Watch the Throne by Jay-Z and Kanye West (Roc-A-Fella, 2011. 46 minutes)
Born in Brooklyn, Jay-Z is an American rapper, record producer, and business mogul. He has won 16 Grammys.
Kanye West is an artist, producer, fashion designer, and film director, born in Chicago, Illinois. He has won 22 Grammys.
Liberation Means Money
Liberation: a major theme in literature from marginalized groups. When you don’t have choice, when the institutions and structures seem to operate in opposition to you, your goals, and your culture as a whole, then freedom becomes the cry.
Freedom to make decisions without external repercussions. Freedom to practice beliefs, customs, and rites in the open. Freedom to make a living, equal to or better than those in the majority.
This monetary point in the liberation discussion is crucial. Money represents freedom; it’s a tangible definition to where you stand in society. Even though many institutional factors could lead a smart and capable person into poverty, the general assumption of monetary worth is that it corresponds to your worth to society. If you have money, you’ve made it.
This point is the central thesis of Jay-Z’s and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne.
Jay-Z and Kanye, men well aware of the invidious past of African American, proclaim in extolling terms the success of their labor.
Not in any way parsimonious, Watch the Throne flaunts wealth as the final definition of liberation for African Americans.
Extravagance is everywhere on this record, but perhaps most evident in the energetic and frantic number, “Ni**as in Paris.”
“Gold bottles, scold models, Spillin’ Ace on my sick J’s / B**ch behave, Just might let you meet Ye / Chi towns D. Rose, I’m movin’ the Nets to BK”
Line after line gives evidence to wealth, grandeur, and the good life.
Built on the Past
Similarly, “Made in America” proves arrival.
“Sweet King Martin / Sweet Queen Coretta / Sweet Brother Malcolm / Sweet Queen Betty / Sweet Mother Mary / Sweet Father Joseph / Sweet Jesus / We made it in America”
Drawing from African American history, Jay-Z and Kanye imply their rise to fame and success is a progression and the pinnacle of the hard work many performed before them. Because of the important work in the past, liberation is now readily available.
Best to Watch the Throne
But Watch the Throne also offers a warning. Current success does not demand success in the future. The duo best conveys this message, in the dark opener, “No Church in the Wild,” an explorative moment pointing the listener to a Hobbesian state of nature. Frank Ocean croons the melodic hook,
“Human beings in a mob / What’s a mob to a king? / What’s a king to a god? / What’s a god to a non-believer? / Who don’t believe in anything? / We make it out alive / All right, all right / No church in the wild”
Even though Watch the Throne exists as a celebration of liberation through the evidence of monetary wealth, Jay-Z and Kanye West remind us of the fleeting nature of success. We are all a couple chess moves away from destruction. So Jay-Z and Kanye West urge us to watch the throne, you never know when someone is going to take it. As much as they can shout praises and pay homage to those in the past, spending millions on earthly pleasures, it could all go away.
Watch the Throne proclaims success and liberation. But it also provides a warning. It is an excellently produced record, well worth your time.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5