Beer & Vinyl: Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

"...One fuck of a party in Mordor."

Cover Art
Artist Kanye West
Album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Label Roc-A-Fella
Year 2010

Now that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a Grammy-winning album (rap album of the year) I feel like saying things.  First of all, I want to ask how a fifteen month old album wins a Grammy this year.  Almost every review of MBDTF that I’ve read uses the word “opus” or “masterpiece” and I just don’t know about that, man.  Not to say that I don’t love Kanye West, because I love him way too much.  That’s something I’ve been actively processing since I was in college.  MBDTF is a superb album, one that any fan of music and hip hop should find a way to appreciate in some way.  Reviewing a Kanye West album seems kind of silly to me at this point.  The dude is huge and my opinions on his latest album aren’t likely to change your life.  So, instead, I’m going to share with you my personal history of Kanye West love leading up to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  Mr. West stands at number five on my top ten last.fm list, and I own a vinyl copy of MBDTF; so, as long as I continue to enjoy beer I will be qualified to write this article.

When I was nineteen I bought The College Dropout at Target because it was cheap and I liked the video for “Through the Wire.”  Eventually I began to love the album viciously, like a pet.  I can’t talk to you enough about The College Dropout.  It was where I was: failing at Fresno State and living with my mom.  I was sick of getting pushed around by my greasy boss at Pizza Hut and I bumped the shit out of TCD every night on the job delivering pizzas for that dude.  The stock speakers on my ’91 accord never recovered and neither did I.  “Last Call” might be my favorite song ever and “All Falls Down” still brings me near tears, as it should you.

I spent the year-plus between TCD and Late Registration trying to justify my Kanye love to my friends as well as myself.  It felt weird to listen to and love a mainstream rap album.  I tried my best to point out Kanye’s earnestness and enthusiasm as they wasted time with the (then) new Modest Mouse album, but it was to no avail.  I never was able to convince the small world around me that a platinum rap album featuring Jay-Z and Cedric The Entertainer could be an enriching and rewarding experience.   My love for Kanye remained personal and private, and when Freshman Adjustment came out it was all over for me, there was no turning back. I needed Kanye in my life.  By the time the actual LP of Late Registration leaked on the internet I was in love with Kanye West.

Graduation (9/11/2007) was a comeback album for me since, at the time, it had been the longest Kanye had gone without an album.  It was in many ways a complete departure from the “College” theme of the first two records.  It didn’t follow the same formula: no skits, no Cedric the Entertainer,  and it was less than 18 tracks.  Looking back, even though I know it was supposed to be the conclusion of the “College” theme, I now wonder if anything other than the title and opening track “Good Morning” had anything to do with that theme.  The album cover showed Kanye’s bear mascot launching off into the stratosphere away from school and there were songs about going back home.  It seems like Kanye West had Senioritis and was ready to move on before Graduation was even recorded.

That brings us (you? me?) to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: 2010′s album of the year on many lists (not mine) and (allegedly) Kanye West’s “Grand Masterpiece.”  It’s funny to even call it a Kanye West album, as he handed the production over to others on several tracks and had so many guest stars that reading the liner notes feels like fan-fiction.  I think of this record as a “Kanye West presents:” release.  There’s not a single song that features only Kanye, and on most of the songs he is viciously upstaged by his guests.  Even “Devil in a New Dress” and “Runaway,” (which feature Kanye by himself almost throughout their entirety) are burnt to the ground due to last-minute guest verses by Rick Ross and Pusha T, respectively.

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Forgive me, my thoughts on this album are about as jumbled and overcooked as the record itself.  Graduation came out more than three years before MBDTF.  In that span of time Kanye tragically lost his mom and seemed to have lost his mind as evidenced by several well-publicized events (e.g. the Taylor Swift incident).  He also kinda swore off rapping and made a bizarre and depressing electro album.  I watched patiently and ignored 808s and Heartbreaks (Although I have retroactively come to love it in my own weird way) as Kanye guest-versed on a lot of other people’s songs.  He seemed to still be able to rap, which kept my faith alive.  When it was announced that he was working on a “return to rap” album I was thrilled.  I had my Kanye back.  I know that, initially, the album was going to be called A Good Ass Job which gave me chills because it referenced “Graduation Day” from The College Dropout.

I’m no longer confused but don’t tell anybody.
I’m about to break the rules but don’t tell anybody.
I got something better than school but don’t tell anybody.
My momma would kill me but don’t anybody.
She wants me to get a good ass job just like everybody.
She ain’t walked in my shoes I’m just not everybody.

It seems logical to move on from three college themed albums to an album about having “a good ass job.”  Referencing the past while moving on to the future seemed like the best thing for Kanye to do as an artist, or at least the best thing for him to do for his fans.  Somewhere along the line the album title changed to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and I think it’s a more fitting title for the album that it is.  There’s not much point in connecting yourself to your past if you’re going to move on completely.  That’s what Kanye West did with this album; he moved on completely, embracing the role of superstar and cultural anti-hero rather than attempting to do what so many artists end up embarrassing themselves doing, “getting back to their roots.”

To put it geekily, Kanye West must have realized that there was no going back to The Shire, so he decided to throw one fuck of a party in Mordor (and invite all of his friends).

To put it jockily, Kanye West − like Tom Brady − has embraced his role as a villain and all but forgotten he was once a beloved underdog.

To put it surrealistically, flip flop bloogy bloo && toilet?  No!

Sorry…

There was a really awesome article in Complex about this album that was printed late in 2010 that gave an in depth look at the way My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was recorded.  Kanye West just posted up in a studio out in Hawaii and had people come out to record with him one by one over the course of I-forgot-how-long.  The studio had all these weird rules like no sleeping, no acoustic guitars, and no hipster hats.  He pushed everyone to give everything they had and go all out for him.  Justin Vernon was out there for some reason and ended up re-using a vocal line for the third time in “Lost in the World,” (used previously on both Bon Iver and Volcano Choir releases) as well as awkwardly outro-ing “Monster”.  I don’t remember if Kanye had literally everyone that recorded anything on the album do it in Hawaii because that would seriously be staggering, have you seen how many people sing on “All of the Lights”?  There’s, like, literally twelve people on that song including fucking Fergie.

I’m still not sure what I think of the album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. There’s a lot of stuff to process, emotionally, for me and there’s a lot of bias to attempt to put aside.  Pitchfork gave this album a perfect score and everyone cared.  I don’t know, though.  It seems like no matter what kinds of reviews this album had received a lot of people would have freaked out about it.  Kanye West is such a room-splitter.  Everyone seems to have a really strong opinion about him, and most of those people really don’t know shit about him− good or bad.  His approach to music has always been so ridiculously personal and unfiltered.  He’s flawed and perfect at the same time.  The only other rapper I can compare to him as far as putting a personal touch on everything is Drake (Who beat out My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to claim my personal album of the year spot in 2010).  But I don’t want to talk about Drake (well, yes I do… but I will not).

Anyway, this isn’t really about Kanye West, it is about this beer and this vinyl.  Playing three records is a huge chore, honestly.  But it forces you, the listener, to pay attention because you are going to have to go to the record player 5 times to change or flip a record in order to complete this experience.  The gigantic red packaging comes with three records and a really big poster that features complete credits for the album.  The front cover of the record is an empty frame and there are several large cards that you can alternate to function as the record’s cover art. The packaging of the album is basically the deluxe edition CD (which I bought at 9:00 AM at Target the day it came out, mind you) with records instead of a CD, and it doesn’t come with a DVD.  I wish I had the hardware to listen to this record at half-speed because my favorite way to listen to this record (as well as my favorite way to listen to most records) is with the pitch adjusted -10%.  I used to fuck with my cassette copy of Batman Forever’s soundtrack so I could listen to Method Man at double speed, and when I play “Monster” at 45rpms I am reminded of those days.

I do important things.

THE BEER: North Coast, Brother Thelonious

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Brother Thelonious is a very dark Belgian Style Abbey Ale from North Coast Brewery in Fort Bragg, CA. For every bottle of the beer sold, North Coast makes a donation to the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz. The bottle looks like a fucking wine bottle, complete with a cork. What an impressive little thing this bottle is. Wow, and the ABV is 9.4%. I chose this beer in an effort to connect a beer to the album and artist about which I am writing, and am drinking it for the first time. It is very thick and malty, with a great mixture of Belgian and American style. Robust and ambitious works of beer and music collide here tonight, friends. If this column was called “Vinyl & Alcohol” I might have picked Grey Goose, or Rosé. But, staying true to the column, I went with something as dark, complex, sweet, and wonderful as Kanye West’s exhausting brain.

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