By now many of us have heard Watch the Throne, the blockbuster collaborative album by Kanye West and Jay-Z that was released exclusively on iTunes Monday. By now, opinions have been formed. For some of us, our high hopes were met; for others, the album falls short. Whatever our opinions, there's no denying that both artists achieved what they intended to do, which is, as the title of the album implies, to prove once and for all that they are the kings of hip-hop — at least by Forbes' standards.
For anyone annoyed by Jay-Z's and West's constant references to their riches throughout the album, don't be. We created these two monsters of rap through our undying allegiances to their music and thus had a willing hand in the creation of their brand of Republican rap, which they shout from high atop their respective thrones in song after song.
Watch the Throne is not an album for the people so much as it is an album made on the backs of them. Many who purchased it have been following both Jay-Z's and West's careers from their humble beginnings, and what do they get in return? An album focusing on what loyal fandom has bought them.
We shouldn't complain about rich rappers rapping about how rich they are. Hip-hop has been this way since the shiny-suit era was running on all cylinders, back when no one really believed rappers were as rich as they said they were. But unlike some of their boastful contemporaries, West and Jay-Z really have made millions. What's unfortunate is they seem to want to rub our noses in it.
Never mind the outrageous ticket prices to see them when they set out on tour in the fall. One look at the lyrics found in the digital booklet that accompanies the album, and it's easy to see that if hip-hop is the hood, Jay-Z and West are gentrifying it. They're not trying to appeal to the streets, unless those streets are in a gated community. As Jay-Z says on "Murder to Excellence," the album is a "celebration of black excellence": black ties, black Maybachs and black American Express cards.
Musically, Watch the Throne is some of the most advanced hip-hop of its time. When West and Jay-Z played the album for the press last week at New York City's Hayden Planetarium, the music befit the environment. The producers on the album — among them Swizz Beatz, the Neptunes, newcomer Hit-Boy, West himself — hold nothing back. This is intergalactic, space-age stuff we're hearing, like Avatar for your speakers.
On songs like the uncouthly titled "Niggas in Paris," Jay-Z boasts about how he can own an NBA basketball team that never wins one game and it doesn't mean a thing (how do you like that, Nets fans?). Meanwhile, West would rather put on a movie in his "new crib" because "ain't nothing on the news but the blues." To cope, he goes to the mall to "pick up some Gucci."
Jay-Z and West have essentially priced out the majority of their fan base. Listen to the album enough times and it becomes clear how out of touch they are with our nation's Standard & Poor's downgraded reality. It may be too soon to call Watch the Throne a classic, but it's not too soon to tell that an album of the times, this is not. While many of us have been losing our jobs and trying to make ends meet, these two have been flying above the struggle in their private jets, and they have the nerve to want us to be happy for them because they're black men who made it.
Well, that jet doesn't fly.
Watch the Throne is as good as candy, but not as good as meat and potatoes. We will exercise to it, party to it, update our Facebook, Twitter and other assorted social media statuses to it, but if we give it enough listens, we're bound to resent it at some point. When we do, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
Jozen Cummings is the author and creator of the popular relationship blog Until I Get Married, which is currently in development for a television series with Warner Bros. He also hosts a weekly podcast with WNYC about Empire called Empire Afterparty, is a contributor at VerySmartBrothas.com and works at Twitter as an editorial curator. Follow him on Twitter.