10 Year Anniversary: Revisiting Kanye West’s Magnum Opus, ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’

“Do it better than anybody you ever seen do it/Screams from the haters, got a nice ring to it/Guess every super hero need his theme music”

-Kanye West on “Power”

The Chicago legend that is Mr. Kanye Omari West–many people love him, some people hate him. Regardless of how you feel about him, his views, personality traits, political stance, etc., it’s almost impossible to deny the impact he has had on this world, amazing level of artistry that he has delivered, and crowing him as nothing less than a musical genius. While as of late, his music may not be resonating with the listeners as it once did ten years ago, or even five years ago after the release of his highly-anticipated and critically acclaimed project The Life of Pablo, hip-hop historians and all-around music lovers never count out Kanye West as being one of the best creatives of all time.

November 22, 2010 would be the day that Kanye West would release his fifth studio album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Little did he know that it would go down as one of the best musical bodies of work of all time, and end up being arguably one of the best in his entire discography. Referencing his line on “Last Call” from his debut album College Dropout where he mentioned “saving all the good beats for himself”, this is something that ultimately ended up being what made this album sound so great. Maybe unintentional, but surely seemingly appearing that he actually did save all the good beats for himself, as this is one of the albums that sounds the most complete and orchestrated. As far as lyricism goes, despite having songwriting assistance from many artists like The-Dream, CyHi the Prynce, Kid Cudi and more, this album places Kanye at his best lyrically and the passion, emotion, and pain can be heard in every single verse on this album.  My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is an accumulation of the mastery that existed on every Kanye West project before 2010 that created the perfect concoction of every sound wave collected to this date.

As stated earlier, one of the best things about this body of work is the level at which Kanye West delivers on the production side of the album. It’s always an amazing feeling when an album sounds like it could be the soundtrack to a grand feature film, and this album does just that. In fact, Kanye West released a 35-minute short film alongside his album, which showcased the production and gave fans previews of multiple songs on the album. The film tells the story about a phoenix that has fallen to Earth, and Kanye makes her his girlfriend. He falls in love with her, nurtures her, and guides her as she adjusts to the lifestyle here on Earth. After facing much hate and side eyes, she is forced to burn herself alive and go back to the world in which she came from. At the time, the plot of the film may not have been easy to catch on first view. By typical Kanye design, the film is very abstract, yet amazingly executed–adding to the overall appeal and liking to the album.

Opening with a extremely animated intro narrated by Nicki Minaj, “Dark Fantasy” immediately seizes listeners and set the tone off right with what’s yet to come in the rest of the album. This song also featured background vocals by the talented Teyana Taylor who went on to sign to Kanye’s “G.O.O.D Music” label, as well as vocals from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. With additional production from RZA, No I.D., and Mike Dean, “Dark Fantasy” blew fans away with just how much time and effort was taken on this record. With our jaws already on the floor, what’s yet to come would continue to leave it right there on the ground. As if that wasn’t special enough, the song that immediately followed, “Gorgeous” with Kid Cudi and Raekwon kept the energy high from the previous record, and delivers more amazing vocals and samples. This is one of the records where Kanye takes it a step further and elaborates more on racial inequalities that the world and himself have experienced:

“Inter-century anthems based off inner-city tantrums
Based off the way we was branded
Face it, Jerome get more time than Brandon
And at the airport, they check all through my bag
And tell me that it’s random”

Spectacular, grand and extravagant is what comes to mind when you think about this album up to this point, and thats only two tracks in. Songs like “Power” and “All Of The Lights” don’t need any explanation on just how great they are, but coming fresh off of the incident at the 2009 MTV VMAs where he interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech, while a moment in history, took a major toll on Kanye West’s career. Despite being “canceled” by numerous celebrities and news and media outlets, Kanye knew that he needed the music to speak for itself in order to get back into the good graces of the community. Despite the Taylor/Kanye feud still going on today, this album represented a key point in history not only in music, but in culture as well–serving as a point in time that all of us can remember.

Speaking of remember, no one can forget the greatness that occurred on “Monster”–the sixth track from he album which featured a star studded feature list of Rick Ross, Jay-Z, and Nicki Minaj. With the visuals just as dark and gritty as the beat, Kanye dabbled into a new realm of his creativity and gave the world one of the best anthems of all time. This would go on to be featured in multiple films, commercials and TV shows across the globe, as well as ending up being one of the hardest Nicki Minaj verses of her career. Reports even said Nicki Minaj claimed that this song “almost never came out” because her verse was so hard. If that doesn’t speak to the level in which Kanye would bring out of everyone he creates with, then who knows what else will.

By far one of the best tracks on the album, and my personal favorite Kanye song and beat of all time, would be “Devil In A New Dress”, which also features Rick Ross as well. For those who are unfamiliar, Kanye West introduced “GOOD Fridays”, where each Friday, he would premiere and unreleased songs that he was working on. Some of those songs ended up being “So Appalled”, “Monster”, as well as “Devil In A New Dress”. Multiple songs were unmastered, sometimes poorly mixed, but ended up being another monumental moment in history where Kanye would deliver countless tracks from himself and the GOOD Music affiliates. The way Kanye sampled Smokey Robinson’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” blends so perfectly with the drum sample laid on top of it. Interviews around the web also noted that Kanye West made Rick Ross re-write his original verse that was on the song–something that is very common in rap. After hearing how another star is coming on a record, it forces your pen to bring out another animal in you and deliver on a higher caliber of penmanship. As stated earlier, Kanye is known for bringing that out of many artists.

Harkening back to the Taylor Swift topic, Kanye Wests return to the MTV platform came on the VMA’s the year after their altercation, where he would go on to perform his “apology” record, “Runaway”. Being one of the most iconic choruses in rap history, this record is where Kanye West grants “a toast for the douchebags” as he reflects on his life, relationships, insecurities, and arrogance. Kanye flips classic “Look at cha!” and “Ladies & gentleman” samples over simple piano keys that still gives chills to this day. Creating another moment in history, would be his performance in Sydney where he chops up and performs the samples live on his MPC–something he has been known for his entire career.

While this album may have come out ten years ago, and we all have it in our phones via all of the various streaming platforms, it can be hard to really feel what was felt at that time. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was more than just a great project. It was more than just beats and lyrics. It was a moment in time that all hip-hop fans can enjoy. While Kanye West’s current transition to creating music with no cursing or negative subject matter caused a lot of his fans to flee, none of them can deny the greatness that came from this era, November 22, 2010 to be exact.

No matter what anybody says, Kanye West will forever be a legend, an innovator, and a musical genius. They say it takes ten years for an album to be considered a classic–that being said, let’s start having the discussion. This album masters every single element that equates to a great album. Top-tier lyricism, high-quality production, eye-catching visuals, and a star-studded cast. Rap fan or not, it’s hard to not place My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy very highly not only in Kanye’s discography, but in all of rap.

If anyone needs any further explanation as to why, these thirteen tracks will tell you why.

photo via Billboard / Michael Caulfield