Simplicity seems to be a staple in hip-hop recently. From the kick-snare drum patterns and heavy, catchy bass hooks applied to most songs in the genre these days, to the straight-up 'lifting' from other songs with all the cut-and-paste skill of a bad blog writer (see this blog for examples).
Kanye West, however, is one of the most interesting guys out there in all of music today. That is a given. Whether you love him or loathe him, you cannot deny that the guy's got talent.
This track, then, the first from what is arguably Kanye's best album to date, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, serves as a reminder to how astonishing his use of sampling really is. The focal sample used in this track is taken from Mike Oldfield and Jon Anderson's In High Places, pitching Anderson's voice in a slightly lower key and working the "can we get much higher" bits in between Kanye's verses and book-ending the whole song (at the start this is after Nicki Minaj's spoken-word part in a not-too-shabby English accent). In amongst the Oldfield/Anderson samples, some lovely backing vocals of "so high" are added which give a spectral feeling not unlike Gospel singing, yet not unlike some kind of devilish sound.
West seems hell-bent on ignoring many structural norms on this one and the song has a real sectional feel. It works to great effect as a mis-shapen, haunting piece of work which keeps in line with the idea of a dark fantasy. The bent synths in Minaj's aforementioned spoken-word part also lend a ghostly beginning to the tale.
The verses work as straight up hip-hop in many ways and Kanye's rapping is, as always, infectious, cool and markedly better than most others'. Name-checking Murcielagos (a car model from Lamborghini in case you don't know) and Leona Lewis it works lyrically as a what's what and who's who of pop culture in many ways. The raps are seemingly set against the song in the same way that cats and dogs are in nature in that weird leftfield-ish music like Oldfield's is being sampled at one end and at the other some of the biggest brand names around are mentioned.
As a song Dark Fantasy works to stunning effect and introduces an album of many peaks. It is certainly one of the best songs to have come out this year.
n.b. The song is included as a 'song of this year', even though it was technically released last year, due to how late in 2010 it was released. Think The Clash's London Calling being named the best album of the '80s by Rolling Stone even though it was released late in 1979.