I don’t necessarily mean to continue on with the rap marathon from last week, but the debut of Jay-Z’s latest solo album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, a few weeks after the premiere of Kanye West’s Yeezus begs an obvious comparison between the two and perpetuates a friendly rivalry that’s been going on for years. I’m not here to debate the highs and lows of each album — actually I’m pretty sure most of us will agree that Ye won this round. Instead, I wanted to dedicate this week to some of the best pre-WTT (Watch the Throne) tracks that the two rap moguls have put out together. Raise your glasses up to the glory days and enjoy.
Jay-Z – Izzo (H.O.V.A.)
We all know that Kanye was making beats before he started rapping, and one of his biggest clients was Jay-Z. “H to the izz-O, V to the izz-A,” this was the anthem from 2001’s The Blueprint that had us first throwing up the dynasty sign and calling Jay-Z by his nickname, Hova. Fun fact: Not only is “Hova” a play on Jehovah, but it also stands for “Hustler of Virginia” because apparently that was his territory when he was a drug dealer. The Jackson 5 sample on this is a fun time, despite the heavily autobiographical lyrics.
Jay-Z – Lucifer
“Lucifer” was another tantalizing hit produced by Kanye for The Black Album that came out in 2003. Not only does Jay-Z kill his verses, but it also has one hell of a hook.
Kanye West – Never Let Me Down feat. Jay-Z and J. Ivy
Kanye’s first album! 2004 gave us a glorious introduction to the man we all know and love (and love to hate). This track is hugely inspirational — it’s jam-packed with religious and spiritual social commentary and drizzled in the gospel goodness that made College Dropout the classic album that it is.
Kanye West – Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix) feat. Jay-Z
Moving onward to 2005, we get one of my favorite Kanye albums of all time, Late Registration. The original version of this song was outta-this-world amazing with its Shirley Bassey sample but the remix was truly on some galactic shit. I get shivers down my spine (yea, seriously) around 2:25 because that’s the moment Jay-Z jumps in and the execution is flawless.
Kanye West – Big Brother
It’s always something to see a “mogul get emotional” and 2007’s Graduation album gave us “Big Brother,” an honest outpouring of all the ups and downs and intimate details of Kanye and Jay-Z’s relationship. Jay-Z doesn’t speak a single word on this track, but he’s at the center of it all. Kanye paints him as an idol, a hero and a competitor, and all the sentimental elements of a brotherly bond are there.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s “So Appalled” and “Monster” featured Jay-Z, but the album as a whole was really a chance for Kanye to shine on his own in terms of lyrical prose, production, and the creation of a multi-faceted masterpiece. Following Watch the Throne and with the release of each rapper’s solo albums, we see them at two drastically different places. Jay-Z might still be rapping about self-celebration and the reiteration of a lifestyle that we can only dream of, but Kanye’s on a whole other wavelength. Either way, each is still at the top of his game, and all we can do is wait eagerly to see what they come up with next. Watch the Throne 2, perhaps?