Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy vs. The Roots’ Phrenology. Which Is Better?
One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?
“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.
For whatever reason, “Album #5” often yields great artistic growth. In the cases of Kanye West and The Roots, both acts reached new frontiers, while carrying key trademark elements with them. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Phrenology are both works that saw these celebrated artists (who once shared a studio) step ahead in new decades. In looking at these extensive careers, these are two crucial albums to understanding the magnitude of the men who made them. Only one work can survive the Finding The GOAT bracket, so which will it be? (Click one then click “vote”).
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West
In 2010, Kanye West was a man apart. Two years prior, ‘Ye lamented his woes on arguably Hip-Hop’s most influential album of the last decade: 808s & Heartbreak. Now, he wanted to get back to rapping, but strictly on his terms. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was largely made on a Hawaiian isle. There, Kanye invited muses and collaborators across the genres for an onslaught of regimented living, playing, and diligent creating. What resulted was a 13-track album that was as ensemble as anything West had ever done. However, while a litany of creatives contributed, it was Kanye’s life and times they were channeling. This game-changing album is inspired by lust, intoxication, ego, and the desire to keep pushing art forward. At a time when the media portrayed West as one of the most self-centered celebrities of all times, he made an album that was built around externalized character. The transgressions (adultery, violent outbursts, incessant complaining) played as autobiographical, but the ultra-expensive LP did not appear to simply be a mogul’s self-discovery. Instead, Kanye held up a mirror to his listeners, and showed that even amidst all his superficial grandeur, he could still relate and listen. With full creative control, this decadent work was a baron’s fantasy camp: complete with RZA, No I.D., and Mike Dean on assistance, and relegating multiple diamond-certified singers to over-dubbed background vocals. Put simply, M.B.D.T.F. is a musical monstrosity in the best possible fashion.
Just as Kanye West did so amazingly on his College Dropout debut, his fifth album played god with casting. “Monster” was the latest and boldest in the power-cypher revival. The explosive lineup of Rick Ross, Jay Z, and ‘Ye returned the rapper to his MC status. However, all knowingly, West gave way to Nicki Minaj, who stole the show in one of her breakthrough lyric-benders. The hardcore Hip-Hop sound was at play on this album, even if West outsourced a lot of the duties from Nicki, Raekwon, Pusha T, and others. “Runaway” welcomed King Push to G.O.O.D. with a melancholic tale about taking the blame for failed relationships. Kanye built the track with a far-reaching Pete Rock drum riff, adding his own evocative pianos and effects. Moments later, “Hell Of A Life” took a shot of vodka and turned the page, looking for the next fling. West masterfully balanced rapping with some of the style he etched on 808s. ‘Ye blurred the lines of rough sex with racism in 2010s America. These confusing messages were never disjointed. M.B.D.T.F. was a lost weekend. At times, it was sophomoric. In other places, deeply profound. “Lost In The World” was a loner’s croon. “All Of The Lights” did the same, walking the line of sanity in unreasonable times. “Power” was a cortisone shot of courage. West’s verses were smart bombs exploding all over the world around him, as the producer returned to sampling in the most exciting way possible. While the fifth album was a giant step forward in West’s directive, he did a fantastic job of pulling his roots with him. Although a challenging listen, “Fantasy” contends as Kanye West’s best, most complete, and most original album. No longer in anybody’s shadow, void of anything to prove, the G.O.O.D. Music founder lost himself in the possibility of his “power” and found his future.
Album Number: 5
Released: November 22, 2010
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1 (certified gold, January 2011; certified platinum, January 2011)
Song Guests: Jay Z, Rick Ross, Raekwon, RZA, Kid Cudi, Rihanna, CyHi The Prince, Pusha T, Nicki Minaj, Bon Iver, Gil Scott Heron, Swizz Beatz, Alicia Keys, Fergie, Elton John, Drake, The-Dream, Dwele, Elly Jackson, Tony Williams, Amber Rose, Teyana Taylor, Chris Rock, John Legend, Ryan Leslie, Charlie Wilson, Ian Allen, Tim Anderson, Richard Ashton, Chris “Hitchcock” Chorney, Wilson Christopher, Rosie Danvers, Uri Djemal, Alvin Fields, Simon Finch, Danny Flam, Kay Fox, Andrew Gathercole, Mark Frost, Tony Gorruso, Philip Judge, Salma Kenas, Ken Lewis, Mike Lovatt, Chloe Mitchell, Rachel Robson, Tom Rumsby, Jenny Sacha, Kotono Sato, Chris Soper, Chloe Vincent, Brent Kolatalo
Song Producers: (self), Mike Dean, RZA, Jeff Bhasker, No I.D., Mike Caren, Andrew Dawson, S1, Tommy D, DJ Frank E, Emile, Noah Goldstein, Plain Pat, Peter Bischoff, Alex Graupera, Phil Joy, Gaylord Holomalia, Brent Kolatalo, Christian Mochizuki
Phrenology by The Roots
Following Things Fall Apart‘s Grammy win, The Roots aimed to hold their momentum and blossom their approach in the 2000s. Between the band’s fourth and fifth album, they revamped some of their personnel. Black Thought was now poised as the sole MC, as the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania mainstays chased a peppier, tighter pocket of sounds to embrace his skill set. Once a South Street jam-band, The Roots aimed to compete against Pop acts—not just their Okayplayer teammates. Phrenology was the turning of the page. In 2002, Questlove, Black Thought, Kamal Gray, Knuckles, Scratch, Hub, and Ben Kinney put on for their city, as it too, was changing. Having helped push Common, Mos Def, and others over the top, the 10-year veterans came to collect their props. With a completely overhauled feel as to their 1990s material, Phrenology afforded The Square Roots a hit single, some of Thought’s most precise rapping, and a lot of depth through knocking out the fourth wall.
“Water” remains one of the realest moments in The Roots’ canon. With Malik B now out of the band and in a feature role, Black Thought put family business on Broad Street. The charged drum backdrop complemented Black’s impassioned vocals about the bond of the band, and how they were all pulling for ‘Lik’s sobriety and safe passage. The Roots had always captured the beat of their city, and written about intimacy. However, this leaped beyond—with a song that showed the inner-workings of the band, and its bond. On the other hand, “Thought At Work” remains one of Tariq Trotter’s most dazzling displays. With an “Apache” back-beat (and a Beatles-inspired lead-in), Black rips apart the track, barely breaking for oxygen. Always a deft MC, this moment showed why he was as good as any peer in 2000s Hip-Hop, and deeply informed by ’80s Rap masters. “Break You Off” had all the accents and themes of a ’90s Roots cut. However, with a fuller studio sound, the Musiq-assisted moment exploded into sound. The nightclub instrumentation of the earlier sounds had given way to multi-tracked mastery. “Quills” was another up-tempo update on The Roots’ traditional style. As Philly had become all the more treacherous, the group found a way to raise their BPMs with the stakes around the 2-1-5. Conversely, “Complexity” extended the band’s rep for brilliant relationship records. With Jill Scott on board, the song seductively strummed at how nighttime maneuvers in the 2000s were not at all cut-and-dry. “The Seed 2.0” did this as well. Few songs, in history, ever went pop in dealing with pregnancy. However, the infectious push-through for the group showed that in addition to hard rhyming, Black Thought could be an incredible showman. This was as Rock & Roll as the band had gotten in a decade. No longer confined to Hip-Hop, Soul, and Jazz, the band started busting loose. “Thirsty!” was raucous Electronica. The Nelly Furtado-assisted “Sacrifice” toyed with all things, especially pop. “Something In The Way Of Things” celebrated Rap’s Spoken Word heritage. No longer feeling cornered in the media, the platinum act with the waiting audience used their newfound stardom courageously. The album even featured more than eight minutes of uncredited music. In Phrenology, The Roots signaled that they were going to keep some of their strongest attributes, but take things to a totally different place in the new millennium.
Album Number: 5
Released: November 26, 2002
Label: MCA Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #28 (certified gold, June 2003)
Song Guests: Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Malik B., Musiq Soulchild, Cody Chesnutt, Jill Scott, Rahzel, Alicia Keys, Nelly Furtado, Sarah Chun, Michelle Golder, Jef Lee Johnson, Tracey Moore, James Poyser, Ursula Rucker, James Blood Ulmer, Nuah Vi, Hope Wilson, Amiri Baraka
Song Producers: (self), DJ Scratch, Scott Storch, Cody Chesnutt, The Grand Wizzards (Questlove, Black Thought, Anthony Tidd, Mel “Chaos” Lewis, James Poyser, Kelo & Richard Nichols), Tahir, Tom Coyne, Andre Dandridge, Caliph Gamble, Gordon Glass, James McKrone, Shinobu Mitsuoka, Kurt Nepogoda, Kareem Riggins, Kelo Saunders, Kamiah Gray, Jesse Shatkin, Omar the Scholar, Shawn Taylor, Steef Van De Gevel, Vince Vilorenzo, Scott Whiting
So what’s the better album? Make sure you vote above.