Watch the Throne and Learn
Jay-Z and Kanye's luxury rap is tone-deaf? Tell that to the fans packing the arenas.
"Build your fences/We're digging tunnels/Can't you see we're getting money up under you" was rapped by Jay on their Otis Redding-sampling, "Otis," when they joined each other front and center. Kanye formed his arms into wings and swooped over Jay, following with, "Can't you see the private jets flying over you?/Maybach bumper sticker reads, 'What would Hova do?' " It's a bit Malcolm X, "by any means" state of mind, but mostly one that declares that perseverance breeds glory.
Images of the human rights activist and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. blended with shots of the Ku Klux Klan flashed on the screen as the duo paused to observe. "Racism is tough," Jay said. "We will make it out alive."
Really, it's hard to look at the guys and not think that you, too, can "make it." Kanye West was an overlooked, underappreciated rapper in the late '90s and into this century who slithered his way to microphone prominence by becoming a top-tier producer. And look at him now, out touring with the rap legend he admires most.
Jay-Z spent the majority of his later youth selling drugs and being far from a law-abiding citizen. Two decades later, at almost 42, there he was onstage playing it straight -- with a U.S. flag hanging out of his back pocket, no less. For obvious reasons it sounds crazy, but they are the embodiment of the American dream.
That's why Throne's most popular single yet, "Niggas in Paris," isn't about two snobby rappers pointing to their broke, passport-less peers and wittily saying, "nana-nana-na-naaa!" It's about guys who, based on their pasts, shouldn't be able to live so lavishly, but are.
"I ball so hard motherf---ers gotta fine me," raps Jay on the opening line of the track -- meaning that his success is so offensive to some that it comes with a penalty. Media scribes apparently are the ones doling it out. The tongue-in-cheek yet spiteful mentality is so hip-hop, it's hard for people not familiar with the culture to understand.
The song is such a hit that Jay-Z and Kanye saved it for last on this tour stop -- and they ran it through three times, to the delight of their fans. There they stood, free of the monetary woes that concern most, but also free to inspire. The crowd, bouncing and rapping along to every line of their "luxury rap," got that the song, along with the album, is not only a display of good living but an invitation to join the club. You've just got to pay your dues first.
Brad Weté is a contributor to The Root.