Can We Get Much Higher? — A Round Table on Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” (Floodwatch)

Kanye West’s pretzels are making Floodwatch thirsty. As anyone with a pulse and an Internet connection will tell you, we are in the midst of the Yeezyocalypse. Today is the dawn of Armageddon...
By    November 24, 2010

Kanye West’s pretzels are making Floodwatch thirsty.

As anyone with a pulse and an Internet connection will tell you, we are in the midst of the Yeezyocalypse. Today is the dawn of Armageddon and already My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has received more critical fellating than any record since Kid A dropped a decade ago. My feeble voice of dissent in this whole spectacle will be akin to shouting into a hurricane. I’m content with that.

Based on the acclaim heaped upon this 68-minute behemoth, one could hardly be faulted for thinking that we’ve been blessed with a What’s Going On for our era, a landmark artistic achievement that will become more cherished and timeless with each passing year. Debating the album’s importance, even on its date of release, is an exercise in folly; the pundits and tastemakers have covered that ground for us already. What matters is the emotional resonance that exists between MBDTF and you, the listener. For me, that connection is about as intimate as an undiscovered life form in another galaxy.

Not that any of this should come as a shocking revelation. Kanye West’s music lost all relevance to me years ago. I tolerated him in the past because I felt his shortcomings as a musician were compensated by his candor as a human being. As a rapper, his lyricism (I’m being generous here) was clunky and awkward at best, but you could forgive his flat punchlines and pedestrian rhyme schemes because he was clearly having a good time and seemed to genuinely believe in what he was doing. But somewhere around Graduation I jumped ship, and didn’t even bother to rubberneck past the electro-plop train wreck that was 808s. Like most listeners, I have to relate to an artist at some level in order to appreciate and enjoy their work and it generally starts with likability, which Mr. West lost somewhere around the time that Rolling Stone cover hit the newsstands. Now I regard him as little more than a media whore, an attention-grabbing blowhard devoid of reason, taste, or modesty.

Look, I renounced my faith in hip hop years ago, so I’ll spare you some weak-assed attempt at placing MBDTF within its context, or even that of contemporary pop music’s. My ears may not be as sharp as they were ten years ago but they can still recognize a forward-thinking envelope-pusher when they hear one, and I’m here to tell you that this ain’t one of them. Kanye West isn’t breaking the mold of the Assembly-Line Pop Artist here. He’s not spearheading a musical revolution. Grandiose does not equal groundbreaking (see: Arcade Fire, The). It’s critical as experienced listeners that we recognize the distinction between the two. (You want a taste of the future? It’s called Nuclear Evolution: The Age of Love and it was released last year by Sa-Ra Creative Partners. Only about six people bothered to give it a listen.) Scores of bands and artists have raised the bar for pop music in the past half-century but they’ve done it with style, class, and intelligence. I hear exactly zero of those characteristics in this record.

MBDTF is an exhausting experience, one of those headaches that begins throbbing behind your retinas and eventually extends to the base of your skull. There is no subtlety to it; from its introductory moments, it’s a full-on sonic assault for over an hour. Everything is maximized to battering-ram intensity. Somewhere around “Power” the ear canal eventually succumbs to the aural gang-rape and begins to discern its ugly, contemptible features through the layers of digital distortion: auto-tuned abortions (“Hell of a Life,” “Lost in the World”), tasteless tip-of-the-hats to “douchebags” and “assholes” (“Runaway”), bizarre altered-universe appearances from RZA-as-mongoloid (“So Appalled”) and an irritating mid-pass-filter-Raekwon (“Gorgeous”), numerous song lengths that expire three to four minutes past their sell-by dates, and piano etudes that sound like they were penned by an eight-year-old (“All of the Lights”). It’s a mess, a kaleidoscopic nightmare overflowing with too much of everything and steered off the edge of the cliff by Kanye’s unchecked ego, misguided ambition, and limitless resources.

Kanye West and his music perfectly encapsulate everything that is fundamentally wrong with pop music and pop culture right now. It’s the reason why I occasionally gnash my teeth in my sleep, why I refuse to watch television anymore, and why my gaze never strays from my shopping cart when I’m standing in the checkout line at the market. It’s unwarranted and self-made celebrity; it’s endless, narcissistic self-isolation on a Facebook page. Its bloated, glitzy splendor is the equivalent of a gated subdivision full of vacant McMansions. It’s everything I’m trying to eliminate from my life in 2010: unnecessary noise and excess.

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