I have something of a Kanye obsession right now. Before this, he was distant in my periphery. The only awareness I had of him was some sort of faux pas at the VMAs. Apparently this guy has a Muhammad Ali complex-- that swell-headedness that some how transcends the individuals self-perception and becomes a kind of truth. He has been steeped in hip-hop long enough to break free from the typical subject matter and take us deep in to this dirty, complex, mysterious, and lovely world. Dare I call it, a Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy?
He successfully incorporates the layered production value typical in hip hop with all of its samplings, synthesizers, featured artists, and drum machines while framing it with the spectrum of modern music. No visual speaks more strongly of this marriage than Yeezy's SNL performance of "Runaway" in which he played a drum machine with the same flair that Yo-Yo Ma strikes the pizzicato on the cello. The use of this non-traditional instrument in such a traditional way is compelling enough, but the fact that the performance was punctuated with Kanye's own troupe of Russian ballerinas is a whole new level for crossover hip-hop.
The tension of the song is heightened by the eerie, Tori-Amos-y piano and the truly contemplative, yet hilarious, lyrics [ I sent this bitch a picture of my dick. / I don't know what it is with females, / but I'm not to good at that shit.]. In spite of his reputation, Kanye consistently drops lines with a wry smile and the universally felt melancholia of one's episodic predictability and subsequent demise ["See I can have me a good girl / and still be addicted to the hood rats."].
Not to say that the whole album is terribly enlightened lyrically. "Power" references Kanye's own sphere of influence ["No one man should have all that power"] which is, surprisingly (to Kanye) mostly limited to music and celebrity. However, this song does tend to bring out the fascist in me with the strong African influence percussion and the guitar riffs reminiscent of The Edge. Its hard not to make a ritualized obeisance and hail King Yeezy.
I do believe that Kanye's influence in music will have a more lasting impact than anyone realizes because he might be the first artist to master the variety of media in the digital era. Its not so hard to forgive conceit that is accompanied by genius (e.g. Stanley Kubrick, Phil Spector) and the consequent madness of one who constantly pursues perfection. The effort he put into the music is self-evident, but the strength of his live performances, the film accompaniment Runaway, the media stunts, and his Twitter make him a force to be reckoned with.
There's no doubt about it, the man is a maverick, sacrificing his pride to reveal the warped hauntings that fuel his art.