when kanye creates something new – i freak out more.
when they collaborate and create an entire album together – i can’t help but get super hyped about the potential the two of these power hitters could produce. these two really are “The Throne” of hip-hop: the kings of the genre who are worshiped by those who digest their tunes. cocky? sure, but as Justin Timberlake puts it, “is it really cocky if you know that it’s true?”* do i blame them for their collab title? no way. however, with great power comes great responsibility, and i’m not sure these two have fully grasped their roles as the kings of hip-hop quite as positively as they could. this album is strong – there’s no arguing that – but overall the content leaves me underwhelmed. however, there are bits and pieces of them moving in a mature direction.
let’s start by discussing their single “Otis” because that’s where they decided to start publicly. kanye is known for his samples, and the Otis Redding clip from “Try a Little Tenderness” is probably his most impressive sample usage since he released Graduation in 2007. it is catchy and creative, but it also adds the historical musical element which kanye is so intentional about. the song is enjoyable, but allow me to poke some holes in it.
first, there’s no chorus. no chorus?! no chorus. the sample loops and loops and loops as jay and ‘ye go back and forth battling rhymes. i nod my head and can’t help but “conducting” some of the lyrics with my hand a bit, but the lyrics are the second issue i have. the lyrical battle has one theme: how abundantly wealthy their lives are. i understand that bragging about wealth is one of the common themes in the hip-hop business. its important for artists to convey that they came out of poverty and that today they are wildly successful. i get that. it adds to the ghetto anthem. but this is kanye and jay-z we’re talking about here. we’ve heard it. we get it. you are already successful and you already have the world. you’re the kings of hip-hop and you don’t need to rub it in our faces or beat the dead horse. here’s what i wish: that “The Throne” would grab their responsibility by the horns and move on from the “last week i was in my other other Benz” and “smoking cubanos with Castro in cabannas” business. you have a massive platform to preach to the masses, and you’re re-introducing the same outrageous themes.
the saving track on this album is “New Day” in which they both address their future unborn sons. essentially they lay out all that they wish they’d done differently in their careers and talk about how they hope they can raise their sons to avoid the heartache they’ve gone through. kanye mentions his ego, breaking up with his college girlfriend, and even his “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” moment on the red cross telethon. it’s a look into his life that we’ve rarely been given. we all know he’s got an ego and that he’s pretty self conscious, but to hear him admit it on a track and hope to raise his son differently is a strong step for him.
in light of the news we all got at the VMAs last weekend regarding Beyonce’s pregnancy**, suddenly Hov’s lyrics feel real already. the world is expecting great things from Jay-Jr. and he/she is going to be forced to live in the shadow of Beyonce and Jay-Z. jay’s opening line: “sorry junior, i already ruined ya. cause you ain’t even alive and paparazzi pursuing ya.” while kanye talks about his regrets, jay-z talks more about how he strives to give his child a better life than he was given – “my dad left me and i promised to never repeat him.” it’s touching and it’s what i wish there was more of in this album. i suppose i should give them the benefit of the doubt: these elements i desire are at least present in small doses. perhaps they just need a time of transition to really own their fame and the responsibility that goes with it.
a few other interesting thoughts here…it’s interesting to see how they collaborated. it’s extremely evident that jay-z is a substantially better rapper – in fact, there are moments where kanye’s lines are a bit embarrassing. however, on the other side of the coin, the lines that jay-z raps are suddenly that much more potent because of the disparity with kanye’s. there are moments where i find myself excited for Hov’s verses – it’s like he’s being featured on certain tracks because the album isn’t overrun with only one voice throughout. and it’s not that kanye is bad – he certainly has his moments too. besides, the samples and the beats are certainly kanye-influenced and that’s where he pulls his Throne’s weight. its his production that got him to where he is.
it’s fun to just have them together too – hearing Hova mention “louis vuitton slippers” and to hear kanye quote “Lucifer” (a kanye-produced track off jay-z’s Black Album) with the line “i’m from the murder capitol where they murder for capital”. and to think about what their thought process had to be when deciding who did what verse and who got the best lines. i’m sure it was a power struggle, but i’m also sure that they pushed each other to create something stronger than they could do on their own.
also, the other artists are all voices – not other rappers as is the custom – but singers/crooners who add to the overall vibe of the album. frank ocean, mr. hudson, and curtis mayfield are all singers (also beyonce pulls the chorus on a track called “Lift Off”, but i hate it and don’t really want to talk about it). the album is less of a dance album and more of a casual listening album. some individuals are miffed by this. they want vintage bumpin club tracks, and while there are bits and pieces, it is certainly not an album i’ll be breaking out at future dance parties/wedding receptions.
in the end, i’m a fan of this album. wouldn’t say i love it, but it’s sound is strong. its lyrics are hit or miss for me, there are little twinges towards what i want from them, but overall they maintain their Benz and champagne glossed lines. and let’s be totally honest – any time these two can work together is a plus for the hip-hop and music world.
* – from the track “Sexy Ladies” off Justin Timberlake’s 2006 album FutureSex/LoveSounds…which, in my humble, yet correct, opinion, was the 3rd best album released in 2006 after Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black and John Mayer’s Continuum.
** – which, btw, kanye appears more excited then jay-z about the news, and supposedly is hoping to be the kid’s godfather.