Sound: After the supposed flop of 808s & Heartbreak and the Taylor Swift controversy, Kanye has responded with an album that lyrically reflects on love, egoism and insecurity. Musically, Dark Fantasy mixes in Kanye's previous work in sampling vocals, as well as featuring some electronica and orchestral arrangements. Whilst the sampling of King Crimson and Aphex Twin has caused some minor controversy from fans, Kanye's guest artists (including Kid Cudi, Raekwon, Alicia Keys and Bon Iver)help the songs stand out (it should be noted that each track features more than one producer, highlighting the collaborative effort. In previous albums, there have been some tracks that Kanye has solely produced).
Dark Fantasy is a hip-hop record, however the track 'Gorgeous' features some guitar work mimicking the melody of the chorus. 'Power' contains the King Crimson sample of '21st Century Schizoid Man', and 'Lost in the World' features samples of 'The Woods' by Bon Iver. Dark Fantasy relies on various samples and guest artists who make this album great (Kid Cudi on 'Gorgeous' is one example, and the excerpt from Gil Scott Heron's 'Comment #1' makes an interesting song in 'Who Will Survive in America'). Whilst Kanye isn't the best rapper, the compositions stand out in reflecting his lyrical content. 'Runaway' is a 9-minute song featuring lengthy intervals on the piano, and a 3-minute 'auto-tune solo' (supposedly by Kanye) is a nice addition (although fans have had mixed views on this, it really depends on the individual). The album brilliantly starts off with 'Dark Fantasy' and continues this brilliance for most of the time. Each track does stand out, however I found myself a bit bored with 'Devil in a New Dress' and 'Hell of a Life'. Not to say that they're bad tracks on their own, but that is just how I feel whenever I listen to the album. Overall, Dark Fantasy impresses musically, making music innovations in hip-hop by drawing on other music genres. I've never heard a hip-hop album sound like this before. // 9
Lyrics: The best of Kanye's lyrics make reference to his 'shattered ego' if you like, and this is especially seen in 'Dark Fantasy', 'Power' and 'Runaway'. 'Dark Fantasy' reflects the nature of most Emcee's with the line 'me found bravery in my bravado'. 'Power' touches on Kanye's reflection on the backlash he received for the Taylor Swift controversy (he comes up with the clever line 'They say I was the abomination of Obama's nation / Well, that's a pretty bad way to start a conversation'. 'Runaway' reflects on Kanye's egoism, with the chorus featuring lines such as 'Let's have a toast for the douchebags / Let's have a toast for the assholes', with the chorus concluding on 'Baby I got a plan / Run away fast as you can'. On the other hand, Kanye's lyrics do feature some chauvinistic lines, seen in 'All of the Lights': 'I slapped my girl / She called the feds'. This type of attitude is evident in 'Monster' with the lyrics 'Have you ever had sex with a pharaoh / I put the pussy in sarcophagus / Now she claiming that I bruise her oesophagus'. Whilst this didn't put me off personally (I found it a bit amusing), this may put some people off. But I suppose that this is all part of the 'Dark Twisted Fantasy', and fits in well with the overall content of the album.
In terms of delivery Kanye does have good flow. However he is not entirely impressive vocally, yet he seems somewhat improved from previous albums. I wouldn't call him the best rapper, that's all I'm going to say on that. Kid Cudi and Raekwon's guest appearance on 'Gorgeous' should be lauded, as well as John Legend's ('Blame Game') and Bon Iver's ('Lost in the World'). 'All of the Lights' features an array of guest artists (Fergie's vocal delivery is reminiscent of M.I.A.), yet manages to stand out as a whole. The most notable guest appearance is Nicki Minaj's verse on 'Monster' (she changes personas throughout her verse, and she manages to do this very well. I very much enjoyed listening to her verse, I hadn't listened to people changing personas in hip-hop until then). However, the same song features Jay-Z's poor verse, which has bad flow and lacks creativity in lyrical content (he starts off by listing various 'monsters'. Tied in with an uneasy delivery, it just doesn't work). Despite some impressive lyrics, I feel that the musical arrangements make this album impressive. // 8
Overall Impression: In comparing Dark Fantasy to Kanye's other albums, it's totally a subjective issue. For me personally, I find Dark Fantasy to be his best, as the album is really consistent from track to track (it only features one skit in 'Blame Game' featuring Chris Rock, and again, it has received mixed views from fans. I found it hilarious). Kanye has managed with this album to receive a majority of positive reviews, and he deserves the praise. Whilst I like this album, I don't think it's a 'perfect' album. It's 'great' bordering 'excellent'. After downloading the album prior to its physical release, I just had to buy the CD. And I'd get it again if I lost it, because it's definitely worth the listen. // 9