What's left to do when you’ve just released the album of your life? Since its November 22 release, Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has been universally celebrated as 2010’s most grandiose statement; a project that's managed to capture the imagination of bloggers, rock critics, intellectuals and mainstream media talking heads. This, from an artist who just a year ago was branded public enemy No. 1 post-Taylor Swift "incident."
Just how praised was the album? Time picked Dark Fantasy as their best album of 2010, stating: “Kanye West can seem like an attention-hungry young child who constantly tugs on his mother's pant leg, saying, ‘Watch this! Watch this!’ But once Kanye got our attention, instead of a simple somersault, he delivered the musical equivalent of a one-handed back handspring.” And the usually hard to impress music authority site Pitchfork gave West’s work a rare 10 review. Indeed, West’s deftly constructed all-star statement, which debuted at No. 1 selling over 500,000 copies its first week, showcases the hip-hop anti-hero at his most nihilistic, hilarious, thought-provoking and eloquent. Sex, drugs, love, self-destruction, racism and redemption are just some of the themes explored and dissected.
Balk if you must, but West’s peerless ingenuity makes him the greatest hip-hop artist of this decade. Yes, VIBE’s own founder, legendary producer Quincy Jones, dismissed West as “just a rapper.” And even some of Ye’s admirers have a hard time co-signing that whole voice of a generation statement. “I would not be inclined to agree that he’s the greatest of the decade,” Dead Prez’ M1 tells VIBE. “That’s taking nothing away from Kanye. I’ve worked with him closely enough to witness the creative genius that’s there. I saw that talent even when he was questioning himself as a rapper. But when I look at the hip-hop terrain of this decade, I can see some of his influences like Jay-Z and Nas arrive at the top spot before he would. For me, lyrics have always been the main category in being considered the best hip-hop artist. I can’t say that Kanye has that purity like a Rakim. But the fact that we are even talking about him in that way says a lot for his tenacity and work ethic.”
Still, VIBE is calling it like we see it. And we’ve gathered together MTV News senior writer Jayson Rodriquez, New York Times pop music critic Jon Caramanica, and AOL hip-hop music editor Tracey Ford to discuss Kanye West’s soaring place in rap. Let’s have a toast to the asshole. —Keith Murphy