New statistical analysis from KSG and EIL gives insight into the rumblings of a potential reunion between Jay and Ye for Watch The Throne 2. Numbers don’t lie: never before have Jay-Z and Kanye’s music been further apart. The two artists have both grown and matured since their classic collab album, but the data shows that their evolution has followed very different paths.
Jay-Z and Kanye West: one a flawed husband, one a flawed public figure, but both represent the pinnacle of success in today’s music industry. In the past 12 months both rappers have undergone deep personal growth and development, and displayed vulnerability that goes further to growing and maturing hip-hop than any other artist has this millenia.
Despite this collective impact, the avenues along which Jay-Z and Kanye have grown are entirely different. Whilst Jay-Z has channeled his growth outwards, spreading its fruits liberally around his immediate family and friends, Kanye has grown inwards, seeking to challenge his universe and justify his existence within it.
Accepting (and even celebrating) the flaws that are part of the human condition is central to the first collaborative projects (EVERYTHINGISLOVE and KIDS SEE GHOSTS) that both Jay and Kanye have released since 2011’s Watch The Throne.
Watch the Throne 2: The Album That Never Was
Watch the Throne remains a serendipitous moment in hip-hop: a meeting of two giants, who came together at vastly different points in their careers and personal lives yet locked into an energy and created a smooth piece of content in which both artists were on the same page on almost every topic. Production was opulent, Kanye’s samples fit perfectly, and the two icons flew over over the beats in tandem.
Ever since the project was released, fans have eagerly awaited word of a followup collaboration between Kanye and Jay-Z – but the project seems less likely with each passing month. The two artists who once traded bars for over an hour of incredibly cohesive music have grown apart, particularly over the last twelve months. Jay-Z became the master of grandeur on EVERYTHINGISLOVE, whilst Kanye journeyed into hyper self-awareness and vulnerability on KIDS SEE GHOSTS.
Before their coming together for Watch the Throne, Kanye was always the flashier artist, prone to huge moments of grandeur. Jay-Z was more understated, keeping his music focused on his hustle while never revealing too much personal information.
So how did the two artists diverge so suddenly and so absolutely after their union on Watch the Throne? How did their roles reverse? Why?
Here lies the answer, hiding in the numbers.
Watch The Throne: Jay-Z and Kanye’s Outward-Facing Content
Jay-Z: 70.34% of his bars are outward-facing
Kanye: 61.29% of his bars are outward-facing
Watch The Throne was a maximal album, with cover art created by Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci, recording sessions taking place in exotic locations worldwide, and a Maybach being decapitated and driven like a skateboard in the video for the lead single. Kanye and Jay merrily indulge in outward-facing concepts and ideas, even dealing with an idea and process as big as fatherhood from the angle of the child’s best wishes. They reference the paparazzi, finding love in strip clubs, and of course, their overwhelming wealth, prosperity, talent, and achievements.
As is custom with both Kanye and Jay, favourable comparisons litter the record. This perpetuates the “rap is competitive” concept, and makes their transition from Watch The Throne to 2018 even more remarkable.
Watch The Throne: Jay-Z and Kanye’s Introspective Content
Jay-Z: 29.65% of his bars are introspective
Kanye: 38.71% of his bars are introspective
These categories have been chosen carefully. Jay-Z once said “religion is like a personal computer, you let these people in if you want to”. Mental health is obvious, and food is subjective and a personal matter. Generic bars that have no meaning or need, usually ad-libs, are mostly self-indulgent, and if they aren’t, they can be placed in other categories.
Despite the project’s opulence, there is still a fair bit of introspective content on Watch The Throne. Jay-Z’s performance on “Welcome to the Jungle” was his most raw and real since “Regrets” (Reasonable Doubt, 1996), dealing with an existential crisis and a lack of empathy from those around him, and tussling with mental illness. The second half of Ye’s verse on “No Church In The Wild” was almost a conversation with himself. Selling drugs is also included; it can be a very selfish pursuit (check out Jay-Z on “D’Evils” from Reasonable Doubt or “Fallin” from American Gangster). Jay’s description of the selfishness of cooking crack in his grandmother’s kitchen on “Made In America” is jarring.
Jay-Z’s Transition from Watch The Throne to EVERYTHINGISLOVE
How does Jay-Z manage to be significantly more personal and vulnerable on EVERYTHINGISLOVE, yet less introspective? He’s grown in plain sight since 2011, and 4:44 from 2017 is a watershed moment for mature rap. Jay’s frank admissions of guilt on that album (the title track), the decimation of his ever-present and celebrated ego (“Kill JAY Z”) and a laundry list of his mistakes (“Story of O.J.”) introduced the world to Shawn Carter, stripping the guise of Jay-Z.
EVERYTHINGISLOVE is a continuation of this new lyrical direction, although the growth takes a vastly different form. Whilst Kanye and Kid Cudi’s KIDS SEE GHOSTS is more inward-facing, on EVERYTHINGISLOVE Jay bestows his maturity upon his immediate circle and the world at large.
Kanye’s Transition From Watch The Throne to KIDS SEE GHOSTS
The tumult that Kanye has endured in the past 12 months is vividly displayed on his collaborative record with Kid Cudi, another rapper with a notably expansive experience with mental illness.The back and forth between these two mainstream rappers battling internal demons is enthralling. On Kanye’s solo album ye, Yeezy devoted 18.3% of his bars to mental illness. Cudi seems further advanced in his recovery. Kanye seems to have just reached the “awareness” phase, and is seeking answers from both religion and himself – something Kanye reinforces with masterful sample choices through his production.
The numbers measuring introspective content from Watch The Throne to KIDS SEE GHOSTS reflect this. On Watch The Throne, Kanye he didn’t contribute a verse to the deeply personal “Welcome to the Jungle”, in which Hov unleashes his own inner demons. Most of his personal and inward-facing statements and bars are off-handed and scattered.
Jay-Z’s New Album vs. Kanye West’s New Album: Content Divergence
The best place to start breaking down these lyrics is with a loaded word, one like no other in hip-hop. There is zero coincidence that Jay and Bey have a song titled “FRIENDS” 2 years after Kanye released “Real Friends”, and further, no coincidence Kanye devotes zero bars to friends on Kids See Ghosts.
The Jay-Z/Kanye rift is already well-publicised, and despite Kanye and Jay both being candid about the state of their friendship in interviews (Jay-Z on Rap Radar and Kanye with Charlamagne Tha God), Jay’s verse on “FRIENDS” reveals even more information about their uncoupling. “I ain’t goin’ to nobody nothin’ when me and my wife beefin’” seems to address the Carters absence from Kanye and Kim’s wedding.
This is the most explicit display of Jay “growing” as a man and a husband, and then projecting this growth outwards. In previous songs, even as recent as 2006’s “Lost One”, he seems flippant and untethered when love and relationships are mentioned. He describes pain through his lyrics, but is quick to move “onto the next one”. Staying in a burning building to save his marriage? This isn’t Iceberg Slim…
Those bars could even be seen as apologetic if not for the blatant subliminal shots at Kanye (“emotional”, “Y’all don’t follow codes”, “y’all like to troll”).
Does Jay feel he needs a song like “FRIENDS” to solidify his reputation?
Kanye doesn’t seem interested in any of this on KIDS SEE GHOSTS, nor his solo project ye. His inner demons and internal flaws are laid bare, and there isn’t time or space to begin healing externally yet. The guest-list for the listening part in Wyoming is confirmation enough that Kanye still has a strong circle around him, and Kim Kardashian West has stood staunchly by her husband at all turns.
Stunt / Brag
If you need further proof Kanye has changed since 2011’s Watch The Throne, the amount of time he devotes to materialism is limited to just 2 bars on the title track of Kids See Ghosts: “Painting from West Lang, hung in my space like a relative” and “Ultralight buildin’ in the buildin’ by the Miuccia”, before extolling his global business sense. There just isn’t time for Kanye to indulge in his former vices; his inner battle is too acute, too fresh.
Jay-Z’s outrageous stunts and brags on EVERYTHINGISLOVE are more nuanced than his work on Watch The Throne. The work Jay began to detail on 4:44 to save his marriage and once again thrive is solidified on EVERYTHINGISLOVE. On “Heard About Us” he raps “Bitch know B, she don’t even need a whole name”, before she sings “No need to ask, you heard about us”. Jay-Z and Beyonce’s marital issues have kept them in the headlines ever since the “elevator incident” with Solange and Jay-Z in 2014, in which she went “ape shit” on Jay.
When LEMONADE dropped, the world searched for Jay’s infamous “becky with the good hair”. 4:44 was even billed as his “LEMONADE response”. The explosion of love, of strength, of dominance their current arena tour (also referenced on “NICE” in another brag) showcases is growth, maturity in real time, a maximal look at the inner workings of just two people. Their survival, and subsequent success? This is the ultimate outward stunt.
Hard, uncomfortable introspection isn’t associated with Kanye West, or rap in general, but when coupled with his talk about mental illness, it makes up 18.9% of his content on Kids See Ghosts. Kanye devoted just 4 bars to this category of content on the entirety of Watch The Throne; and his mid-career left turn has been a watershed moment for people suffering from a mental illness.
Jay isn’t often in this headspace on the mic. His truly introspective content stands out vividly in his back catalogue: “Lucky Me” and “Beach Chair” from Reasonable Doubt in particular. EVERYTHINGISLOVE holds little introspection when compared to 4:44. The most candid Jay has ever been about mental illness was on 2011’s Watch The Throne. The track “Welcome to the Jungle” features a careering stream of consciousness in which Jay becomes increasingly frustrated and aggressive, culminating in “where the fuck is the press? Where the fuck is the Pres? Either they don’t know or don’t care, I’m fucking depressed”.
A rare moment of inner pain.
“Religion is like a personal computer: you let people in if you want to”. The search for answers or meaning in religion is an insular process, a conversation or relationship between a human and his or her God. Both Kanye and Kid Cudi rely heavily on the heavens for answers to their existential issues and demonic mental plagues on KSG.
Jay’s religious bars have almost always centered on private conversations he’s had with a higher power (“Where I’m From”, “D’Evils”) or justifications for his own violent acts (“Lucifer”). The exception is the aforementioned “Welcome to the Jungle” on Watch The Throne; he ends his rapid descent into an inner void during the first verse with “My faith in God, every day is hard / Every night is worse, that’s why I pray so hard”.
These issues and topics no longer exist in the Jay-Z realm, and again, paradoxically, he displays this growth by focusing outward. His paranoia and fear related to his criminal past has finally evaporated, and the need for violent acts died when he sat behind the desk at Def Jam in 2004. He has mentioned in multiple interviews he is seeking psychological help for the issues revealed in “Welcome to the Jungle”.
As Jay-Z and Kanye West Have Grown, They’ve Left Each Other Behind
Was Jay and Ye’s friendship always just about business? One could argue this; Jay has never had more success with another producer. 2012’s “Clique” was the last time the two collaborated on wax, and this seems destined to continue. All the talk of Watch The Throne 2 transitioned from excitement, to hope, to wishful thinking, to nothing. They have both followed that project now, broken the collaborative bond their 2011 album seemed to have over them, within 10 days of each other. Clearly, they’re further apart than ever before.