Advanced Copy: Kanye West

Who is your Kanye West? Is he your clown, your punching bag, your hero, your savior, your ringtone?

What is it about Kanye that makes him such an intriguing character? It’s been six years since “The College Dropout,” and we still have yet to get a grasp on it. Is it the national TV blowups and other various tabloid dramas? Have we all forgotten about the music? It’s easy to misjudge Yeezy’s discography due to his narcissism, but as much as Kanye may need to change some of his terrible habits, maybe it’s time for us to grow up, too. 

Kanye has become a cultural icon who demands perfection, and thanks to him, every Friday is a “G.O.O.D.” one. On the outside, he has an aura of a Greek god in his flashy suits and extra large gold chains, but on the inside, there is a troubled mind filled with incessant demons. And these demons are the ones that have brought Kanye back down to earth in recent years, making him the “abomination of Obama’s nation.” Yet, every time Kanye West speaks, we listen, and when he makes a toast to all the scumbags in “Runaway,” you know he means himself, and in turn you raise your glass with him. 

His new album, appropriately titled “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” is a far cry from the days when giant Teddy Bears graced his album covers. Kanye raps about the devil, religion, his troubled relationships with women and his past blunders. Through all his self-loathing and satanic wonderings, it’s about as honest, artistic and masterful as Kanye has ever been. 

Kanye starts off the album with Nicki Minaj’s caustic nursery rhyme on “Dark Fantasy,” rapping about his hometown (“I fantasized about this back in Chicago / Mercy, mercy me, that Murcielago”) over an old-school beat. It’s about as basic as Kanye gets on this album, along with “Hell of a Life” in which Kanye raps over a stalking fuzz bass line.

“This is more than my road to redemption,” Kanye writes in the smokey vibe of “Gorgeous,” and perhaps the album is more than anyone else could’ve guessed. Although his flow sounds much like the confident Kanye of old, his artistic ambitions expand his horizons. He collaborates with folk artist Bon Iver on both “Monster” and “Lost in the World,” inserts an odd Chris Rock cameo on “Blame Game,” uses progressive rock’s King Crimson in his samples on “Power” and even stretches the hit “Runaway” with a long vocoder solo that sounds very much Robert Fripp-like. There is a new take on “Devil in a New Dress” (one of the tracks West released for free earlier via his website), which now features rapper Rick Ross and a smooth guitar solo that complements the dreamy background nicely. 

Kanye reaches new heights on “All of the Lights,” which is arguably the biggest and best track he’s ever recorded. The star-studded track features a whole slew of artists, including Rihanna, KiD CuDi, John Legend, the Dream and even a piano solo from Elton John. It is Kanye’s “Viva La Vida” moment on this album — one of euphoria, if you will — and when the percussion kicks in, it is pure bliss. 

So who is your Kanye West now? One thing is for sure: Kanye West doesn’t care anymore, because “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” doesn’t cater to any notion of himself. Hip-hop music as a genre and a culture will forever be in Kanye’s debt because he is its savior. 

After all these years of hip-hop, only Kanye West has learned from his predecessors, and only he has the drive — the ambition — to be an artist and to record music worthy of critical acclaim without sacrificing any credibility. Even the worst moments on this album (albeit not many at all) make everything else that’s out there today in hip-hop seem juvenile, and when Kanye is at his best, there is nothing else. The thing is, Kanye isn’t trying to be perfect on this album; he just wants to be honest with himself and with us. So perhaps, by being imperfect, Kanye West has somehow even topped himself.