Since this week’s release of Watch the Throne, the collaborative Jay-Z and Kanye West album, it’s been dismissed by some as a superficial ode to their own greatness, but for the most part that’s untrue. It’s actually an album heavy with themes of family and legacy, modern race relations, and is a sort of testimony to The American Dream. Sure they rap about nice things and excess at times, but that’s also really kind of the point – that they could make it to the top in the very place that reached a pinnacle of racial tensions not but fifty years ago. These are two men speaking from within and outside of the black community with lots of things to say, and it’s never more apparent than in the album’s final exhale, penultimate track “Made in America.”
From the start, the butter-smooth hook that’s sung by Frank Ocean of OFWGKTA alludes to Civil Rights icons Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X, their respective wives, as well as The Holy Family, making clear the purpose of the song to pay respect to those who allowed for their success, as Christianity played a prominent role during and influencing the Movement. The song is about those whose influence got them to where they are, first in the grand sense and then the personal – for Kanye, his mother and for Jay, his grandmother.
There’s a looseness to the album, a hustle fueled by the ease of each other’s company and the contrast in their respective styles. Kanye is, as always, more emotional, paying tribute to his mother who always believed in him even when he disappointed her while calling out those who didn’t. Jay’s clear-minded and above it all, the calculated reappropriation of the Star-Spangled Banner that has a subtle way of alluding to his past – the image of preparing crack on the stove as his grandmother walks in to ask what the smell is underscores the there-to-here feeling the song evokes.
I guess it’s easy to cast-off the too-good-to-be-true hip-hop superalbum as commercial ploy, but there is real substance in the inconsistent heap that’s on an even bigger plane than respective solo albums. It’s a socially-minded album with sense of responsibility to both their predecessors and future successors, filled with maybe too many ideas for its own good. The songs’ themes pertain not just to Black America, but really to the America made up by all of us, a celebration of the rags-to-riches possibilities of this place we all call home. It’s easy to forget in the flurry of credit downgrades and Michele Bachmann’s that there are still fundamental reasons that make this country something to be proud of. Take a look around you this morning at your coffee spot, or even during your walk around outside. I know the world is rather globalized in general these days, but this is what we were built upon – a place where no dream is too big for the self-made man, an imperfect state with moral ideals of equality to the throne. This is your feel-good Sunday to take a break from the shit-talking and take a look back at how far we’ve come cause Sweet Baby Jesus, we made it in America.