After a series of public incidents, Kanye West spent the end of the 2000s retreated from the world. When he came back, he brought with him an album that cemented him as the greatest artist of his generation. Released on November 22, 2010, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy saw West and a superstar team of collaborators combine elements of his previous four albums to create an entirely new sound, and in the process, an indisputable masterpiece.
Told here through those who were there and through Kanye West himself, this is the complete, authoritative oral history of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Chapter 1: They Say I Was The Abomination Of Obamas Nation
L.A. Reid (former CEO, Def Jam Records): Kanye West is no stranger to controversy. One time, he interrupted Mike Myers to tell a secret to President [George W.] Bush, and another time, he committed the Great Awards Show Crime. His fearlessness in the face of potential outrage is actually one of my favorite things about him, but he took it a step too far when he invented the worst possible phrase to yell in a church.
Mike Dean (producer, songwriter): Its 2008, and Kanye calls me on the phone to say hes thought of a wonderful new phrase to scream in a church. It turned out that it was actually the worst possible thing someone could scream in a church, but he didnt seem to realize that.
L.A. Reid: I begged Kanye to keep it to himself, but he still interrupted the national anthem during all five games of that years World Series to announce it. I thought his career was over.
Kanye West (rapper, producer): One day, I will be dead and old, and even then, I will still consider the invention of the phrase God doesnt eat food; he just drinks a lot of water my greatest achievement. It is the best thing you can scream in a church because it is not a lie.
Pusha T (rapper): Kanye is a genius, but his opinions about Gods eating habits are just awful. Of course, it almost derailed his career back in 08. Everybody knows that God eats mostly medicine, and thats why hes been able to live for so long.
Kanye West: The only thing I know for certain is that God doesnt eat food. God only drinks water, and because of that hes always hungry. He feels sick all the time and he loves it, and when you die, God welcomes you to Heaven by wobbling his little stomach from side to side so you hear all the water thats sloshing around inside of him. Its called Gods Big Test, because if you throw up in response, you get to be in Heaven.
L.A. Reid: The public reaction was really negative. Millions of people hated Kanye, and it just wasnt going away.
Kanye West: When I meet God, I hope I throw up.
Pusha T: Things got so bad that at one point, Kanye was even brought to trial in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. They unanimously voted to give him the death penalty.
Amber Rose (model, Kanyes ex-girlfriend): I was absolutely devastated by the Supreme Courts ruling, but luckily, just as the lever for the electric chair was about to be pulled, Justice [Samuel] Alito burst in. He had remembered that thinking God only drinks water and doesnt eat food is not a crime, and Kanye was set free.
Kanye West: The nine honorable justices of the Supreme Court tried to kill me. It was the lowest point of my career.
Jay Z (rapper): Kanye was the most hated man in America. I wanted to help him, so I had a plan to become the most hated man in America instead. I was going to slowly drive around America loudly chewing ice into a megaphone, but just as I finished filling my car with bags of ice, a wife named Beyonc said, Hey, idiot, Im having a kid one of these days. Good thing I listened, because wouldnt you know it, three years later, she did.
Mike Dean: Even though he thought he was right, Kanye knew he needed to do something to get the people back on his side. First, he tried to come up with a better church phrase, but the best he could think of was When Christ applauds, he uses his elbows instead of his hands.
L.A. Reid: We brainstormed redemption ideas for weeks, until we came up with something that seems so simple in retrospect: album.
Pusha T: Album was my idea. I remembered that Kanye had a long history of making album, and it seemed like a surefire way to get him back in the publics good graces.
Kanye West: I had no other choice. The Supreme Court almost killed me, and because I wouldve been young and dead instead of old and dead, I probably wouldnt have been ready to throw up at the sight of Gods glorious sloshing stomach. So album it was.
Chapter 2: We Above The Law, We Dont Give A Fuck Bout Yall
As West and company began to finish the album, it was clear to everyone involved that history was about to be made. Still, there was a problem: How do you promote an album, as incredible as it might be, when you dont have the public on your side?
Pusha T: The first attempt at promoting the album was to hire a man to go to the center of every town in America to scream It looks like something big is in the works! The man got a fair amount of press, but it was just going too slow, and we decided to move on. As far as I know, that guy is still doing that, and honestly, whatever.
L.A. Reid: There was also the issue that because no one had actually heard the incredible music Kanye was making, the public was still mad at him. I even heard that one guy had gotten a tattoo of Kanye on his stomach and would charge people $20 to watch him punch it, and he became a millionaire.
Kanye West: I had made too much music to fit onto one album. This made me so mad that I thought about just canceling the entire thing and putting all my energy into creating another good phrase to scream in church, like The Holy Spirit has only read one book and that is Ethan Frome. But then I realized that I could just release some of that extra music to help promote the album, on a little day I like to call Friday.
No I.D. (producer, former president of GOOD Music): GOOD Fridays was a brilliant idea, but Kanye and I argued constantly over how much it should cost. He thought each song should be $100 to buy, and I thought we should pay people $100 to listen. Eventually, we split the difference and just made it free.
Pusha T: My favorite song from GOOD Fridays is Good Friday, because I think its cool how close it sounds to GOOD Fridays.
Mike Dean: GOOD Fridays did the important thing of reminding people that Kanye is much more than the man who made the worst possible phrase to scream in a church.
L.A. Reid: People were warming up to Kanye again, and we needed to keep up this positive buzz. Thats where George Condos cover art came into play.
George Condo (cover artist): I made the cover art be sexual cover art because sometimes a person will see art of some sex and whisper to themselves, Hey, okay, all right, it looks like I am on board, and I know that when there is some sex, a person will get excited or even a little bit thrilled.
No I.D.: Due to the explicit nature of the cover, Outback Steakhouse immediately said it wouldnt sell the album. Outback Steakhouse has never sold any albums, and we had no intention of ever selling it through them, but it was still good publicity because people like when things are badass.
Jay Z: My third idea at becoming the most hated man in America instead of Kanye was as follows: travel to France, go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and unveil a massive sign that says This is what I think the Washington Monument is. But what you have to realize is that theres this wife, and if Im being honest, shes named Beyonc, and she stopped me before I could even go to JayZsPersonalPlaneTicketWebsite.com
Kanye West: Undoubtedly, one day I will be dead and old, but there was only one thing I wanted to call the album: God Doesnt Eat Food; He Just Drinks A Lot Of Water. I didnt care if it pissed people off. But I guess the label misheard me and thought I said My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
L.A. Reid: We know what Kanye said.
Kid Cudi: Things had turned around so much for Kanye that he even got invited to perform at the Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade. I wish I couldve gone, but I had gotten banned for life the year before because Id asked a security guard if I could try to swallow one of the balloons.
Kanye West: In the Thanksgiving Day Parade green room, I saw the man who was playing Santa Claus bite into a ham sandwich so hard that he broke a tooth. When he started to cry, I gave him a tissue, and he responded by telling me that I had been forgiven for everything I had done. It was a nice moment, but it didnt really matter, because the only person who can forgive me is God. And Im on good terms with that little guy, because he knows that I think he drinks six gallons of water out of a very weak Heaven Hose every single day.
Chapter 4: Can We Get Much Higher?
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy sold 496,000 copies during its first week and debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. It received unanimously rave reviews, and many critics considered it to be the best album of 2010. By any measure, it was a triumph, and possibly the best work from one of the best rappers of all timebut despite its legacy, Kanyes relationship with the album has been complicated.
Rob Sheffield (writer, Rolling Stone): The first time I listened to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, I got a bloody nose. But the second time I listened? The bloody nose went away. Thats when I knew it was a classic.
Drake (rapper): My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy changed everything. I think about it every day, and one day Im going to forget about it because of a car accident.
Samuel Alito (associate justice, Supreme Court of the United States): Kanye West sent me a copy of his album, but I still havent gotten around to listening to it. Im sure its fine, but just because you save someones life, it doesnt mean you have to listen to their album. Always remember that. Justice Samuel Alito.
Justin Vernon: Working on this album changed my life. I got to see a robot kill itself, and thats something no one can ever take away from me.
Jay Z: In 2011, I finally achieved my goal of becoming the most hated man in America. I mailed everyone in the country a blurry photo of myself trying to drink a bowl of uncooked rice through a straw, but because everyone liked Kanye again, I had become a pariah for no reason. A wife got mad and a baby was born, and only one of them was named none other than Beyonc.
Kanye West: People seem to like the album, but I dont feel too good about it. Anytime you make something just because you dont want people to be mad at you for believing that the phrase God doesnt eat food; he just drinks a lot of water is a very good thing to yell in a church, it feels hollow.
Pusha T: Thats the cool thing about Kanye: He can make something that is so undeniably great but still see the flaws. Its really inspiring, and one day I hope I can make something that everyone loves but I still hate.
Kanye West: No matter how much I achieve, no matter how much people look up to me, no matter how incredible my family isone day, when I am dead and old, if I am unable to throw up when I see God quietly whirl his little distended, waterlogged stomach, none of this will have been worth it.