By Alvin Blanco
Kanye West is perfect. We’re not talking about his media savvy or predilection for egotism, but rather the critical reception to his new album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, known affectionately as MBDTF, which hit shelves on Monday (November 22). To date a number of reputable publications have given Yeezy’s 5th album perfect scores, including XXL magazine (an XXL rating), Rolling Stone (a 5 star rating) and Pitchfork (a 10/10 rating).
While critical acclaim for MBDTF has been ubiquitous, has it gotten a bit overzealous?
“This is definitely one of the most complete albums, in any genre, recently,” says Jesse Serwer, a freelance music journalist (Time Out New York, Village Voice). “But some people—and I’m talking more about critics than regular listeners here—might be overstating its brilliance. I’ve heard some say that this is a perfect album, or that they’d like to give it a higher rating than their rating systems allow for. I think these folks need to chill for a few months and divorce themselves from the back story and the hype … I’m pretty sure when they do that, they will be a little more measured in their enthusiasm.”
The Kanye media machine has been in full effect, raising the anticipation for the album to a yellow fever in the Amazon jungle pitch via strategic leaks, interviews and appearances. Some say the media has simply bought into the hype before properly digesting the work.
“I think people throw around the term ‘classic’ a little too loosely nowadays,” says Andrew Barber, founder of Chicago’s FakeShoreDrive. “Is the material on the album incredible? Of course it is. But five, 10 years down the road, how is MBDTF going to hold up to other hip-hop classics? The Illmatics, the Chronics, the Reasonable Doubts? It’s too early to tell.”
While most reviews have rushed to proclaim MBTF album of the year, there are more even keeled takes on the work. In his review of the album for the New York Times, Jon Caramanica notes that, “By not allowing for responses to his work other than awe, the value of the work itself is diminished; it becomes an object of admiration, not of study.” Considering that West’s previous album, 808s and Heartbreak, wasn’t so universally adored, could it be that his debatable musical low led to an over-rated rebound?
“Kanye has 808s & Heartbreak to thank for these perfect scores,” says Henry Adaso, Editor of TheRapUP and Rap.About.com. “The negative reception of 808s set up the positive response to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This is a pattern in hip-hop. For example, when Nas dropped Nastradamus, arguably his worst album, he followed it up with the widely praised Stillmatic. People went overboard and gave him a perfect score even though the second half of that album was a mixed bag. The same thing happened when Jay-Z released The Blueprint 2 and followed it up with the Black Album.”
Ironically, Yeezy has always had issues with critics, famously saying magazines would lose their credibility if they didn’t give his album high enough marks—which makes Caramanica’s point all the more interesting. If there is a less than stellar review, Kanye usually sniffs it out. Kind like on “Runaway” when he croons, “Yet I always seem to find something wrong.”
“One thing that the response to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has really highlighted for me is how ridiculous it is that Kanye still complains about critics,” says Serwer. “Dude, critics fawn over you more than any other artist.”
Part of MBDTF’s universal acclaim can be credited to its near perfect set up—even the George Bush/’Today Show’ fiasco probably only helped Ye’s promotional cause in the long run. The only feasible misstep, if you consider the increasingly dated music industry model, is the fact that over 50% of MBDTF was heard by so many, either via leaks or Kanye’s own G.O.O.D. Fridays sanctioned releases, before the album was legally available.
“I don’t disagree with any of the perfect ratings Kanye is receiving, but it’s really hard for me to give it an accurate review,” says Barber. “What if today was the first time I’d heard the project front to back? I’d probably be doing back flips. But having heard these songs previously, kind of ruined the album listening experience for me.”
On the contrary, some feel that despite all the premature music drops that may have ruined lesser acts, in West’s case it only tempered MBDTF’s sonic mettle.
“Kanye’s album is a case study on how leaks can affect an artist—in a good way,” says Joe La Puma, Senior Editorial Strategist for Complex magazine. “We’ve heard most of the album un-finished, and people were thinking it’d take away from sales and the general excitement surrounding the album, but the fact is, it’s a perfectly constructed album.”
La Puma continues, “From start to finish, track by track, there are no throwaways, and I encourage people to consider the (unrealistic) thought: What if we didn’t hear the music? What if we unwrapped the CD and put on our headphones and heard tracks like “All of the Lights” for the first time? It’s an incredible album, and totally well deserving of the perfect scores. Most importantly for me, it proved the point that unforeseen circumstances can occur, but in the end the quality of work is most important.”
What do you think of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy? Tweet us at @MTVRapFix or tell us in a comment below!