On August 8th 2011, Jay-Z and Kanye West released Watch the Throne, maybe the most epic collaboration album in the history of hip-hop.
It was also the artistic culmination of Jay-Z and Kanye’s partnership, starting back in 2000 when Kanye’s sample-driven beats revitalized Hov’s sound.
Listening to Watch the Throne now, it still feels relevant, modern, and very much present.
The album represented a bit of a departure for both Jay and Kanye. Some of the production on Watch the Throne was kind of out there.
Songs like “Gotta Have It,” “Ni**as in Paris,” “Who Gon Stop Me,” “H*A*M*,” and “Why I Love You” featured massive, EDM-inspired production that sounded completely different than anything Kanye or Jay-Z had done before.
“Otis” and “The Joy” brought that standard Kanye-sampling sound back to the forefront.
It’s interesting to look at Jay and Ye’s comments about the meaning behind their album.
Jay even said the title Watch the Throne was basically a way of saying that hip-hop was still king as indie rock and EDM rose to prominence in the early 2010s.
Back in 2011, Jay told Miami’s 99 Jamz radio host Lorenzo Thomas that Watch the Throne was really about establishing that culture:
“It’s just protecting the music and the culture. It’s people that’s in the forefront of music, it’s like Watch the Throne, protect it. You just watch how popular music shifts and how hip-hop has basically replaced rock and roll as the youth music. The same thing could happen to hip-hop, it could be replaced by other forms of music. So it’s just making sure that we put that effort into making the best product so we can contend with all this other music, with all the dance music that’s dominating the charts right now and indie music that’s dominating the festivals and still hold off rock ‘n’ roll. Just to hold our place and make sure that the hip-hop culture is still the most dominant form of music around the world.”
Looking back to 2011, when Avicii and Swedish House Mafia made European EDM popular in America and Adele, Mumford and Sons, and Coldplay dominated the pop charts, perhaps it looked like hip-hop was losing its stranglehold on the zeitgeist.
But now, that’s almost laughable. Hip-hop music is popular music. EDM has sort of faded back into niche status, creating interesting sub-genres but nothing compared to the maximalism of early 2010 dance music and no one really listens to rock anymore.
Maybe that’s because Kanye and Jay watched the throne nine years ago.
Regardless, hip-hop and its culture just have more staying power than any other popular music in America.
When listening to WTT, the biggest difference between August 2011 and now is that Jay and Kanye are no longer on speaking terms.
Au contraire, they’re throwing shots at each other.
It’s unclear when all the discontent really started and there were rumors of arguments and disagreements for awhile, but the beef came to the forefront when Kanye went on one of his rants at a concert in November.
After talking about… a lot of stuff including Trump winning, Hillary Clinton, Q-Tip, Mark Zuckerberg looking for aliens, Beyonce winning best video, and his debt, Kanye turned his attention to Jay-Z. Ye said of Hov:
“Jay Z, call me, bruh. You still ain’t calling me. Jay Z, call me. Aye, bruh, I know you got killers. Please don’t send them at my head. Just call me. Talk to me like a man. I’m not trying to be the man. I just am a man, the same as anybody here.”
Kanye was hospitalized after this show and cancelled the rest of his Saint Pablo Tour due to exhaustion.
For his part, Jay had stayed pretty silent on the subject… until 4:44.
Lyrics on songs like “Kill Jay-Z” were clearly aimed at ‘Ye:
“You dropped outta school, you lost your principles/ I know people backstab you, I feel bad too/ But this fuck everybody attitude ain’t natural/But you ain’t a saint, this ain’t KumbaYe/ But you got hurt because you think KumbaYe/ You gave him 20 million without thinkin’/ He gave you 20 minutes on stage, fuck was he thinkin’?/ ‘Fuck wrong with everybody?’ is what you sayin’/ But if everybody’s crazy, you’re the one that’s insane.”
It’s fucked up and sad that it’s come to this point.
Watch the Throne was one of the wildest albums to ever come out of modern music. It might have just ensured that hip-hop remained the popular genre of music in America forever.
We just hope Kanye and Jay-Z bury the hatchet soon, get back in the studio, and give us Watch the Throne 2.
We’re not holding our breath though.