The long awaited collab of hip-hop's two reigning titans arrived this week, after fits and starts and a lock down so tight no one heard it until they said so.
And it's good. Not great by any stretch, but it shows Jay-Z back in good form and Kanye finding the sweet spot he hit on MBDTF and keeping it going.
When H.A.M. dropped, I was admittedly not impressed. That gaudy single art, the lackluster lazy rhyming, the trash heap beats. Then came the threat of a full collab album, something Jay has quite frankly never been able to pull off. Need I remind you of Best of Both Worlds AND Unfinished Business? Not to mention Collision Course and The Dynasty.
And Kanye, notoriously a weak rapper, has been growing lyrically and eating Jay for lunch. Where Jay killed it on Diamonds from Sierra Leone, Ye destroyed it on Run This Town and Haters.
But here we are, and in a weird bit of alchemy, all these elements that together should make a miserable album instead create a solid experience.
They've invited a ton of friends to come lamp: Beyonce, Frank Ocean, Bon Iver. It is an album that is singularly Kanye's vision in its scope, size and production. Prime example: they paid nothing short of a trillion dollars to clear Otis Redding's Try a Little Tenderness. It was 100 percent worth it and shows the two at their most comfortable. No hooks, horns and an Otis Redding that go nowehere, it feels simultaneously fresh and a throwback to early Kanye. Gotta Have It samples a skittish James Brown, with some assist from the Neptunes, you can tell this is going to be a party.
Jay-Z over his entire career has never dreamed this big (his masterpiece The Blueprint is remarkable for its restraint and smoothness). And at times he gets swallowed in. You would think New Life, a RZA coproduced track sampling Nina SImone would be perfect. And the idea is great: two guys rapping to their unborn children. But Jay doesn't do sentimentality (exception: Song Cry), and Kanye never sounds sincere (I find it hard to breathe in when the next track is That's My Bitch).
But when it shines, it burns bright. Niggas in Paris is possibly my favorite track on the album, built off of frantic rapping, a tapping high hat and synth, and some nonsense half bits from Ye and Jigga.
What is the end to this collaboration? These two have been appearing on each other's records for a solid decade now, so this is nothing new. I'm glad to see whatever falling out they had has been resolved. Ye still is looking up to his Big Brother, and in some ways, Jay-Z still needs Kanye to stoke that fire and hunger. But where this album leaves us I'm not quite sure.
Buy JAY Z and Kanye West's Watch the Throne from Amazon's MP3 Store