Before My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy fused the two sides of Kanye West into a paranoid (beautiful, dark, twisted) mess of triumphalism and (twisted) Chris Rock-aided introspection there were two West figures in evidence on his albums--the massively confident rapper and the confused, angry, but generally self-aware human being living in a world that vaguely resembled our own.
A dispatch from that second guy, apparently locked these last few years in Eminem's basement with the body of Dr. Dre, leaked this week--"Mama's Boyfriend," a track from the MBDTF sessions that combines the album's wild lurches and layered production with The College Dropout's subtle ironies and a lyrical situation that might prove relevant to people who don't live in a giant Louis Vuitton bag on top of a golden pyramid. And Chris Rock doesn't show up in it!
As with "See Me Now," another early contender ultimately cut from the album, the sped-up soul samples and mama issues make this one sound almost self-consciously similar to his early work, but the expansive production and his post-808s experimentation with his voice, which is distorted by filters and at one point thrown to resemble a kid banging at his mom's locked door, suspicious of what's going on behind it, betray its vintage in the best possible way; if a song like "Monster" is "Stronger" written at the peak of West's drive to become the biggest pop-culture figure on earth, this is "All Falls Down" after four albums' worth of work in the studio.
The mad king of pop in MBDTF is the only character that could tell the stories of "Power" or "Runaway"; you can't have sex with a phoenix if you have to take off your backpack first. But it's nice to hear the Kanye West with a sense of humor and the capacity for empathy playing with all his new songwriting tools, and the result is a song that shifts effortlessly from perspective to perspective and inhabits each one. The self-confident kid that's going to fight his mom's boyfriends, that wants to run over the other men in his mom's life with his bike, is also the one that comes crying to his mom at night when one of them stays over, as the music swells over his sad, jokey kid's voice; he's also the adult that finds himself acting like his mama's boyfriends today, taking his girlfriend's kids to church but warning one he'll get Ving Rhamesed if he attempts a bike hit-and-run of his own.
If My Beautiful Dark Fantasy was the absolute pinnacle of Kanye's pop maximalism--and I'm not sure how you could get more pop-maximalist than that, let alone while producing a better album--a song like "Mama's Boyfriend" allows for the possibility that Kanye West, Human Being might someday escape from pop-star jail.
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