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Kanye West goes big and produces best effort yet

Following up 2008’s divisive “808s and Heartbreak,” battle-scarred rapper Kanye West has delivered his fifth studio album, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” and it might be his best one yet.

Coming a year after West’s infamous run-in with Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards, “Fantasy” marks a return to glory for West. It comes out firing on all cylinders and guns blazing, providing listeners a dark and intimate look into the curious mind of one of today’s pop stars.

“The night demons still visit me,” West raps in the album’s first track, “Dark Fantasy,” before the next tune, “Gorgeous,” which employs grungy electric guitar with the raspy voice of Kid Cudi delivering the song’s hooks.

Then comes “All of the Lights,” set to be the next single off the album. The track, preceded by a minute-long piano and strings interlude of the song’s melody, is a glitzy illustration of both West’s mastery of production and yearning for collaboration. Blaring trumpets and frenetic percussion are set to the vocals and piano of 11 total featured artists, including Rihanna and Elton John.

The crux of “Fantasy” centers around “Runaway,” a nine-minute ballad in which West confesses that people have been “puttin’ up with my s— just way too long” and admits to “never being much of a romantic.” Six minutes in, the track strips down to a simple melody of piano and strings before West delivers haunting verses in almost indecipherable vocoder.

Rounding out the album are previously released singles “Power” and “Monster.”

“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” isn’t standard rap fare. No, this album is the product of an artist with no qualms challenging not only the ears and minds of mainstream listeners, but genre boundaries as well, often criss-crossing from hard rap to pop and even rock. With “Fantasy,” West has cemented himself as one of the day’s best pop acts, if not its most daring.

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