In the spring of 1789, a quiet revolutionary fervor was roiling through France, slowly seizing its rebellious bourgeoisie as the entire country approached the point of murderous rage over endless war, shitty economic conditions, and institutionalized class inequality, not to mention the pair of obnoxious demigods — Louis XVI and his cake-eating wife, Marie Antoinette — sitting on their perfectly fat asses in the Château de Versailles.
The time had finally come to exterminate this king who considered himself the emissary of God and his queen who couldn't stop compulsively gloating over her own obscene wealth. In that moment, an eerie calm belied the bloody future. But somewhere, safe and hidden, somebody loyal to the cause was sharpening the guillotine and picking out baskets for Louis and Marie's severed, crownless heads.
Now 222 years later, a similarly silent insurrection is worming its way through the world of hip-hop. As real unrest and actual upheaval sweep across the Middle East in the form of the Arab Spring, and the Tea Party battles the Occupy Wall Street movement for primacy in the next American Revolution, there is a young and vicious onslaught of 20-something spitters quietly plotting the overthrow of rap's royal family. And presumably, that's why Jay-Z and Kanye West have chosen this very moment to band together and Watch the Throne.
Jay-Z and Kanye West
Jay-Z and Kanye West's Watch the Throne Tour7:30 p.m. Monday, November 14, at BankAtlantic Center, 1 Panther Pkwy., Sunrise; 954-835-7825; bankatlanticcenter.com. Tickets cost $59.50 to $250 plus fees via ticketmaster.com.7:30 p.m. Tuesday, November 15, at American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 786-777-1000; aaarena.com. Tickets cost $39.50 to $250 plus fees via ticketmaster.com.
Yes, Jay and Ye's recent 12-track collaborative album is supposed to be a definitive artistic document from two of the game's current kings. But it's also a strategic offensive maneuver against the rabid, Internet-mobilized mob of upstart MCs actively conspiring to push Hova and Yeezy off their huge and exalted solid-gold seats.
(Just to fully break down the dramatic dynamic of this seemingly imminent rap revolution, let's quickly run through the players: Regal, Forbes-listed Jay-Z is our Louis XVI; high-strung divo Kanye West might be considered Marie Antoinette; and swag rap crew Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, along with its millions of acolytes, could be cast as the hyperviolent horde raging at the gates with an insatiable hunger for buckets of royal blood.)
Now, one might wonder, Why exactly do Jay-Z and Kanye West need to be dethroned? Well, they don't. It's simply the natural order of things. There is birth and then death. There's the rise and then the fall. There's the reign and then the revolution. And right now, OFWGKTA's Tyler, The Creator; Hodgy Beats; Sid Tha Kyd; Earl Sweatshirt; and their followers are slowly stalking through the streets toward Jay and Ye's fortified palaces — i.e., the Roc Nation headquarters and GOOD Music compound — as the bosses hide in their bulletproof offices, rooftop penthouses, or petits appartements du roi, peeking through the blinds at the terror below.
But even though Jay and Kanye remain perfectly viable rap royals, there are significant signs of decay and decadence. For one, these kings are getting kinda old: Hova is a 41-year-old married man with a Queen Bee in the bedroom and an heir on the way, while Yeezy has become a 34-year-old man-child desperately trying to hold onto his status as hip-hop's enfant terrible. And there's no more embarrassing example of their rapidly advancing age than that silly boast about having been the progenitors of swag, the very movement that's threatening to overturn and torch their twin thrones.
"I invented swag," Jay-Z goofily insists on "Otis," the lead single off their album, before resorting to standard pimpin' stereotypes ("Poppin' bottles, puttin' supermodels in the cab"), shouting out his $20,000 wristwear ("New watch alert, Hublot/Or the big face Roley, I got two of those"), and just generally revealing his and Kanye's fundamental misunderstanding of the whole Odd Future-led uprising. It's what could be called a "Let them eat cake" moment.
Another omen of Jay and Kanye's inevitable decline: the fact that the pair's musical products — solo releases, guest spots, and even Watch the Throne — have become increasingly uninspired and rigidly formulaic as both the Roc Nation boss and his overly emotional sidekick seem to have reached that late phase of their careers when the music is no longer the chief focus of their kingdom. After a decade-plus reign, Hova's and Yeezy's records have merely become another means (in addition to record labels, fashion lines, autobiographical tomes, etc.) to push and profit off an increasingly extravagant brand that's geared less and less toward the common people, the street heads, the real rap fans.
Of course, there are innumerable instances of Jay and Ye's mushrooming elitism throughout Watch the Throne's track list. But one needn't even listen to the album to get the essentially accurate impression that this is a 24-karat slab made by a couple of nearly middle-aged millionaires. Honestly, just look at it. In an age when the compact disc is dying a sad, protracted death (and the recording industry is literally planning its funeral), Jay-Z and Kanye have chosen to wrap their magnum opus in the most luxurious album packaging possible — a gaudy gold cover that looks like it was ripped right out of the fucking ceiling at the Palace of Versailles.
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Nevertheless, Hova and Yeezy remain comfortably fixed atop their kingly chairs for now. And perhaps the pair's unspooling Watch the Throne tour will help momentarily halt the onward march of those swagged-out masses seeking to unseat, beat, and extinguish all remaining members of rap's reigning royalty.
Early reports about Jay and Ye's massive U.S. excursion have been wholly positive, even glowingly adulatory. And although their live production appears to be just as ridiculously over-the-top (elaborate stage sets, equally elaborate minisets, 50-foot floating cubes, building-size LED screens, levitating platforms, laser shows, even Givenchy-designed American flags) as their recorded exploits, there's undoubtedly a dazzling kind of intimacy to holding court with these kings. So maybe like another once-omnipotent, now-waning royal — Lil Wayne, whose recent blazing trek around the country seemed to contradict the lame morass of his latest album — Jay-Z and Kanye will emerge from the Watch the Throne tour as reconfirmed monarchs who've beaten back the pretenders, the usurpers, the punk bitches.
After all, these kings have already been to war. They've been guarding their huge and exalted solid-gold seats for more than a decade without incident. And this wouldn't be the first time they've fended off threats from the hip-hop hordes.
But then again, maybe the days of His Hovatastic Majesty Jay-Z and King Kanye are finally over, and the Reign of Terror is almost upon us.