Kanye's Symphony of Me

John Durkee is a better reviewer than me, case in point, the awesome look at the self-centered Kanye West below. Some of you may know him as “beef” from the Decapolis messageboard, but to most of you he is simply an enigma. Enjoy this guest review and the first new content of 2011!

I can’t decide which is more remarkable, the quality of Kanye West’s beats or the size of his ego? Granted, that’s par for the course in a genre already replete with stratospheric levels of self-aggrandization compared to the others. (Can you imagine Nigel Godrich screaming out his name on a Radiohead album?) But Kanye’s arrogance is in a class of its own.

This may seem pretty obvious in all respects, but with Fantasy containing as many musical guest performances and production credits as it does, it’s difficult to see how so many people could gather to produce a piece of work so solitary in scope as one man’s virility. Yet, West develops a personal Symphony of Me; a record so full of self- indulgence, insecurity, and fear, yet blanketed and bursting with enough bravado to wonder how anyone else could occupy the same studio as his massive ego. His previous records contained the same type of bluster and almost child-like naïveté in its approach to subjects giant in scope yet containing laughable missteps. (Comparing his need of Jesus
to Kathy Lee’s needing of Regis comes to mind. Last I checked Kathy Lee is doing fine.)

What’s different about this record is where Kanye found himself before it. 808s and Heartbreak was a breakup record mixed with very strong feelings of despair after the loss of his mother. When he started to record the current album there was an idea of a triumphant return to his previously more heralded sound. Even the album’s working title, Good Ass Job, was a reference to the string of early life-change-oriented titles, and a statement that the record would be a return to form. Then the Taylor Swift incident occurred. To everyone else in the world it was merely confirming what was already known: Kanye West is a self-absorbed child who doesn’t think about his decisions. Yet the media wave that happened afterwards was something Kanye didn’t see coming. Watch the interviews that he has done afterwards, not to mention his immediate and long hiatus afterward (including canceling a co-headlining tour with Lady Gaga, what could have easily been career-altering moves for both stars) and you can plainly see his shock that the world thought so poorly of him.

Kanye said he was going to work on being more humble, but his record just shows more boasting. In “Runaway” he revels in the title of “douche bag” as he sings a toast as if it’s to the entire world rather than his own self. He further strokes his massive ego to such masturbatory heights he proclaims he’s “on his own dick” in the appropriately titled “Power.” Yet even that latter song references a desire for suicide. Throughout the album West shows an amalgam of opposing feelings or ideologies: “Devil in a New Dress” complains about having to wait for the consummation of a romantic relationship while throwing righteous indignation against this same lover for succumbing to temptation and demanding that she answer to Satan. “Blame Game” references a back-and-forth relationship, and features the most harrowing moments of any Kanye West song. In it he uses all kinds of vocal effects to change the pace and flow of his rap that’s uncomfortable and borderline demoralizing, but immediately follows this strikingly powerful scene to throw in a series of admittedly funny, but ridiculously salacious guest
appearance by Chris Rock.

Fantasy also showcases Kanye’s improvement as a producer in his use of guest vocalists and vocal effects to make the most dramatic statements. The hushed and bombastic entrance of the album is strengthened by the backing chorus provided by Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and elsewhere the cinematic lines of “All of the Lights” as sung by Rihanna, while the most drama is exemplified in the uncharacteristic cracks found in John Legend’s voice during “Blame Game.”

It often occurs that excellent skill in rhyming is confused with skilled story-telling or philosophizing. Kanye has at times in his career had this same experience, normally because a theme can be found within his albums almost in spite of his inconsistent emcee skills. However, his production techniques exhibit a control and precision that he is incapable in his actual life.

Kanye’s ability to impart a theme through Fantasy is shown in his numerous references to light. In “All of the Lights,” he tells the story of a belligerent and promise-breaking abuser who is exposed by “the lights”. When he realizes his plight he implores his ex to use all of the lights to expose his imperfections and learn from them in order to repair his broken family. When it seems like Kanye is on the road to responsibility, the very next song, “Monster,” begins with the line “I shoot the lights out,” as if to completely abandon any desire to accept responsibility for actions and return to more incessant bragging. The next several tracks follow suit. For example, “Hell of a Life,” embraces the idea of a contrived and fake lifestyle as a porn star because they are exposed for all they are since they “f— with the lights on.” The last song “Lost in the World” proclaims to “run from the lights” and “run for your life.” Apparently responsibility is only something that will catch up to you if you stop long enough to let it.

Ultimately this is the biggest strength and failure of Fantasy. “All of the Lights,” while the record’s highest point, is the only song that isn’t exclusively about him and evidence that he is capable of making a more transcendent record. Regrettably, the rest is Kanye’s true self. A man that is willing to say anything and everything in his mind whether it is wise or not; a man that likes the idea of being held responsible for actions, but would prefer to run away from them.

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~ by thepaintedman on January 16, 2011.

2 Responses to “Kanye's Symphony of Me”

  1. wow, i think he’s the first person i’ve seen think the chris rock skit was funny. i think that’s by far the weakest point of the album, and the only part i skip. also, kathy lee is not doing fine on her own.

  2. […] Which Came First, the Talent or the Ego? 1.0 ReTread […]

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