Kanye West re­de­fines pop

Rap star Kanye West’s as­ton­ish­ing new al­bum re­de­fines the world’s most pop­u­lar mu­sic.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - by neiL MccORMicK

IRE­ALLY feel that I am the tree and the peo­ple are the branches,” Kanye West re­cently de­clared. The 33-year-old rapper has never been renowned for mod­esty. Dur­ing an im­promptu ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion at a re­cent screen­ing for Run­away, a 40-minute art movie West has writ­ten, di­rected and starred in, he fired off procla­ma­tions of his own ge­nius, claimed he was on a mis­sion to bring “real cul­ture to pop cul­ture” and com­pared his new mu­sic to “the ab­stracted (sic) works of later Matisse and Pi­casso.”

West has long con­sid­ered him­self among the great­est pop artistes of our time. And now, pos­si­bly to the ir­ri­ta­tion of his many de­trac­tors, he is about to prove it.

Of­fi­cially re­leased to­day but al­ready widely leaked on the In­ter­net, West’s new al­bum, My Dark Twisted Fan­tasy, may be the Sgt Pep­per of hip hop. It’s an ex­tra­or­di­nary piece of work that (to quote a breath­less five-star Rolling Stone re­view) “goes for the grandeur of sta­dium rock, the all de­vour­ing son­ics of hip hop, the erotic gloss of disco – all of it, all of the time.”

At once de­mented and ut­terly in­spired, in this critic’s opin­ion, West is so far ahead of the field, he might as well be in a dif­fer­ent field al­to­gether.

Fol­low­ing an odd foray into Auto-Tuned min­i­mal­ist synth pop for 2008’s melan­cholic and touch­ing 808s & Heart­break, West has come crash­ing back into hip hop with an al­bum of such mu­si­cal and lyrical bold­ness, depth, emo­tion and ad­ven­ture that it pushes the bound­aries of what the world’s most pop­u­lar mu­si­cal genre can ac­tu­ally mean.

In one sense, it rep­re­sents a re­turn to hip hop’s ne­glected ba­sics, cre­at­ing tracks from sam­ples and us­ing them as a plat­form for ver­bal gym­nas­tics. But the eclec­ti­cism and in­ven­tive­ness of West’s mu­si­cal pal­ette leaves most pro­duc­ers in the shade as he con­structs crazed grooves by com­bin­ing un­likely sam­ples from sources as di­verse as soul leg­end Smokey Robin­son, Bri­tish progrock­ers King Crim­son and elec­tronic ex­per­i­men­tal­ist Aphex Twin.

Stack­ing cho­ruses with criss-cross­ing vo­cal har­monies, West’s in­nate melo­di­ous­ness and pop sen­si­bil­ity holds wildly dis­parate el­e­ments to­gether, con­stantly shift­ing the sonic dy­nam­ics with new shades of or­ches­tra­tion and in­stru­men­ta­tion on songs that seem to build to break­ing point then sud­den- ly veer left with sur­pris­ing co­das punchy enough to be hits in them­selves.

This is a shape-shift­ing al­bum that, even af­ter re­peated lis­tens, re­mains hard to pin down. At its cen­tre is West him­self, fir­ing off lyrics crammed with wit and emo­tion, un­der­pinned by anger both per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal.

Veer­ing be­tween guilt and pride, brag­gado­cio and self-loathing, My Dark Twisted Fan­tasy feels like an in­ti­mate, com­plex psy­cho­log­i­cal por­trait of a man all too aware of his own flaws yet para­dox­i­cally proud of the hu­man­ity in­her­ent in ac­knowl­edg­ing weak­ness.

West has been a con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure since he first rose to promi­nence in 2004, as likely to be in the news for in­tem­per­ate or narcissistic pub­lic out­bursts as his bold and ar­tic­u­late records. It says some­thing about his im­pact on pop cul­ture that two pres­i­dents have den­i­grated him. Ge­orge Bush called him “disgusting”, while bizarrely claim­ing in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy that West’s Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina crit­i­cism (“Bush doesn’t care about black peo­ple”) was the “low­est moment” of a pres­i­dency that in­cluded 9/11 and two bad wars.

Yet, to many, West’s im­pas­sioned com­ments about race and pol­i­tics show the star at his best. Pres­i­dent Obama, mean­while, was moved to call West “a jack­ass” fol­low­ing an in­ci­dent at the 2009 MTV awards when West stormed the stage, snatch­ing the mi­cro­phone from coun­try in­génue Tay­lor Swift to in­sist her award should have gone to his friend Bey­oncé.

While pre­vi­ous in­ci­dents and out­bursts had been treated in the spirit of com­edy, the bul­ly­ing of Swift was the moment when Amer­ica fi­nally seemed to tire of West’s al­most patho­log­i­cal ego­tism. The truth may be that he was al­ready in emo­tional free-fall fol­low­ing the sud­den death (dur­ing cos­metic surgery) of his mother and man­ager, Donda West, in 2007 and the break-up of his six-year re­la­tion­ship with fi­ancé Alexis Phifer in 2008.

Speak­ing re­cently, West hinted at a propen­sity for de­pres­sion, talk­ing of “cry­ing, nerves, break­downs.” As pub­lic opin­ion turned against him, West re­treated, keep­ing an un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally low pro­file for most of the past year. Yet he main­tained his worka­holic and per­fec­tion­ist ten­den­cies, with ven­tures into the world of fashion (with Louis Vuit­ton and Nike), the cre­ation of his first film (at once self-in­dul­gently pre­ten­tious and ex­traor­di­nar­ily gor­geous) and months in the stu­dio craft­ing his lat­est al­bum.

West’s dis­may at his in­creas­ingly neg­a­tive me­dia im­age seems to have in­spired a strat­egy to reach out di­rectly to fans, via Twit­ter and other so­cial me­dia. He has been giv­ing mu­sic away, leak­ing his al­bum on­line one track at a time, and for­go­ing press in­ter­views for pub­lic en­coun­ters, such as his re­cent ap­pear­ance at the Run­away screen­ing in London.

West got up to make a few re­marks and re­mained on stage for more than two hours of mind-bog­gling mono­logue in which he dropped such gems as “hip hop is like black se­men. Any­thing it con­nects with be­comes black.” As out­landish and provoca­tive as we have come to ex­pect, when watch­ing West in per­son, the vul­ner­a­bil­ity be­neath his ego­tism is all too ap­par­ent. He cuts a brit­tle fig­ure, fast-talk­ing, hy­per­ac­tive, bug-eyed with in­ten­sity, his mind ob­vi­ously rac­ing, his emo­tions close to the sur­face. It is not hard to imag­ine him crash­ing from this hyper state into the de­pres­sion he al­luded to.

Like Bowie or Prince in their prime, West may not be the biggest-sell­ing artiste of his time, but he is the one who has the bravado to push his tal­ent to its lim­its.

His am­bi­tion, he says, is to “crash the art world and the pop world to­gether”. A mas­ter­piece seems a good place to start. – © The Daily Tele­graph UK 2010 n Kanye West’s My Dark Twisted Fan­tasy is re­leased by Uni­ver­sal Mu­sic Malaysia.

On a mis­sion: Kanye West has long con­sid­ered him­self among the great­est pop artistes of our time. And now, with the re­lease of My DarkTwist­edFan­tasy (pic left), he seems about to prove it.

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