One is the self-proclaimed “Greatest of All Time.” The other is a dropout-turned-producer extraordinaire. One is often argued as being the best rapper alive. The other is one of the most talented producer-rappers to ever make music. Individually, they are Jay-Z and Kanye West. Together, they are the two-headed dragon known as “The Throne.” Individually, they are two of the most influential hip hop artists to walk the planet. Together, they are detrimental to hip hop’s progression.
Jay-Z and Kanye West have led careers that people will talk about for generations to come. Together they are worth upwards of $500 million, started multiple record labels, and own or co-own businesses, professional sports teams, clothing lines and night clubs. Musically, they have sold over 50 million albums, countless digital songs, and released over ten platinum-selling CDs. Both visionaries in their own right, the duo has bridged gaps between genres, including bringing rap to Glastonbury and an entire orchestra into a hip hop recording studio. And to top it off, they have received multiple individual honors, including an astounding thirty-two Grammy Awards between them.
Reaching heights that many people never thought possible for hip hop, the two have walked a road that any who came after could only dream of following. It is undeniable that, individually, Jay-Z and Kanye West are arguably the two hip hop artists with the most influence over the genre and, subsequently, over its people. So when it was announced that the two would be recording a joint album in 2011, the hip hop world rejoiced at the thought of Reasonable Doubt meeting The College Dropout, at the best rapper alive meeting the game’s most sought-after producer, for an entire album.
Then, Watch the Throne dropped.
Despite its twelve (and four bonus) tracks, critics and long-time fans alike were left feeling unsatisfied. Unfortunately, radio-friendly fans embraced the album, which was
led by three shallow and rather meaningless singles (given the standards these two veterans should be held to) in “H.A.M.,” “Niggas In Paris,” and “Otis.” As a result, any negative reviews of Watch the Throne fell on deaf ears as the two enjoyed some of the best commercial success as they had seen in their respective careers. And to be honest, Watch the Throne wasn’t that bad musically. The production was top-notch, as is to be expected from Kanye and the team of producers who contributed to the album. But where the duo dropped the ball was in what they said… or rather, what they didn’t say.
Step back for a second and think of who these two are. They aren’t just rappers anymore. They are the model for every rapper to follow who wants success. People study them in the hopes of emulating, imitating and anticipating their every move. And if a younger generation of rappers, especially those currently gracing the radio airwaves, hear hip hop’s two most iconic artists rapping million-dollar lyrics that have little to no depth or positive, progressive message for the masses to follow, naturally they will see this as the path to success and begin to duplicate their pattern.
What is this doing for hip hop? What is this doing for the music in the clubs, on the radios, in the iPods of our youth? It’s morphing their values and priorities; it’s numbing young, receptive minds and instilling a tolerance for white noise and an acceptance for a lower standard of music. It is defacing a culture that was built on NOT having these things and making due, a culture that was characterized by the every-man, blue-collar artist who made music to buy food for a family, not fuel for a plane. And most of all, it is demoralizing a devoted but defeated following of true supporters of hip hop who have been exiled to the underground and have unjustly become the subjects of the party-song, cookie-cutter-rhyme stereotype being broadcasted on airwaves. Amid this tame string of new rappers, we find Jay-Z and Kanye sitting pretty as hip hop’s “1 Percent,” comfortably perched at the top of the charts.
But when two artists transcend hip hop and become worldwide icons such as Jay-Z and Kanye have become, these artists now have an obligation. These two, above all others, have a responsibility to lead hip hop in the direction that they believe it should go, because these two, above all others, are the ones that the rest of the culture will follow. They had a chance on this ground-breaking album to send a truly positive message and say something worth saying, something that could not only “save” the direction in which hip hop is heading, but to also gain a never-before-seen amount of respect from other genres on behalf of hip hop. Sadly, they missed this chance and what’s worse, they played right into the materialistic stereotype that hip hop has been battling for years. Nothing too visionary about that.
Yes, The Throne saw commercial success, but at what cost? Watch the Throne saw the unification of two of hip hop’s all-time heavyweights, yet the state of hip hop has never felt more featherweight. As Jay-Z and Kanye announce there will be a sequel to Watch the Throne, one has to ask: Are you furthering the culture, or your own bank account? Don’t “Watch the Throne” anymore, watch the barbershop chair. See what those conversations are like nowadays. Is it long-winded, passionate debates about which rapper is the best or most skilled? Or is it deflated admissions that nothing is how it used to be? If you have the ability to speak for an entire culture, gentlemen, you must first know what they would want you to say.
Current Product: Jay-Z & Kanye West – “Otis” vs.
What these two are capable of: Jay-Z & Kanye West – “Never Let Me Down”
What these two are capable of: Jay-Z & Kanye West – “Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix)”
If you can relate, don’t settle for a lower standard of music.