While on the press run for his sixth album, Yeezus, Kanye West, in conversation with director Steve McQueen, said the album was “the beginning of me as a new kind of artist. Stepping forward with what I know about architecture, about classicism, about society, about texture, about synesthesia—the ability to see sound—and the way everything is everything and all these things combine, and then starting from scratch.” He wanted to abandon most of what had made him a household name over the past nine years. Gone were the ornate orchestrations, cleanly chopped soul loops, and beautiful textures. In their place were uncomfortable sounds abutting one another to create something wholly original. It felt like a new chapter in Kanye’s career, one that wouldn’t include albums like his opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. 

With that, it may be permissible to divide Kanye West’s musical career into two epochs: pre-My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and post-My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The first saw an expert postmodernist who, as he told McQueen, leaned “on something that people are familiar with and comfortable with to get their attention.” Aside from his impact on the worlds of fashion and sneakers, he bridged gaps, created new lanes, and sought to expand the purview of what a rap record could be. It took all of six years and five solo projects to get to that point and to perfectly hone the craft. Without the earnest gospel and soul of College Dropout or the ostentation of Late Registration or the pop maximalism of Graduation, you don’t get My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It felt like the album Kanye was waiting his entire career to make. It was also the album that would act as a high water mark for the decade to come. 

“Can we get much higher?” It’s one of the first phrases you hear on the project. A stunt if there ever was one, with Kanye basically asking, “Can anything fuck with this?” The answer, we’d find out later, was a resounding, “Nah, B.” MBDTF was famously made out of a symphony of pain, confusion, and heartache. And it came out all throughout the album. Still reeling from the sudden loss of his mother and the dissolution of an engagement, Kanye was a little out of control. The apogee of that wildness came as he descended on the 2009 MTV VMAs red carpet with a bottle of Henny in hand and his new girlfriend in tow. The night became infamous when Kanye interrupted Taylor Swift as she accepted her award for Video of the Year. He left the show public enemy No. 1. It was the talk of nearly every news show. Even President Obama opined that he was a jackass. It seemed as though everyone was against him. So he did what he always does when his back is to the wall. He retreated into the music.