Friday, November 26, 2010

Thematic Considerations in MBDTF

At this point, the fact that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is at least an amazing album is a consensus: commenting on its quality and necessity would be pointless. So I thought I might comment on some interesting thematic questions that I have found over that past few days of obsessive listening. Hopefully my comments will only contribute to an understanding of what makes this album terrific.


While the album as a whole is remarkably complete, more so than any of West's previous albums and most hip-hop albums in general, on a song by song, moment to moment basis, the music persistantly feels unfinished. The use of codas in "Power", "Monster" and the magnificent double ending of "Lost in the World" and "Who Will Survive in America" leave all of these open ended, adding new elements to the song much too late for them to be completely explored. "Dark Fantasy" and "Lost in the World", among others, are composed of disperate elements that beg to be reconciled but never are, running orchestrated fanfare against off-kilter sampling. The introductory chorus on "Fantasy" repeats far more times than one would expect, never leading into anything that would logically follow other than the next song. In terms of guest appearances, West seems to always be skirting around a fitting number, always either having to few or too many. The binary created by him and a guest on "Gorgeous" and "Runaway" begs for a third, while overstuffed tracks like "Monster" and "So Appalled" leave verses by Rick Ross and RZA so short, you can hardly understand why they're there. Overall, this is one of the many things that contributes to a pervasive feeling of doubt even in the albums most triumphent moments, always pointing the listeners ears forward, insisting that their should, but may not be something next, a well fitting charecteristic for a such a fantasy or dream, where our wants never culminate, things always end in questions, we only see parts of images, and vision is never fully three-dimensional.


An inordinate number of watches get mentions all over this album. One could see this as just a another expression of hip-hop excess, and with guests like Rick Ross and Pusha T, that might be true; the watch, however, is an extremely interesting symbol in this context. In one way, an ornate watch is a symbol of the power of wealth to actually make life better, in that money allows one to cover time in aesthetic enjoyment. On the other hand, the juxtaposition implies weakness, testifying the fact that even if you cover it with diamonds, time is something that everyone eventually must deal with. In "Power", West laments that he must one day leave his childishness behind: "Reality is catchin' up with me/Takin' my inner child, I'm fighting for it, custody/With these responsibilities that they entrusted me/As I look down at my di-a-mond-encrusted piece/Sayin' no one man should have all that power." It begs the question, why shouldn't he have "all that power"? It seems that its not for responsibility's sake. The watch stands as a symbol for what he has just described, that his power is the power only to gild, but not to change. When, at the end of "Blame Game", Chris Rock raves over the fact that his girl got him the same watch "that Twista had on in The Source", the watch becomes a comic symbol for the distorting mirror of sexual and self obsession. It seems then that the watch stands for inability and weakness, rather than its normal representation of wealth or power.

In general it is rather interesting that on an album highly lauded for its rerouting of hip-hop out of context, a major topic discussed is the dangers and pitfalls of that removal of context. As wonderful as fantasy is, reality will always be on the edges, whether because of fantasy's temporality or its inadequacy. While West is clearly the subject of this album, there is something to be said for it as a statement to the general public. When Gil-Scott Heron says at the album's end, "All I want is a good home and a wife and kids, and some food to feed them every night," the album that preceded it has made us realize that considering the invasion of sex, money, emotion, and most importantly self obsession and absorbtion, how truly hard that tranquility and simplicity is to accomplish.

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