Yeezy and Jay are back, and they’re as brash, blunt, and bold as ever. On Watch the Throne, their first full-fledged collaborative effort, the duo embarks on a darkly lyrical tête-à-tête, picking apart the urban myth of street sovereignty. Albeit loosely, the album’s tracks weave together fragments of an ominous dominion, touching on the usual hip-hop hurdles and cornerstones as they go on to piece together a mosaic of two very different kings.
In one corner lies Jay-Z: established and enduring mogul of entertainment, the pragmatic businessman whose straightforward flow and no-nonsense attitude have enabled him to outlast every twist and turn of the ever-changing industry. In the other, Kanye West: 21st century prodigy and tragic hero, master mixer who’s as well-known for his loose-canon behavior as he is for being one of the select few to change the game. Equally matched in god-complexes and egos, it’s the dynamic personalities of these rappers that take the worn subjects of fame, fortune, females, flying, fighting, and failure into a new direction, making it a refreshing Camp David of Old School and New School.
Notice I said ‘and’ rather than ‘versus,’ because, in a move that leaves me incredibly impressed, that is exactly what the two do. Rather than contrast their styles (as would be expected in a situation like this), Kanye’s talent and Jay-Z’s instinct shine through, marrying their musical trademarks in a mélange of mutual respect and innovation. Here on this album, Jay’s nonstop one-track flow cuts over Kanye’s diverse production of samples; Kanye’s emotional delivery and unabashed inner-struggles come raw as they’re pared away from his usually all-encompassed style.
This album appeals to everyone. Either you are Jay-Z and you have already made it, or you are Kanye and you are still climbing. “No Church in the Wild” musters up images of Tony Montana as Tarzan with a heavy bassline. “Ni**as In Paris” summarizes the feel of the entire record with the line “What’s 50 grand to a motherf*cker like me?”. With this attitude from Jay-Z, it is so fun to listen to. It seems like only a few short years ago that Kanye West was making his first television appearance on Chappell’s Show dreaming of meeting Jay-Z, his childhood idol.
Kanye’s one sentence autobiography from this is “I made Jesus walks/I’m never going to hell”. He has finally paid his dues, and he has finally made it high enough on the ladder where he can touch Jay-Z’s feet. It must be flattering to Kanye for Jay-Z to not only welcome him with open arms, but even to do an entire album with him. Is this just Jay-Z trying to stay relevant? Is it Kanye flying with wax wings? There is no doubt in this writer’s mind that this is one of the most anticipated albums of the year, and it will no doubt be one of the most critically acclaimed.
The disc simmers in a permeable haze of cockiness and debauchery, but could we really have expected or wished for anything less than full-fledged swagger?