One man recently released an album, though it was hard to hear it over the sound of his growing boy crush on the president; another has one out now with his even more impressive partner, though initially you could only hear it if you subscribed to their streaming service. But seven years ago, Jay-Z and Kanye West solidified their relationship with a joint album which did not lack for self-regard.
Wind Back Wednesday asks: can we learn anything about them today from them yesterday? Perhaps more usefully, can they?
JAY-Z AND KANYE WEST
Watch The Throne (Universal)
Really? We want to see the two reigning monarchs more known for hubris than humour not so much sharing space as expanding it to accommodate their gargantuan talents?
Surprisingly, Watch The Throne isn’t an album of excess piled on to remind us of how important this is. There are few genuinely bombastic musical moments and fewer still occasions where the two men compete – not least because Jay Z, even at less than his ‘90s pomp, is the better rapper and West steps back just enough.
Instead they reinforce each other and their success (“In the past if you picture events like a black tie/What’s the last thing you expect to see? Black guys”), sympathise about tribulations such as the lack of respect from those who have come after, and the way an interest in art and style is not given the credit a white artist would get; and harmonise lyrically on politics, love (That’s My Bitch is, I kid you not, kind of sweet and highly danceable) and their favourite high-end hotels.
More often the music tends to either old style sample-driven pieces such as Otis, which features Otis Reading, and sparser, not hugely commercial grounds like the cracking electronic force of Who Gon Stop Me. In fact when they go all out for a pop angle with Lift Off, featuring Beyonce, we hit the weakest track on the album.
I must admit there was a little frisson in my head when I saw in the writing credits the name Kierkegaard. Hello, I thought, Mr “I got a 5 more rings than Michael Jordan had” and Mr “the Hermes of verses” have borrowed words from the original Christian philosopher rapper himself, the Chuck D of his time? Existentialism and free will in a New York state of mind?
Sadly, no, it wasn’t the great Dane, Soren K, but a sample from songwriter Joshua Kierkegaard. Bugger.
Mind you, Jay Z and Kanye West don’t mind encouraging a bit of old Soren’s fear and trembling in their rivals. And really, Watch The Throne could well be a philosophical primer on how one can still have an examined interior life when one’s exterior is so publicised, scrutinised and (let’s admit it) Cristal-and-bling-ised.
In one of the album’s genuinely tougher (as in not based on boasting but actual feeling) songs,New Day, both men speculate on what they want for and what they’ll tell their as yet unborn children.
Jay-Z says “Sorry junior, I already ruined ya/‘Cause you ain’t even alive and paparazzi pursuin’ ya/Sins of a father make your life ten times harder.” Meanwhile, West says that he “Don’t want ‘em to be hated all the time judged/Don’t be like your daddy that would never budge.”
Hmm, it seems insight is not inimical to “rolling in a Rolls Royce Corniche” so there’s hope for us all.
Bonus DNA breakdown of this album’s constituent parts.
30 per cent Freud’s id
30 per cent Descartes’ cogito ergo sum
40 per cent Nietzsche’s Superman