Thursday, December 30, 2010

Music Video Review: Kanye West Unleashes His Inner "Monster"

By Scott Tre

Hip-Hop has never really had an artist that has mastered or revolutionized the music video in the same manner as Michael Jackson.  In today’s climate of reduced budgets and considerably less than lavish productions, it would seem to that the time for a rapper to ascend to the king of pops music video throne has long since passed.  Amusing but unambitious clips from current stars like the ever maligned Wacka Flocka Flame haven’t exactly pushed the form in a new direction, and Kanye’s own long form video for Runaway left many scratching their heads.

Well, Thank God that Yeezy’s notoriously abrasive ego is as irrepressible as it is insatiable.  Not satisfied with simply having the best rap album of 2010 (yeah I said it), Kanye is determined to conquer the form of the music video, or at the very least distinguish his own videos as the most artistically daring mainstream Hip-Hop has to offer in all of mainstream rap music.   He realizes that it’s not enough to be musically great if one doesn’t have amazing visuals to accompany the amazing sounds.  The latest single off My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, “Monster”, has allowed Mr. West to take another shot at the world title for music video supremacy.

The song itself is a bit less elaborate and labored than some of Kanye’s more elegant creations.  The factory like stamp of the drums maintains an almost tribal intensity.  It pulls the listener along as keyboards synths lay ever so lightly over the mountainous terrain of the drums.  It feels immediate, pushing forward with a force that doesn’t inspire dancing so much as it does uncontrollable head nodding.  You might not move your feet to it, but you still feel it.  Rick Ross, Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj all join the masquerade.  The theme of the song seems to be how stars are treated like Frankenstein monsters...confections dreamed up by the dream machine.  As such, the fans feed off them in a variety of ways.  In turn, the stars themselves become literal monsters, developing insatiable appetites for the adoration with which they are showered.

Rick Ross Dining on a Rather Unusual Meal

The video itself, which has surfaced in on the net in an apparently very rough and unfinished version, is a collage of disturbing images.  Rick Ross, conveying the spirit of B.I.G Poppa in a very real way, sits in a red smoking jacket while a lit cigar stays lodged between his fingers.  Surrounding him are the dead bodies of skinny white models which hang from the ceiling as if executed.  A shirtless Kanye is pawed and grabbed at through a fancy gate, Night of The Living Dead style.  Painted fingernails of female hands claw at his flesh as if it were the last meal in a barren desert.  The next moment, he is in bed with two women who appear to have overdosed or perhaps died before, after (maybe during?)sex.  Kanye positions them in a more pleasing pose, like a serial killer admiring his work.  The viewer is then treated to horrific images of vampire/zombie like creatures feasting on human flesh. 

Jay Hovah cuts a striking figure in an immaculately tailored suit.  He is Dracula to Kanye’s Lestat.  The lifeless body of a scantily clad woman lays splayed out on a couch behind him.  Jigga fixes his mouth into a conceited yet impatient smirk, seemingly annoyed that some still doubt his gangster.  “Why don’t you realize I’m a monster?” He seems to be saying.  His verse spits venom at hangers on and ungrateful former associates.  The video then cuts to an image of Kanye, dressed like a combination between a private detective and a bluesman while holding the severed head of one of the aforementioned creatures.  A quick transition is made to Nicki Minaj, dolled up like a dominatrix.  In torture porn style, she torments a Barbie doll version of herself.  The Dominatrix Nicki writhes and gyrates on the lap of the restrained Barbie doll Nicki.  The S&M/Lesbian connotations of the images are undeniable, as is the theme of being at war with oneself.  For once, the usually obnoxious Minaj manages to entertain with her antics. She also manages to be strangely sexy.  As the clip closes, we get some shots of a writhing she-wolf.

Nicki Minaj in Animal Mode

What does all of this mean?  The visuals may not tell a straight ahead story, but they fit the theme of the song perfectly and manage to grab the viewer’s attention.  They are not overly artsy or indulgent.  Casual fans may be put off by some of the gore as well as the refusal to conform to any of the usual rap video tropes.  There are no fancy cars or exotic locales.  No mugging the camera while walking down the main streets of ones hood.  All that is offered is the artists unrestrained id, set free to frolic in front of the camera.  That might not be what Kanye’s audience had in mind, but we should all be glad that he was at least willing to throw us a curve.  “Monster” is a creation that Dr. Frankenstein might have been proud of.

1 comment:

  1. This review is spot on. Kanye is one of those artists that inspires emotion whether positive or negative. He pushes the envelope in every aspect whether one likes it or not. I think true fans of music and art can appreciate his drive and artistry even if they may not necessarily feel connected to each song. Thanks for capturing the essence of the video with your description. Happy New Year!