Following a period of public and legal controversy, West retreated to a "self-imposed exile" in Hawaii in 2009. There, he worked on the album in a communal recording environment that involved numerous contributing musicians and producers. The recording sessions featured guest appearances from Bon Iver, Jay-Z, Pusha T, Rick Ross, Kid Cudi, Nicki Minaj, John Legend, and Raekwon, among others.
To help market the album, West released free songs through his GOOD Fridays series and four singles: the Billboard hits "Power", "Monster", and "Runaway", and the international hit "All of the Lights". It was also promoted with music festival performances by the rapper and a short film set to the album's music, Runaway.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and eventually sold 1.3 million copies in the United States. It was a widespread critical success and named the best album of 2010 in many publications' critics polls, including the Pazz & Jop. Several professionally curated lists later ranked it among the greatest albums of all time.
The album was conceived during West's self-imposed exile in Oahu, Hawaii, following a period of legal and public image controversy amid an overworked mental state. West later said that his fatigue from overworking led to his controversial outburst at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, his disgust with its ensuing media response, and his hiatus from recording. Amid negative response to the incident, his scheduled tour with recording artist Lady Gaga in promotion of his previous album, 808s & Heartbreak, was cancelled on October 1, 2009, without citing a reason.
Nicki Minaj (left) and Kid Cudi (right) each performed vocals for multiple tracks on the album.
West, who had previously recorded at Avex for 808s & Heartbreak, block-booked the studio's three session rooms simultaneously for 24 hours a day to work on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. According to Noah Callahan-Bever, who visited West during the recording sessions, "when he hits a creative wall... he heads to another studio room to make progress on another song". West never slept a full night at the "glass-enclosed mansion" house he had rented, opting instead to take power naps in a studio chair or couch 90 minutes at a time. Engineers worked around the clock, as West bounced from room to room. This assiduous work ethic led to West employing two private chefs, one for hot food, and one for cold food. Before recording in the afternoon, West and most of his crew played games of 21 against locals at the Honolulu YMCA for leisure. Kid Cudi smoked marijuana in preparation and worked out on a treadmill, while RZA worked out in the weight room. West held breakfast each morning at his Diamond Head residence for his crew.
Throughout the album's development, West elicited other producers and musicians to weigh in on its music with conversations and contributions at the studio. In observing discussions among them during his visit, Callahan-Bever noted: "Despite the heavyweights assembled, the egos rarely clash; talks are sprawling, enlightening, and productive ... we are here to contribute, challenge, and inspire". In an interview with Callahan-Bever, Q-Tip described the process as "music by committee" and elaborated on its significance to the sessions and West's work ethic:
He'll go, ‘Check this out, tell me what you think.’ Which speaks volumes about who he is and how he sees and views people. Every person has a voice and an idea, so he's sincerely looking to hear what you have to say—good, bad, or whatever ... When he has his beats or his rhymes, he offers them to the committee and we're all invited to dissect, strip, or add on to what he's already started. By the end of the sessions, you see how he integrates and transforms everyone's contributions, so the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. He's a real wizard at it. What he does is alchemy, really.
Pete Rock said of his studio experience with West, "He's definitely hip-hop, his roots, I was testing him on joints...He takes it to another level which is dope. He had these musicians and this song, they played around my little raggedy beat and made it real. I love the way he works – he goes from one room, writing rhymes then goes to another beat and goes to another room and does something else – I love what he's done". Rapper Pusha T characterized the album as "a collage of sounds" and found West's methods unorthodox when recording, saying that "We could easily be working on one song, thinking we're in a mode, and he'll hear a sound from someone like [producer] Jeff Bhasker and immediately turn his whole attention to that sound and go through his mental Rolodex to where that sound belongs on his album, and then it goes straight to that song, immediately". DJ Premier said of the production in comparison to West's previous work, "Well, first of all, if you look at all of Kanye West's output, he actually did a lot to bring back sampling and make it cool again, even though he's more of a mainstream artist...but his new album is strictly hard beats and rhyme. He's totally done with electro. You're gonna be surprised what you hear".
To prevent any of the material from leaking onto the Internet, West made the recording of the album as secretive as he could; he instituted a "No tweeting, no talking, no e-mailing" rule for others at the sessions to abide by. Pusha T recalled West's attitude in an interview for Rolling Stone, saying that "then there happened to be a leak, and I remember Kanye ranting and raving, like, 'Fuck this! We're not going to ever work there again! We're going to work in hotel rooms!'" West subsequently recorded in hotel rooms for Watch the Throne, his 2011 album with Jay-Z.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy's music has been noted by writers for incorporating elements from West's previous four albums.Entertainment Weekly's Simon Vozick-Levinson perceives that such elements "all recur at various points", namely "the luxurious soul of 2004's The College Dropout, the symphonic pomp of Late Registration, the gloss of 2007's Graduation, and the emotionally exhausted electro of 2008's 808s & Heartbreak". Sean Fennessey of The Village Voice writes that West "absorb[ed] the gifts of his handpicked collaborators, and occasionally elevat[ed] them" on previous studio albums, noting collaborators and elements as Jon Brion for Late Registration ("arranging orchestral majesty"), DJ Toomp for Graduation ("adapted DJ Toomp's oozing menace"), and Kid Cudi for 808s & Heartbreak ("Cudi's moaning melodies became elemental").
The music was described as maximalist by Jon Caramanica of The New York Times, who also took note of East Coast hip hop elements, and Ryan Dombal from Pitchfork, who deemed it a "culmination" of West's past work: "Musically, [the album] largely continues where 2007's Graduation left off in its maximalist hip-hop bent, with flashes of The College Dropout's comfort-food sampling and Late Registration's baroque instrumentation weaved in seamlessly".AllMusic's Andy Kellman views it as the "culmination" of those albums, while noting that "it does not merely draw characteristics from each one of them. The 13 tracks ... sometimes fuse them together simultaneously. Consequently, the sonic and emotional layers are often difficult to pry apart and enumerate". Kellman denotes "All of the Lights" as most representative of the album's "contrasting elements and maniacal extravagance". Conversely, Robert Christgau from MSN Music comments that the music eschews the "grace" of The College Dropout and Late Registration in favor of "grandiosity" and "the sonic luxuries of this world-beating return to form". In an analysis for Noisey, Phil Witmer regarded the album as "an unprecedented retreat by a hip-hop artist into the weird world" of 1970s progressive rock.
"[West is] the pop star for our morally implicated times; an instinctive consumer with a mouthful of diamonds and furtive bad conscience, a performer who lives the American dream to its fullest with a creeping sense of the spiritual void at its heart. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy captures that essence in full. It's an utterly dazzling portrait of a 21st-century schizoid man that is by turns sickeningly egocentric, contrite, wise, stupid and self-mocking."
The album's themes deal primarily with excess and celebrity, and also touch on decadence, grandiosity, escapism, sex, wealth, romance, self-aggrandizement, and self-doubt. Andrew Martin of Prefix Magazine notes the album's ethos as "more is more" and describes it as "a meditation on fame", in which West decries the burden that it entails.My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy also features more open references to drinking and drug use than on West's previous albums. Nathan Rabin of The A.V. Club describes it as "darkly funny, boldly introspective, and characteristically fame-obsessed", noting "manic highs and depressive lows emotionally" in the album. Christgau found the themes of insecurity and uncertainty on the album to be West's "heart, his message, the reason he's so major", noting the tracks "Hell of a Life" and "Runaway" as examples.Greg Kot, writing in the Chicago Tribune, said West displayed a transparency and "almost pathological allegiance to expressing his emotions, unfiltered".
In the opinion of Pitchfork's Ryan Dombal, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was "a hedonistic exploration into a rich and famous American id", while Chris Martins from Spin said it was an alternately grandiose and eloquent production that "owed as much to the artist's self-aggrandizing ego as to the voracious id that would destroy it publicly". Music writer Ann Powers interprets West's predominant theme on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to be "the crisis of the jet-lagged cosmopolitan ... the exhausted cry of one who's always new in town, chasing whatever goal or girl is in the room, fueled by consumer culture's relentless buzz, but finally left unsatisfied". Powers views the songs to work "as pornographic boasts, romantic disaster stories, devil-haunted dark nights of the soul" and perceives West's "uncertainty about his own place in the world" to be connected to the subject of race, stating "The rootlessness West celebrates and despairs of on 'Fantasy' belongs to someone who feels unwelcome everywhere. This isn't just a personal problem. It's the curse of what the author Michael Eric Dyson has called 'the exceptional black man', embraced for his talents but singled out for the color of his skin".
The album's opening track, "Dark Fantasy", is introduced with a narrative by Nicki Minaj, attempting an English accent, that serves as a retelling of writer Roald Dahl's poetic rework of "Cinderella". It introduces My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy's themes of decadence and hedonism, with West musing how "the plan was to drink until the pain was over / But what's worse, the pain or the hangover?". His lyrics on the track contain various musical and popular culture references, including those to the song "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)", the Lamborghini Murciélago sports car, rapper Nas, fashion designer Phoebe Philo, short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", the song "Sex on Fire", singer Leona Lewis, and television character Steve Urkel. "All of the Lights" incorporates drum 'n' bassbreaks and brass fanfare. West's lyrics contain a reference to the death of Michael Jackson in the opening lines and present a narrative of a character who abuses his lover, does prison time, scuffles with her new boyfriend, and subsequently mourns his absence from his child's life. For the song, West enlisted 11 guest vocalists, including Alicia Keys, John Legend, Elton John, Tony Williams, Elly Jackson, and Rihanna, who sings the song's hook. In an interview for MTV, Jackson said of the song's vocal layering, "He got me to layer up all these vocals with other people, and he just basically wanted to use his favorite vocalists from around the world to create this really unique vocal texture on his record, but it's not the kind of thing where you can pick it out".
"Devil in a New Dress" is built on a sample of Smokey Robinson's "Will You Love Me Tomorrow". Its lyrics are about lust and heartache, with sexual and religious imagery described by one critic as "part bedroom allure, part angelic prayer". It is the only track without production by West but features his characteristic style of manipulating the pitch and tempo of classic soul samples. "Runaway" features a piano-based motif comprising a series of sustained descending half and whole notes, with a coda that incorporates light strings and vocoder-singing by West. The narrator's self-critical lyrics reflect on his personality and character flaws. Sean Fennessey cites the song as the point in the album in which "self-laceration overtakes chest-beating", noting West's sung-line "I'm so gifted at finding what I don't like the most". Inspired by his two-year relationship with model Amber Rose, "Hell of a Life" contains a psychedelic rock sample and a narrative about marrying a porn star. According to critic Ryan Dombal, the song "attempts to bend its central credo— 'no more drugs for me, pussy and religion is all I need'— into a noble pursuit ... The song blurs the line between fantasy and reality, sex and romance, love and religion, until no lines exist at all. It's a zonked nirvana with demons underneath; a fragile state that can't help but break apart on the very next song". "Blame Game" is a low-key track about a painful domestic dispute. It features piano by producer Mike Dean, additional vocals by John Legend, and a profane skit by comedian Chris Rock.
"Lost in the World" features tribal drums and samples Bon Iver's "Woods", a song originally written about alienation, applied by West "as the centerpiece of a catchy, communal reverie." It features several musical changes, beginning with Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon's faint vocals, followed by 4/4 drums, gospel-styled chorus, and increased tempo, and a final measured tempo. "Lost in the World" transitions into the closing track "Who Will Survive in America". It serves as the album's coda and is built on a sample of Gil Scott-Heron's "Comment No. 1", a blunt, surrealist piece delivered by Scott-Heron in spoken word about the African-American experience and the fated idealism of the American dream. Scott-Heron's original speech, which criticized the 1960s Revolutionary Youth Movement for failing to recognize the more basic needs of the African-American community, is edited to a reduced version on the track that, according to music writer Greg Kot, "retains its essence, that of an African-American male who feels cut off from his country and culture". By contrast, Sean Fennessey interprets it as "a too-serious denouement for an album that is more about the self's little nightmares than some aching societal rejection".
Title and packaging
It was formerly known as Good Ass Job and tentatively Dark Twisted Fantasy.GOOD Music artist Big Sean was the second to announce the title of the album as Good Ass Job. On July 24, 2010, on Kanye West's blog, a banner appeared reading "My Dark Twisted Fantasy Trailer". On July 28, 2010, West announced via his new official Twitter account that "The album is no longer called 'Good Ass Job' I'm bouncing a couple of titles around now." The official title, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, was announced on October 5, 2010; the title Good Ass Job was later used for West's 2018 collaborative album with Chance the Rapper.
On October 17, 2010, Kanye West revealed through Twitter that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy had been rejected by certain stores because of the cover art. The artwork, by George Condo, shows West being straddled by an armless winged female (a phoenix). Both are nude, and one nipple of the phoenix's breasts and her buttocks are visible. Condo said that Kanye wanted a cover image that would be banned. The painting is centered with a thin yellow border on a red background. The artwork follows along the apparent theme of the album, as well as West's music film Runaway. This is one of five covers; all of them were included with its purchase. A second cover, with a painting of a ballerina by Condo, was posted on the Amazon.com pre-order page. It was intended to be the original artwork for Runaway, but West used a photograph of a ballerina instead.
George Condo and Kanye West met for several hours and listened to tapes of his music. Over the next few days Condo made eight or nine paintings for the album. Two of them were portraits of West, one in extreme closeup, with mismatched eyes and four sets of teeth. Another showed his head, crowned and decapitated, placed sideways on a white slab, impaled by a sword. There was also a painting of a dyspeptic ballerina in a black tutu, a painting of the crown and the sword by themselves in a grassy landscape, and a scene of a naked West on a bed, straddled by a naked white female creature with fearsome features, wings, no arms, and a long, spotted tail, the last one being the original album cover. According to New York, a new painting for the album, "The Priest", was completed by Condo, who described it as an attempt to bring depictions of religious figures into the modern world. In 2015 Billboard named it the 30th best album cover of all time. Elsewhere in 2017, NME listed it as the 7th best album artwork of the 21st Century so far.
On October 4, 2010, the release date was announced as November 22, 2010. Prior to its release, West initiated the free music program GOOD Fridays through his website on August 20, 2010, offering a free download of previously unreleased songs each Friday of the week, a portion of which were included on the album. Titled after his imprint label GOOD Music, the program generated considerable publicity in the months leading up to the album's release. Online marketing coordinator Karen Civil said of the program in retrospect, "It's a genius idea. He did something no one had ever done before, and at a point when he was the most hated person in music, he brought excitement back with his Friday releases". G.O.O.D. Fridays was originally intended to continue through December, but was extended by West through January 2011.My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was released as a digital download on Amazon.com at a list price of $3.99, which coincided with the site's $3 discount promotional offer on MP3 purchases made valid through the release week.
In the first week of release, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 albums chart and sold 496,000 copies in the United States. It was West's fourth consecutive US number-one album, and its debut week served as the fourth-best sales week of 2010, while its first-week digital sales of 224,000 units served as the fourth-highest sales week for a digitally-downloaded album. It spent 85 weeks on the Billboard 200, and by July 2013, it had sold 1,351,000 copies in the US, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
On September 12, West performed the second single "Runaway" at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. Three weeks later on October 2, West performed the song on Saturday Night Live, along with "Power". "Runaway" was officially released to the iTunes Store on October 4, 2010. It spent 12 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 12 on the chart.Rolling Stone named it the best single of 2010 in its year-end list. A 35-minute short film of the same name, directed by West and containing the song's official music video, was released on October 23, 2010. Filmed in Prague over a period of four days during Summer 2010, the film stars West and model Selita Ebanks and features the script written by Hype Williams with the story written by West. West described the video as an "overall representation of what [he dreams]" and a parallel to his music career. At one of his screenings in Paris, the film seemed to represent a lot emotionally for him as he broke down in tears. Later after another screening, West states that his music and "art" and how it affects people is the reasoning behind his continuance of music creation.
The third single "Monster" was sent out to radio on September 21, and it was released to the iTunes Store on October 23, 2010. The song was originally released on August 27, 2010 as part of West's music program G.O.O.D. Friday. It spent five weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 18 on the chart.Rolling Stone ranked it number 10 on its list of the Best Singles of 2010. The song was performed at Jay-Z's and Eminem's The Home & Home Tour on September 14, 2010, along with Nicki Minaj.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was met with widespread critical acclaim. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the album received an average score of 94, based on 45 reviews.
In a rave review of the album, Andy Gill of The Independent hailed it as "one of pop's gaudiest, most grandiose efforts of recent years, a no-holds-barred musical extravaganza in which any notion of good taste is abandoned at the door".Ann Powers, writing for the Los Angeles Times, found the music "Picasso-like, fulfilling the Cubist mandate of rearranging form, texture, color and space to suggest new ways of viewing things". It was also called West's most lavish record in a review by Time magazine's David Browne, who said it proved again that few other artists shared his ability to adeptly combine diverse elements. Dan Vidal of URB highlighted the rapper's ability to bring the best out of his collaborators, finding it comparable to the work of Miles Davis. In Rolling Stone, Rob Sheffield called the album West's best and most wildly inspired record to date, claiming that no other artist was recording music as dark or uncanny, while Sputnikmusic critic Channing Freeman regarded it as "the first album in which he's truly lived up to his potential in every way – as a rapper, as a lyricist, as a songwriter".The Village Voice's Sean Fennessey found it overwhelming and skillfully produced because of how each song transitions over "like some long night out into the hazy morning after".
Some reviewers were less impressed. In The Guardian, Kitty Empire was critical of how West's lyrics regarded "women as ruthless money-grabbers", on an otherwise "herculean" and "flawed near-masterpiece".AllMusic's Andy Kellman found his rapping inconsistent on what was nonetheless "a deeply fascinating accomplishment" in West's catalogue: "As fatiguing as it is invigorating, as cold-blooded as it is heart-rending, as haphazardly splattered as it is meticulously sculpted, [the album] is an extraordinarily complex 70-minute set of songs ... As the ego and ambition swells, so does the appeal, the repulsiveness, and – most importantly – the ingenuity".
Review aggregate site Metacritic called My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy "the runaway consensus pick of music critics for the best album of 2010".
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy appeared on numerous year-end top albums lists. Many critics named it the best album of 2010, including Billboard,Time,Slant Magazine,Pitchfork,Rolling Stone, and Spin.My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was voted best album in The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics' poll for 2010, winning by the largest margin in the poll's history. The singles "Power", "Runaway", and "Monster" were voted in the top-10 of the Pazz & Jop's singles list.Metacritic, which collates reviews of music albums, named it the best-reviewed album of 2010.
According to Acclaimed Music, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the 62nd most critically acclaimed album in history, the second-highest ranking for any hip hop album. In 2012, Rolling Stone placed it at number 353 on the magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, and Complex included it in their list of "25 Rap Albums From the Past Decade That Deserve Classic Status".Entertainment Weekly named it the 8th best album of all time on their 2013 list. In October 2013, Complex named it the best hip hop album of the last five years.NME ranked the album at 24 on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. In 2015, Billboard listed it first in the magazine's ranking of the top 20 albums of the 2010s. The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
In August 2014, the song "Runaway" (featuring Pusha T) was ranked in the third position in Pitchfork's list of the 200 "best tracks" released since 2010. During the same week, the publication named it the best album of the 2010s decade – between 2010 and 2014 – commenting, "West broke the ground upon which the new decade's most brilliant architects built their masterworks; Bon Iver, Take Care, Channel Orange, and Good Kid, M.A.A.D City don't exist without the blueprint of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The list ends here because it's where the decade truly begins." In August 2014, GQ named it the best album of the 21st century. In 2016, Odyssey named it the best album of the decade so far. In 2017, Complex ranked it as West's best album. In October 2017, DJ Booth named it the best Hip-Hop or R&B album of the decade thus far.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album, presented at the 54th Grammy Awards in 2012. The song "All of the Lights" was nominated for Grammy Awards for Song of the Year, Best Rap Song, and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, winning in the latter two categories. However, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was not nominated for Album of the Year, which was viewed as a "snub" by several outlets, along with the rejection of Watch the Throne, West's collaborative album with Jay-Z, for that category. In an article for Time, music journalist Touré elaborated on the album's acclaim, called West's nominations in minor categories "booby prizes", and stated, "MBDTF is by far the best reviewed album in many years: the critical community flipped out over it like nothing since Radiohead’s zenith. And it sold well, over 1.2 million so far. So what happened? How is it Grammy overlooked Kanye's magnum opus and gave noms to four sonic widgets and Adele's 21?" He explored possible reasons for The Recording Academy to snub him, including split votes between My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Watch the Throne, concerns over West's past controversies, and more commercially appealing nominees, but ultimately stated:
What I think may be going on is a lack of respect for hip hop and its complexity from people who care about music but don't know much about hip hop ... Predictably, Grammy tends toward pop-friendly hip hop that's easily understood by those who don't understand hip hop. Pop in this regard is not meant as an insult, it's merely music palatable to non-aficionados of the genre ... But now that he's released his most mature work, [West is] being ignored.
In the Los Angeles Times, music journalist Randall Roberts was critical of the nominations for the 54th Grammy Awards, particularly for the Album of the Year category, noting the exclusion of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, "the most critically acclaimed album of the year, a career-defining record", as a snub in favor of nominating less substantial albums. West, who was vocal in his displeasure with past award snubs, responded onstage during a concert on the Watch the Throne Tour, saying "That's my fault for dropping Watch the Throne and Dark Fantasy the same year. I should've just spaced it out, just a little bit more."
^"Czech Albums – Top 100". ČNS IFPI. Note: On the chart page, select 201106 on the field besides the word "Zobrazit", and then click over the word to retrieve the correct chart data. Retrieved September 30, 2018.