About that throne
jay-z & kanye west – murder to excellence (from “watch the throne“, def jam 2011)
big k.r.i.t. – dreamin’ (from “returnof4eva“, self-released, 2011)
kendrick lamar – a.d.h.d. (from “section.80“, self -released, 2011)
Been anywhere near something music-related on the internet the last few weeks? In that case you’ve probably noticed that Jay-Z and Kanye West have released an album. The media campaign launching “Watch the throne” has been perfectly orchestrated – carefully building hype trough a plethora of channels and managing the album not to leak before the release date… I’m impressed. After the album was released, the campaign didn’t let up: last Thursday saw an announcement that the fellas had shot a video with the mighty Spike Jonze, and a few hours later is was released. And it’s great.
This is all good and well, and makes for a lot of copy/content, but both Jay-Z and Kanye West have had it made for years now – there’s no need for them to push boundaries. Examples? Jay-Z’s flow has been pretty uninspired these last few years, and Kanye’s latest album sounded like the night before the Roman Empire fell.
So… how’s the new album? Not bad, surprisingly! “Watch the throne” isn’t for everybody, and i for one can’t listen to the whole thing in one sitting, but it’s definitely trying something new. The album covers a lot of stylistic ground, both rappers sound hungry and like they’re having fun, and i have a soft spot for Famous Artists doing what they like and enjoying it. Any risks or potential critical backlash is moot however – at this point both artists are pretty much the biggest rappers (and producer) in the music business right now. And that’s where my concern comes in.
I believe in the myths that have formed in the 30+ years of hiphop history, and of the most important ones is the hiphop version of the American Dream: everybody has an equal chance to make it; all you have to do is work really hard. Once you’ve made it, what’s left to strive for? And is it interesting to listen to rappers who are beyond possible failure? Hiphop, to me, has always been about getting out there, being noticed, working hard for the respect of the audience and showing artistic growth trough the struggle to make it. If the throne has now been claimed by Jay-Z and Kanye, who are the young and hungry hopefuls striving to one day claim it for themselves?
Allow me to introduce two who have impressed me recently: Big K.R.I.T. and Kendrick Lamar. Krit self-released the free “Returnof4eva” mixtape earlier this year, and Kendrick Lamar has just released the impressive vision that is “Section.80” Two tracks to wet your appetite are posted above – seek out the full albums, they’re very much worth it.