This Sunday, one of the most influential, celebrated albums of the last decade – one we placed at No. 1 on our list of the 100 Greatest Albums of the 2010s – turns 10. Released on Nov. 22, 2010, Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy arrived to almost instantaneous acclaim, earning rave reviews from critics floored by West’s quantum leap in ambition. One of the only snubs came from the Grammys, who inexplicably failed to nominate the opus for album of the year — although it did win the best rap album category in 2012.
Happily, Billboard was quick to appreciate West’s wild achievement, awarding it five stars (out of five) in a review in the Dec. 4, 2010 issue. “West has expanded his sonic palate,” Mariel Concepcion wrote of Kanye’s fifth for Billboard. “He pushes his sound a few steps farther past hip-hop, R&B and pop by telling a story about his hopes, faults and brash beliefs.” She also concluded the set was “possibly the best album of the year.”
It was a commercial hit, too, debuting atop the Billboard 200 on Dec. 11, 2010 and producing four top 40 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 — the highest of those being a No. 12 peak for “Runaway.” At the time, that single was widely interpreted as West’s tacit acknowledgment of being kinda-sorta a jerk for his infamous interruption of Taylor Swift’s 2009 VMAs acceptance speech, which was followed by a months-long media hiatus during which West finalized this bleak, frenzied masterpiece.
Few reviews of the album were complete without a reference to the VMAs — heck, it was the lede of ours. The album’s association with that incident has faded a bit from collective memory, though; it’s a testament to the towering reputation and ongoing impact of MBDTF that it successfully shook off the stink of one of the defining WTF pop culture moments of the 21st century.
Aside from pushing forward nearly every musical genre of the 2010s with its hypnotic blur of styles, MBDTF was also an early influencer in a release strategy that would become increasingly common in the early 2010s. With G.O.O.D. Music Fridays in the fall of 2010, West made six of the 13 MBDTF tracks available for streaming on his website ahead of the album’s release, which Billboard referred to as an “unorthodox strategy” in the Dec. 4, 2010 issue. While that article seems quaint now (it even refers to the online releases as “free of charge”), the strategy West and Island Def Jam deployed was unusual – and regarded as risky — at the time.
Although the Billboard article notes that Swizz Beatz, Timbaland and RZA were quick to follow in ‘Ye’s footsteps (and that West himself enjoyed “enormous publicity” from the G.O.O.D. Music Fridays), two industry pundits in the piece warned other artists to “be careful” about adopting the strategy, with one saying, “It was effective for Kanye West, but everyone else? Not so much.” While that advice may have been true enough in Dec. 2010, it would be increasingly less valid as the decade proceeded and West’s release strategy for MBDTF – much like the music itself – proved prescient and influential.
MBDTF moved 496,000 copies in its first week and earned “the fourth-biggest digital week of any set” ever (at that moment in history) according to the Dec. 11, 2010 issue of Billboard. That massive first week kept Nicki Minaj’ s debut LP Pink Friday, which was also released Nov. 22, 2010, from the top of the album chart — until it finally also went No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in February 2011.
Minaj, of course, was herself an element of MBDTF‘s success, delivering an earth-rattling verse on “Monster” as well as the warped nursery rhyme that opens the album on “Dark Fantasy.” Speaking of Minaj, she covered the Nov. 20, 2010 issue of Billboard, telling Concepcion that her verse on “Monster” helped earn her the respect of male hip-hop listeners loath to take her seriously in the early days of her career. “I definitely think the dudes give me respect,” Minaj said in 2010 of the “Monster” effect. “They haven’t come easy, but I think people are starting to give me more props.”
West and Minaj both went on to enjoy a game-changing (and sometimes head-turning) decade, one that kicked off in earnest when her debut and his landmark arrived and demanded, “Gather ’round children/ Zip it, listen!”