Guest Star: "We Knew [Kanye West's 'Fantasy'] Was A Moment In Hip-Hop"

Wednesday, Dec 8, 2010 4:30PM

Written by SOHH for Anslem Samuel

[With Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy receiving a rare XXL rating from XXL Magazine, reviewer Anslem Samuel speaks on his breakdown.]

I asked to review Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The album had leaked and at XXL, whenever there's a leak, we get called into the Editor-In-Chief's office [for] a meeting discussing the album and what we thought about it. [We ask ourselves if we should review it] because it was a leak and we didn't have the official joint yet, so it was kind of like, "What do we do?"

We knew this was a moment in hip-hop and so we had to document it. We decided to do the review in-house, and then there was the question of who could do it and who wants to do it. At the time I was digital content director and so I hadn't really written for the magazine in a minute but it was a crazy time during the staff, around the middle of closing and so I said, "You know what, I'm a Kanye fan. I had reviewed Graduation." It was almost like a debate. I asked the music editor, "When do you need this review by?" And he was like, "Tomorrow," so I said, "Early tomorrow, is there some cushion?" So there was a little bit of negotiating going on because I wanted to do it but I really wanted to sit and take my time.

Then I said, "You know what, forget it, I'm gonna do it." I was leaving [the publication] with about a week left, and I wanted to go out with a bang. I wanted to put my pen game down and really show I can do these reviews. I wanted to show the former music editor could still do it. I pretty much went back to my desk with the headphones on and just had it playing the rest of the day while I was doing my work.

Honestly, with the G.O.O.D. Music series and state of hip-hop for the past year and change, Kanye's really the only [artist] that's really been resonating with me musically. I thought it was only right that I do this review. I took it home and stayed up all night until about 3 o'clock in the morning just listening to the album on repeat, writing that review to get it done and then come back in the morning and deal with the edits.

Listening to it, there was nothing I wanted to skip. Musically, this is like crazy. There are definitely some songs you have heard before and no pun intended, this is good music. After the review, there wasn't any real consensus yet [with the rating], but for me, I was learning more towards XXL from the jump but then I got into the process of writing and started wondering, "Am I writing what reads like a XXL?" You still are kind of doubting yourself, but that's why you have your editors and your team to help balance everything out.

The argument I was looking at since we added the new level of rating system, it's not just the overall rating, we also have the beats, lyrics and originality to it. The beats are crazy, and the lyrics show [Kanye's rhymes have improved]. Then you get to the originality, even in my head I'm thinking, "Sh*t, this is original." Even with these sub categories, how do you even argue this isn't an XXL album? That's what I was thinking that night and I came back, went through edits and kind of put it to bed but then come back at it again. We still weren't sure if it was XXL, we were still debating all day.

I think we actually had some extra time and let it sit for the weekend, which I think it deserved. You're putting that statement out there and you got to stand by it. Also, before the weekend, the Deputy Editor and Editor-In-Chief ended up going to Def Jam to hear the final version of the album and that added an extra element to [the review]. It pretty much was the same album so we had the right product. So after the weekend, we came back and decided, 'You know what, we're gonna give it that stamp'. We knew we're making a statement now, that green light was there and we put it down in stone.

Anslem Samuel has been a music/entertainment journalist for over 10 years. After a four-year stint as Culture Editor at The Source, the New York native became the founding Editor-in-Chief of The Ave, an independent quarterly publication that combined entertainment, social issues and politics. From there, he served as the Senior Editor for XXL magazine for three years before moving up the ranks as Digital Content Director for Currently, he serves as the Senior Producer of Interactive Media at Black Enterprises. In addition to his writing appearing in Essence, Blender, Penthouse, Complex, Vibe, King and Rides, Anslem also has worked in radio as a weekly news correspondent for "Phat Saturdays" on Bahamas' 100JAMZ for several years. In 2008, Anslem started penning his own personal tales about the pursuit of life, love and understanding the opposite sex on his hilarious and insightful daily blog, Naked With Socks On [], which earned the title of Best Blog Series in the 2009 Black Weblog Awards.

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