by Kanye West feat. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj and Bon Iver
"Nobody else is making music this daring and weird," wrote Rolling Stone in a review of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, "from the spooky space funk of 'Gorgeous' to the King Crimson-biting 'Power' to the paranoid staccato strings of 'Monster.'"
Paranoid and staccato just begins to describe the strange sounds emitting from "Monster," which seems to take inspiration from the horror-camp of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" but turns out to be a much spookier tune. Pitchfork called it "the weirdest A-list event-rap posse cut in recent memory," and we concur. Musically, the song is downright strange.
"Monster" opens with a grandiose Bon Iver/Justin Vernon choral moment, backed by a dark layer of voices and deep synth tones. But suddenly, an axe-murder-in-the-woods type scream marks the moment where Kanye (as famous for his production of catchy, creative beats as for his rapping) drops the beat.
"Monster" is a parade of famous voices, and the voices themselves form the most important instruments on "Monster." With the second part of the hook ("profit, profit"), the song's most interesting background feature comes into play—an alternating "beat" that is made from distorted human voices. The distortion and layering makes the beat sound like a group of zombies chanting their way out of a deep cave. Pitchfork called it "the straight-up funkiest beat Kanye West has made in years, a rippling electro push-pull that adds an effortless strut to his recent progged-out chilliness."
The song builds steadily, flowing from Kanye to Jay-Z while making clever use of sparseness and bringing the creepy back-up voices in and out at just the right moments. At one point during Jay-Z's solo, all the beats drop out except a muted bass, and Jay's solo builds tensely back up to the hook. The next round of "gossip, gossip" is marked first by a dark monstrous growl and then by recordings of a cheering crowd in the background. The choruses of voices sound increasingly dramatic—maybe even over-dramatic, especially over Jay-Z's somewhat whiny complaint about the pains of making other people rich—but nothing is as dramatic as Nicki Minaj's entry into the song.
If voices are the primary instruments on "Monster," this track is definitely Nicki Minaj's virtuoso moment. As MTV put it, "Minaj obliterates the track with a hodgepodge of styling — from her flow to her vocal inflection and varied tonal cadences." Her voice is trembling, full, and patently strange, complemented by West's distorted echoes and the sudden entry of a sharp high-hat during her solo. Unlike the other rappers in the song, Minaj is truly convincing when she screams that she's a "monster."
With that, Justin Vernon's electro-emo chorus drunkenly wraps up the track, leaving the listener weirded out but willing to go back to the start and listen again, if just to take in those 80 seconds of Minaj madness one more time.