To See The King, You Must Watch The Throne
To all those that are offering up their opinions and can just talk about the tracks on the collaborative mega-album between Jay-Z and Kanye West, I salute you. There’s no way I can avoid talking about many extraneous factors and context.
Here we have the most influential musician in the world continuing his musical evolution. Let’s be frank, this is Kanye West’s album offered up as a collaboration in name only. It’s his vision and his effort with a spot and ghostwriting for Jay-Z. It’s striking to listen and coming away thinking Jay-Z is just a guest feature on each track. This album, Watch The Throne, is purely Kanye’s.
So once we’ve framed it as Kanye’s album, let us consider where the world and Kanye have come. Perceptions skew everything about everything and Kanye has never shied from his version of what’s going on–musically and otherwise. His world has been the central creative factory for hip hop and popular music in the 21st century. For every Hennessy-fueled moment to every production, Kanye is the mad genius who has his legions of fans/supporters and enemies/detractors.*
*Yet his enemies aren’t enemies in the classic hip hop sense. For example, they’re not rappers beefing with him. Mostly, you can’t help but feel any so-called enemies are manufactured for mutual benefit.
This album is a celebration of coming so far from being a dropout. But to call it that alone would be a gross mischaracterization and an oversimplification; it’s not an aggrandizing self-tribute. It’s more. It is the king trying to legitimize himself in his own head. It’s not a coincidence that there are moments across the album that celebrate black culture…just like a president or a king celebrating the national myths.
Everyone, Kanye included**, know his place in the musical hierarchy. He is at the top. He has ascended to the top. He is king.
**Kanye is way more self-aware than he’s given credit for being. Just because he isn’t self-deprecating in a Justin Timberlake sort of way doesn’t mean he doesn’t know. The lack of self-joking might just be a manifestation of his insecurities but that’s just my speculation.
Yet his rise has been the inverse of so many in the nation, the African-American community included and especially, and that’s where a disconnect starts to form. There are only so many times that you can talk about Christian Dior or Maybachs and not be considered rich man’s rapper. Kanye has always focused on what he knows and the rich cars and the models are his influences now.
And the king knows there’s a disconnect and he’s desperately trying to get back to where he’s from. His connection is strenuous at best and throughout, the verses about the gilded prizes of contemporary fame and modern success are disguised as a celebration of what’s possible…bravado masking insecurities. He’s hoping his position of prominence is enough to see him through, and it’s why we’re told to watch the throne. You see Kanye isn’t like Jay-Z–he doesn’t have a Beyonce or a business blueprint or a stake in a pro basketball team–he has his music. That’s what defines him. But with the world’s economy seemingly crashing down, the king knows he could lose his grip. Thus, the appeal to the myths. Thus, the shout-outs to Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Jesus. Thus, the celebration that a black man can be a king (made) in America.
Favorite tracks: New Day, Otis, No Church in the Wild, Who Gon Stop Me, Made In America