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Kanye West and Jay-Z

Watch the Throne

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Midway through Watch the Throne, Kanye raps that "doctors say I'm the illest / 'cause I'm suffering from realness." I think we can agree that Kanye's realness has been in remission for years, yet his collaboration with Jay-Z is paradoxically at its best when it adheres most implausibly to convention. Jay and Yeezy are hustle rappers. That they participate in no actual hustles at this point in their careers has not affected their talents, which run to slant rhymes and conversational flows. It's a style that has always privileged formal invention over real talk, making Watch the Throne an oddly mixed bag.

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Despite his claims to the contrary, Jay-Z is not still spending coke money. It's more likely that Kanye is actually staying up all night eating pills and wearing Prada, but neither world seems entirely credible. Throne is oddly divided between tepid jams about the artists' real lives and club bangers that are fun but ridiculous, which amounts to a referendum on their careers and on hip hop generally. It's still pretty good, but it's committed to a rhetoric that is imaginary in increasingly obvious ways. Rappers is 40 now, and we should just be real about that.

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