The Legacy of Kanye's "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"

The rapper's magnum opus turns nine years old today.

It's almost eerie how accurately Kanye West predicted his own fate when he uttered the words "I miss the old Kanye" on 2016's The Life of Pablo.

In my head, and likely in the memories of many others, there are two Kanyes: a then and a now. Both are cocky, self-important, certifiable jerks, but then, he at least still felt a marginal need to continue proving himself. Now, he's so immeasurably detached from reality that it's a little hard to take anything he does or creates seriously—at this point, I find it difficult to even care. I don't want to explicitly cite a certain presidential election and its aftermath as the dividing line between the Kanye of then and now in my conscience, but...yeah, Kanye rubbing elbows with Trump was pretty much the last straw for me.

There was a time, though, when I earnestly admired Kanye. Before he became the egomaniacal, elitist tycoon we resent today, he was a rapper and producer whose music was so good that his massive ego was, for the most part, excusable. This was the era of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the sample-heavy masterpiece that turns nine years old today.

I'm pretty sure the album was introduced to me by a Kanye-obsessed friend of mine who was plenty aware that, at the time, I was very much a rockist whose favorite artists included Radiohead and Beach House. My exposure to rap was embarrassingly narrow, and I'd unintentionally shut myself off to nearly all of it. But MBDTF transcended the typical restraints of hip-hop in a way that felt entirely authentic yet revolutionary. It was gargantuan, maximalist, and as melodical as it was a constant stream of bangers. It was my introduction to hip-hop, the project that would catalyze my openness to a whole genre I'd unfairly overlooked.

With features by everyone from Rihanna and Fergie to Elton John, it seemed with MBDTF Kanye had a mission to appeal to the masses, though with a nuanced sharpness that ensured he didn't lose sight of his artistry. "Welcome to the Kanye West universe," the album seemed to say, before leading you through Kanye's intricate, dazzling storyline of love's dark side and the process of coming to terms with one's own douchebaggery. With the hindsight of Ye's frequent controversies, it's harrowing to think back on those moments of limited self-awareness — "Runaway" served as his apology post-Taylor Swift VMAs scandal—but at the same time, ragging on himself was a little bit more genius than he was originally given credit for. He immunized himself to anyone calling him an assh*le henceforth, because he'd already beaten all his haters to the punch.

But of course, MBDTF was a massive group effort. He helped bridge the gap between indie and mainstream by inviting Bon Iver's Justin Vernon to perform on two tracks. He gave Nicki Minaj the pedestal and rightfully let her eclipse all other voices for her breakout verse in "Monster"—perhaps the only thing keeping the album from feeling truly timeless is Minaj saying she gets "50k for a verse, no album out" (she now has four albums out). He sampled Aphex Twin for "Blame Game" and interpolated Black Sabbath for "Hell of a Life." Kanye helmed such a massive project that, for a moment, it truly felt like the music world belonged to him.

Nine years later, MBDTF remains the newest album given a perfect 10 score, earning the No. 1 spot on Billboard's best albums of the 2010s. Is part of the reason it holds up so well that we, collectively, really do miss the old Kanye? Possibly. But there's a reason we keep Old Kanye and New Kanye separate—maybe to protect the sanctity of what would be the most inimitable project of his career.

TV Reviews

HBO's "I'll Be Gone In the Dark" Is a Complex Portrait of Serial Killer-Hunter Michelle McNamara

The improbably fascinating "I'll Be Gone In the Dark" subverts traditional serial killer narratives.

Michelle McNamara

In the years leading up to her death, Michelle McNamara haunted message boards, libraries, and Sacramento families to get to the bottom of the case that obsessed and consumed her.

McNamara, a true crime blogger whose interest in serial killers morphed into a compulsive desire to hunt and catch them, is the subject of a new HBO documentary series. The first episode, which premiered last Sunday, presents a small window into the mind of a woman who hunted serial killers until she accidentally overdosed on sleeping pills.

It's completely enthralling, a marked subversion of typical serial killer narratives as well as a commentary on their devastating and peculiar appeal.

I'll Be Gone In the Dark (2020): Official Trailer | HBO

Keep Reading Show less

Kanye West's Sunday Services have generated a lot of speculation and theories and certainly have inspired more than a few evangelicals.

Back in December, Kanye West and Joe Rogan discussed the possibility that Kanye might come on Rogan's show to do a "serious interview speaking on mental health." However, the show was later canceled, and Rogan just recently stated that he thinks Kanye is "starting a new cult. It's clear, he's on his way," he said. "It's probably gonna be huge."

Kanye's Sunday Services have been drawing comparisons to cults since their inception. "It's got the early trappings [of a cult], I guess we could say," cult expert and sociologist Janja Lalich said to Vox. To better understand whether or not Kanye West is starting a cult, or if you're looking to start one of your own, here are five characteristics shared by the average cult.


1. Cults have charismatic, unquestioned leaders

Cults are nothing without their leaders. A great cult leader is able to persuade followers that they're the messiah, unquestionably knowledgeable and endowed with the secrets to the universe. Leaders often create stories about their own greatness, starting small and then building themselves into a messiah-like figure.

2. Cults use some form of brainwashing or indoctrination

Cults indoctrinate their members into the belief that their allegiances should always be to the cult above all else. They often do this by using a process called indoctrination, which slowly persuades people to fall completely for the cult's ethos. Cults use indoctrination to "break down a person's sense of self," according to How Stuff Works, using techniques like thought reform, isolation, induced dependency, and eventually, dread. As far as we know, Kanye hasn't yet done this.

The New Yorker

3. Cults use an "us versus them" mentality

Members of cults are taught to believe that all of their own beliefs are absolutely, unquestionably correct, while others' are fundamentally flawed. Interestingly, many cults actually aren't religious, though many cult members were raised religious but left their faiths.

4. Cults are exclusive—and lavish praise on their recruits

Most cults make their recruits feel special and seen, eventually convincing them that the cult is worth giving up their lives for. People who join cults tend to suffer from low self-esteem and a desire to belong to a group as well as naive idealism, according to Psychiatric Times, making them prime targets for cult recruitment.

5. Cults often exploit their members

More often than not, cults wind up exploiting their members, either monetarily, sexually, or both. Once recruits are totally indoctrinated into the cult, lavished with attention and completely convinced to swear loyalty to the cult, then the exploitation usually starts.

Judging by these criteria, Kanye West is probably not starting a cult.

West does have some characteristics of a cult leader in that he's always believed in his own genius; but for now, it seems like the Sunday Services are just experimental efforts to blend West's love of music promotion with his newfound born-again faith. Actually, most cults seem far more malicious than what Kanye is trying out—thus far, his organization has nothing on, say, the cult of capitalism, or the cult of Christianity.

Cults are part of the fabric of American life. Make sure you know the signs, and if you ever feel tempted to accept any form of Kool-Aid, think again.