Why My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is Kanye's best album
Ten years after its November 2010 release, we analyse why the record’s performance, production and influence make it Kanye West’s masterpiece.
"Taylor, I’mma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time!"
When Kanye West rushed the stage at the 2009 VMAs and interrupted Taylor Swift, it seemed he had done irreparable damage to his reputation.
West had already caused plenty of controversy at that point in his career, but embarrassing America’s sweetheart on national television made him public enemy No. 1. His scheduled 2009 tour with Lady Gaga was cancelled, while Barack Obama called him a "jackass".
His Hennessey-fuelled defence of Beyonce did, however, provide the catalyst for West’s magnum opus.
Following the incident, he went into exile in Hawaii and emerged in November 2010 with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, his self-described "apology record".
The 13-song masterpiece debuted straight at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and was considered an instant classic by listeners and critics alike.
Featuring singles ‘Power’, ‘Runaway’, ‘Monster’ and ‘All of the Lights’, MBDTF wasn’t intended to restore West’s likability. Quite the opposite. To borrow a line from its second single, the album was “a toast to the douchebags”.
It was so undeniably impressive from start to finish, though, that even those who hated Kanye the person had to admire Kanye the artist.
So, with research from online casino Betway, here is why MBDTF remains West’s finest work on the 10-year anniversary of its release.
Kanye West albums always sell well, and MBDTF was no different.
Despite his public approval being at an all-time low, Kanye’s fifth studio album became his fourth in a row to top the Billboard 200, selling 496,000 copies in the US in its first week.
It went double platinum, and although it is by no means West’s best-selling album, it currently has 1.7b streams on Spotify, the third-most of his all records behind The Life of Pablo and Graduation.
Where MBDTF truly stands out among his discography, however, is its critical reception.
The album received almost universal acclaim, with a score of 94 out of 100 from review aggregator Metacritic. That’s the fourth-highest score of any hip hop album in history, and seven points higher than The College Dropout, West’s debut album which is itself considered a classic.
It was named the best album of the year by an array of publications, receiving perfect scores from XXL, Slant Magazine and Pitchfork.
The album’s appeal has lasted over time, too, having topped album of the decade lists from nine major websites including Billboard, Rolling Stone and Complex.
West’s contemporaries were also glowing in their praise, as Pusha T described the album as "GOAT-level rap".
Elton John called it "a genius record", while Paul McCartney said: "That was the record of Kanye’s that I really envied."
While West’s recent releases have been criticised for being rushed and lacking focus, MBDTF was the product of meticulous planning and hours upon hours of work in the studio.
Kanye estimated that ‘Power’ took "5,000 man hours" alone to produce, and claimed to have put just as much energy into every song on the album.
It wasn’t just the work of one man, though, as West called upon an incredible number of collaborators to help create his masterpiece.
The album had 11 featured artists, including longtime collaborators like Jay-Z and John Legend and emerging stars like Nicki Minaj and Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon.
Another 18 additional vocalists appeared, including Rihanna, Charlie Wilson, Elly Jackson of La Roux, Alicia Keys, Drake and Elton John, all of whom made uncredited appearances on ‘All of the Lights’.
And a further 20 musicians also contributed, including four who only provided handclaps.
It was, as Q-Tip described, "music by committee".
Contributors revealed details about the now-legendary 14-hour studio sessions, where West asked them to wear black suits and put up signs that demanded no tweeting, no blogging, no pictures and “total focus on this project”.
He stuck to his own rules, too, as Wu-Tang Clan legend RZA – who produced ‘Dark Fantasy’ and featured on ‘So Appalled’ – said: "The way everything happened was focused energy. I’ve never seen that from a rapper before."
Kanye has long been considered an egomaniac – and rightly so – but this album was the product of his willingness to share ideas and work towards his vision with others.
He certainly wasn’t afraid to share the spotlight, as Minaj’s verse on ‘Monster’, Rick Ross’ appearance on ‘Devil in a New Dress’ and Pusha T’s verse on ‘Runaway’ provided some of the record’s signature moments.
One person who does not believe MBDTF is Kanye’s best album is the man himself.
Back in 2015, West claimed that both 808s & Heartbreak and Yeezus were "much stronger" because they were more progressive and were comprised of music that he wanted to make, rather than what audiences wanted to hear.
Of course, being more challenging does not necessarily make an album superior, but it’s true that MBDTF did not alter the landscape of hip hop in the way that 808s & Heartbreak and even The College Dropout did.
MBDTF did, however, have a major impact on the perception of hip hop in the 2010s.
Between 2005 and 2009, only four hip hop albums were named on Pitchfork’s top-10 album of the year lists.
Then MBDTF topped the 2010 list and became the first hip hop record in history to be named Pitchfork Album of the Year.
In the eight years following the record’s release, 15 hip hop albums were named among Pitchfork’s end-of-year top-10s, with four topping the list: Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City in 2012, To Pimp A Butterfly in 2015 and DAMN. in 2017, and Run The Jewels’ Run The Jewels 2 in 2014.
MBDTF ‘s undeniable brilliance made it cool for critics to gush over mainstream hip hop records, setting the stage for artists like Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Tyler, The Creator to receive the massive critical acclaim that was largely reserved for rock bands in the previous decade.
It’s also worth mentioning that the record that topped Pitchfork’s 2011 list was Bon Iver’s eponymous second album.
That Justin Vernon was given such recognition a year after starring on MBDTF is no coincidence – a few of West’s key collaborators hit new heights after the album’s release.
Nicki Minaj’s debut album Pink Friday – which dropped on the same day as MBDTF – was a major success, finally topping the Billboard 200 in its 11th week, and rappers like Rick Ross said she gained their respect from her song-stealing verse on ‘Monster’.
Pusha T enjoyed a career renaissance after appearing on ‘Runaway’ and ‘So Appalled’, collaborating regularly with West as a part of his G.O.O.D. Music label, of which he is now the president.
He has released three albums since 2010, all to widespread critical acclaim and all featuring Kanye production, with the latest, Daytona, receiving a Grammy nomination in 2019.
So while West may not have aimed to change the game with MBDTF, the album has clearly had a lasting effect upon the people around it.
It pushed hip hop forward not by taking the genre in a new direction, but by taking West’s best qualities – production values, sampling and combining collaborators – to new heights.
‘Dark Fantasy’, the opening track in which he introduces the album’s themes of decadence, hedonism and the price of fame, asks "Can we get much higher?".
The answer, for Kanye and arguably anyone else since the album’s release, is "not yet".