WATCH THE CRITICS: There’s No Such Thing As Too Rich
There’s nothing left to say about Watch The Throne, not a critique to offer about the beat selection, the lyrics or the production. Between print, television and online media, the joint album between Jay-Z and Kanye West has become the most scrutinized album in recent history.
Personally, I never desired to review the thing. I just wanted to hear it and enjoy it. However Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and online radio has made everyone a critic causing several of you to completely miss the point. So after a week of being bombarded with everything from the most pretentious to the laymen’s perspective, perhaps its time to break it down as simple as possible.
The widely adapted complaint is that Watch The Throne is unrelatable because two of the most successful artists in music got together - calling themselves ‘The Throne’ - and talked too much about how rich they are.
…You’re surprised? More importantly, you’re bothered? Let’s go back.
Nine months ago, when Kanye first tweeted that he and his big brother were recording a joint EP, open speculation began over what such a massive collision of talent and access might sound like. As details of the album sporadically surfaced, we learned that the recording process was taking place in lavish locales spanning the globe. Then ‘H.A.M.’ dropped, failing to catch the mass appeal but signaling their joint offering was to be a little larger than life - epic for the mere sake of epicness.
Still with no release date, we waited for some sign - which came in the form of a surprise performance by Hov at the Comedy Central upfronts. His hair was cut. That familiar fresh fade signaled the end of production and curiosity quickly became mass anticipation.
Out of nowhere, the album was available for download via artist-owned websites. No shipping date was immediately offered, no previews of any new tracks – just an official track listing and the official (and slightly gaudy) artwork - crafted by a world-renown clothing designer.
We purchased it anyway.
Shortly after, ‘Otis’ dropped, featuring a man that’s been dead for more than 40 years. Then handfuls of respected journalists were invited to The Mercer Hotel - WTT ground zero - where well into the night, a casually clad Jay-Z offered the music he and his cohort created. Weeks later a chosen few were invited to the planetarium where we sipped champagne and dined on lobster rolls, while being treated to the universe sound tracked by the heavily guarded album.
In the week that followed, buzz grew to hysteria, with everyone waiting first for the album to leak, then for it to not to leak. At 11:45pm EST on Sunday, August 7, 2011 Watch The Throne was placed digitally into the hands of the public, becoming the most talked about topics online and off.
From the outset, the collective camps proved through action their reign would be an unprecedented one - presenting the album in ways very few artists are able to do. This was the standard they set. So how could anyone be surprised by the audacious material that followed?
The album is named Watch The Throne purposefully. Jay called it an homage to the ‘boom bap’. He and Kanye West have proclaimed themselves ‘King’ and Watch The Throne is their report of the lay of land - the state of their kingdom - from the perspective of the monarchy. The streets may be crime ridden, some of the towns people might be poor and the future uncertain, and while they see that and address it, they are still King. And duty calls that they must live as such.
Jay-Z & Kanye talk about being rich because that is what they are: rich men. If Cudi is ‘wild’n cause he’s young’ then these two must floss because they can. But Jay & Ye are rich men because you made them that way. You purchase their albums. You attend their shows. You frequent their clubs, dine at their restaurants - help fuel the machine so they might be afforded the ability to keep creating. In truth, they are riding in luxury cars and wearing designer watches. Are the critics saying it’s ok for them to have these luxuries, as long as they don’t talk about it? And even if that’s not all their talking about?
Songs like ‘Made In America’ (a reflection on their journeys from humble beginnings), ‘Murder To Excellence’ (a matter of fact dossier on the scores of black men being killed in Chicago), to the emotionally charged ‘New Day’ (a preemptive tutorial love note to their unborn sons) - Ye-Z show their fingers remain firmly placed on the pulse of the culture. "Racks on racks on racks, Maybachs on bachs on bachs, who in that? It’s just blacks on blacks on blacks,” they are most definitely watching. In truth, not counting the bonus tracks, the sum total of songs on Watch The Throne built solely off of flossing? Two. But I guess those two tracks negate the other ten. “Where the fuck is the press, where the fuck is the Pres, either they see or don’t care, god damn I’m depressed’.
You will never hear Barack begin a speech with "Its a terrible time to be an American." If he does, find his replacement immediately. You elected him to offer you hope. So is it possible that the rappers don’t reference the luxuries in life as a means to ignore the strife, but rather to combat it? 'I wish I could give you this feelin, I'm planking on a million.'
We must all play a role. Historically, it is the job of the village to both love and resent the ruling administration. If a king lived how the people lived, he wouldn’t be respected as such. And let me save you a Corey Booker-esque reply. Booker - the Newark mayor who famously and humbly lives amongst his constituents - is also an elected official. He owes his placement as ‘greatness’ to the public. This is where Jay-West get to evoke the golden rule of hip hop: I don’t need your permission to be great. The Throne crowned themselves in a bold bravado in true characteristic fashion of the genre they represent. According to the pair, while you might have helped them get rich, they were great before you got here. Notice the album isn’t named Watch The Democracy. In the words of Jay himself, 'Wasn't I a good King?'
Don’t fret. They’re just enjoying their spoils. Still some of you feel that you are owed a deeper, more connective repayment.
If I sacrifice $100 for a kid to go to college and he eventually graduates and goes on to make more money than I ever did, should I be upset if he talks about how much money he makes?
Or - better still - does his talking about what he’s experienced as a result of this lifestyle somehow mean he doesn’t value the early contribution I made?
The appropriate repayment for support of an artist is good music. And Watch The Throne is good music. Begin to resent them when they boast about things they don’t have, when their bars no longer bang, when the emotion is absent from the words they spit.
Until then, live your life. Floss within your means. Celebrate what you have. Kanye & Jay-Z may not chip in on your overdue mortgage, but they have tried to make your life a little brighter by giving you some complex and enjoyable music to ride to work to. And that’s all they were ever expected to do. They’ve fulfilled their royal duties.
Remember, the day a King sits upon his throne and proclaims his Kingdom in ruins, is historically the day he is beheaded.
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By Paulo Coelho