Could he get much higher?
The Basement’s Record Container
This is the first of a series looking at the history of some of music’s most influential albums, documented by our own Phil Calvert. Phil will be looking at a diverse mix of music every week, giving us a deeper understanding about the thought and creative process behind the albums, and what makes them so great. The first of the series will be looking at Kanye West’s ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’.
Could he get much higher?
You wouldn’t have thought so. By now Yeezy had touched the sky & walked with Jesus. He’d straddled the line between popularity & credibility with a confidence few have matched before or since. But this, along with the sudden loss of his mother and a multitude of legal wrangles, was all taking its toll in a way that became manifest in his now infamous outburst at the 2009 MTV awards. The College Dropout needed to dropout. Never one to travel alone he decamped to Hawaii, bringing his favourite producers & artists on what was to be far from a ‘holiday’.
The writing, sessions & recording for ‘Fantasy’ became a 24 hour carousel of ideas, with participants sleeping in small shifts while others beavered away. Kanye seemingly able to flit from one partially formed idea to the next as each contributor was ‘on shift’.
This ‘block party’ attitude to the recording process certainly shows in what was and arguably still is Kanye’s most flamboyant long player. It seemed to take in all of the revolving styles of his previous work, mash them together, then decide it could still use…..MORE. I’ve always had a fond image in my head comparing Kanye to Christopher Walken’s famous ‘Cow bell’ skit on SNL, although instead of him constantly interrupting, bemoaning the lack of bovine tracking devices, it would be, “Needs more high school marching band!”.
If the music on show here reflected the decadence that had become synonymous with Kanye’s lifestyle, and Hip Hop/pop culture in general, then the lyrics carried this approach forward. One huge meditation on celebrity, it also lifted a curtain on ‘The Biggest Ego In Music’s’ insecurities. At times almost admitting that all this self aggrandising was ultimately futile and empty. Kicking off with Nicki Minaj doing her best Helena Bonham-Carter impression, Kanye presents his work like a fairy tale, but like all the best children’s stories, there’s horror to be found under Grandma’s bed sheets.
This Kanye, this Yeezy, had come a long way from the giant teddy bear suit, the goofy sweaters, the backpack and the between song skits. This was a man equal parts aware of his own mortality and in control of his own destiny. ‘The Biggest Ego In Music’ had not only emerged from his own personal and public meltdowns intact, he had gained a self awareness that transcended criticism. Not that it needed to. Fans and critics alike took ‘Fantasy’ straight into their hearts and minds. Try looking for a bad review of the album. Try finding a 2010 year end list where it doesn’t feature. It seemed, he really was ‘doin’ somethin’ mean to it, do[in’] it better than anyone you ever seen do it’.
So, COULD he get much higher? In a genre formed from the simplest of necessary components, a beat, a voice and a head for rhymes, Kanye has demonstrated an adeptness for constant evolution, and (more importantly for the listener) surprise. Coming off the back of a series of events that would have spelt the end of many careers, Yeezy brushed himself off in the sunshine of Hawaii and delivered his ‘Tour de Force’. Graduation was over, and the real world had a sting to it. It was dark, it was twisted, but it could certainly be beautiful.
Written by Philip Calvert, edited by Daniel Hawksworth