This album was a bookmark moment in the history of hip-hop from the moment it was announced; having two massive artists like Jay Z and Kanye West come together for a full length album is a remarkable feat for the genre and it was sure to drive the whole brand forwards in the long run.
In August of 2011, two of hip-hops biggest names of the century joined forces once again to create a full length studio album which would shake the world. Jay Z and Kanye West are what you would describe as rap moguls, they’re influence and legacy will last for generations and this album was somewhat of a victory lap of that very fact.
There are a staggering seven singles taken from this album and all of them are unique and special in their own way. You’ve got the likes of ‘No Church In The Wild’ which involves a spellbounding performance from a long-time favourite in Frank Ocean and has a gritty, dark instrumental; but you also have ‘Otis’ which is, in the words of Jay Z, “a celebration of black excellence” through genius samples and paying homage to those who came before him. Needless to say that N***** in Paris’ is one of the hardest hip-hop songs of the century and is the standout iconic moment in this equally iconic album.
This album has a star-studded production list, including Swizz Beats, Pharrell Williams and RZA who all put their magic touch onto specific tracks and make this album what it is, a turn-up rap album for the ages. The samples are wild and varied from the likes of Otis Redding to Flux Pavilion, or Nina Simone to James Brown. The use of old school black artists who have clearly influenced Yeezy and Hov in their careers shows what this album truly was all about, the pride in how far black culture has come and that these two rappers are now the flagbearers of a new generation.
This album does have plenty of moments where it goes beyond just club bangers, however as it does also pinpoint plenty of very important issues regarding race and discrimination. In ‘Murder To Excellence’ for example, a personal favourite of mine from the project, Jay and Ye discuss the terrors of black-on-black crime and police brutality in a truly compelling listen from start to finish. ‘Made In America’ looks at the American Dream and the rise to fame of the two rappers, with Frank Ocean delivering his second marvellous chorus of the album as he pays tribute to black icons including Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. in one of the album’s more serene moments.
In summary, this album was a bookmark moment in the history of hip-hop from the moment it was announced; having two massive artists like Jay Z and Kanye West come together for a full length album is a remarkable feat for the genre and it was sure to drive the whole brand forwards in the long run. The album wasn’t without it’s faults and it hasn’t aged particularly well in certain areas, but one thing is for certain and that is that the tracklist is full of commercial bangers which celebrate the black excellence of African-American artists.