” “California Lovevery intermediate stuff.

I was introduced to the album almost by accident. A few of my older friends were crowded around a school-sponsored laptop while “Lost in the World” was playing. I’d heard For EmmaForever and Blood Bank, so I asked if it was a Bon Iver remix — they laughed and shook their heads. “C’mon man… it’s the new Kanye.”

Kanye? He was that guy who wrote “Gold Digger,” ruined a Daft Punk song and who told the world that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” I rolled my eyes when he jumped on stage at the VMAs and laughed in agreement when Obama called him a jackass. I didn’t know any better.

“You might think you’ve peeped the scene/You haven’t/The real one’s far too mean…”

I enjoyed the few tracks my friends played before the bell rang and didn’t pay it much mind. But like any kid who figured out how to use Mediafire, I had money on my iTunes account, so I bought the album a few days later. The first four tracks instantly melted away any doubt in my mind. “Dark Fantasy,” “Gorgeous,” “POWER,” “All of the Lights.” It was a high. It was operatic and tough — I’d never heard anything like it before. I don’t think anyone had.

How I looked listening to MBDTF for the first time…probably

This music didn’t sound like T-Pain or Flo Rida or 50 Cent. It wasn’t radio rap. It was a wall of sound and artistry: deep, genre-spanning.

“What’s a Black Beatle anyway/A fuckin’ roach?/ I guess that’s why they got me sittin’ in fuckin’ coach.”

Sometimes you hear an album and suddenly everything you thought you knew about music goes out the window.

My attention focused on the nine-minute ballad “Runaway,” the album’s most introspective, jaunty, and beautiful proclamation of braggadocio: Let’s have a toast for the douchebags/ let’s have a toast for the assholes. The song is abrasive, ending with three minutes of Kanye scream-singing unintelligibly into a voice modulator. And it’s one of his most addictive songs to date.

When MBDTF dropped on iTunes, it was accompanied by a full-length film: “Runaway.” Filmed over the course of four days in Prague, it serves as a compilation and companion to nearly every song on the album. I won’t ruin it, but if you haven’t seen it, you should; and if you’ve already seen it, watch it again. It’s just as fun as you remember.

 

Fast forward a month or so and my idea of a “totally sick night” was cruising the suburbs in my friend’s Toyota Camry blasting every track on the album on repeat until 11 p.m. (she only had a junior license). We eventually broke her car speakers.

If you asked me in 2010 what my favorite song on the album was, I would say “Monster,” unequivocally. A Rick Ross intro, the HOV verse, more Bon Iver, and arguably the greatest 32 bars of all time, brought to you by Nicki Minaj.

Kanye’s solo verses were impressive without a doubt, but his use of features, style variation, his incorporation of classical music, thunderous guitar solos, and daring multimedia showed me how genius hip-hop music could be. I needed more. I dove headfirst into Kanye’s older work, finally seeing the art in a genre I discarded for years. Kanye led me to A Tribe Called Quest, J Dilla, Lauryn Hill, Common, and Mos Def. And from there I found Outkast, Lupe Fiasco, and Kid Cudi.

“Malcolm West had the whole nation standing at attention.”

MBDTF has aged beautifully and occupies the coveted fourth slot in my car’s 6-CD changer. So if you ask me now, in 2018, what my favorite song off of MBDTF is, I would have to say “Devil In a New Dress (although “Gorgeous is the best Kanye verse). The Smokey Robinson-sampling track is so tight that Rick Ross — who’s featured — made his own music video for the song. Are you kidding me? Hands down the best Rick Ross verse of all time. Not to mention Kanye’s timeless quotes, “I ordered ya jerk/ She said you are what you eat,” and, “Hard to be humble when you’re stuntin’ on the JumboTron.

MBDTF appropriately ends with “Who Will Survive In America,” an excerpt from a Gil Scott Heron poem. Much like MBDTF, these words that were written in 1970, yet bleed through today, they are perennial and generation-spanning.

“What does Webster say about soul?
All I want is a good home and a wife
And a children and some food to feed them every night
After all is said and done, build a new route to China if they’ll have you.”

Sure, MBDTF is a “masterpiece” and “brilliant” but it’s also wildly accessible. It means so much more to me — and I’m sure many others — than a 10.0 on Pitchfork. MBDTF signifies a shift in my musical tastes and mirrors a shift in hip-hop on a larger scale…but that’s for another article.

Listen to the album here.

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