I'm absolutely not a music critic. Absolutely not. I'm a film person who loves music. I've directed four music docs, two about hip hop. Still I have no real appropriate skills for what I'm about to do, which is write about an album. With that said, I'm inspired by this beautiful thing entitled Watch the Throne and I must jot something down. However amateur.
It's past 1 a.m. and I've now listened to Watch the Throne four full times, with very necessary repeats of my new personal anthem "Murder to Excellence." Actually, "listened" might not be the right word. Bumped. Bumped is a word that'll be appreciated by patrons of the new Huffington Post Black Voices, right? We can speak freely here, right?
So if I submit that this thing -- Watch the Throne -- is a Black Nationalist Masterpiece for the New Millenium. Too Much? Because that's how I feel right now. That's what I hear. I hear Black Rich Militance, in the best definition of such a term. I hear the audacity of black gazillionaires saying wonderfully black things like, "I arrived/When Fred Hampton died." Whaa-at?! You did? Okay. Damn.
I hear pride. Pride wrapped in Maybach imagery. Things Oprah understandably can't say. Things Obama surely can't say. Things that for obvious reasons no true Black Power Players in Film, Sports, Music and Television have really dared speak in public in eons. Robeson comes to mind. He talked the talk. In the 40s and 50s. Ali comes to mind. He shouted the talk. In the 60s. But there's been decades of silence since then from folks who have "made" it. Tell me who has "made it" to the highest heights and then started speaking the truth about the beauty of us, Black Folk, our souls, our bodies, our brains. Who?
Who speaks about LOVE OF BLACKNESS with a swagger that feels wonderfully dangerous. A swagger that feels militantly proud. This is something that has fallen out of favor among those truly in the spotlight. To be loud and proud about one's Blackness. To be bold and brash with it. Is that so wrong? Feels that way sometimes. But not on Watch the Throne .
At the top of their respective games, Jay-Z and Kanye West take the opportunity to not just flaunt their wealth and success, but to -- finally -- flaunt it with purpose. The purpose being to empower. They're talking that talk on Watch the Throne. That good Black talk. We know it. We speak it to ourselves. But we don't often hear it out in the open like this -- not from our brightest, biggest stars. Nope. Not in a long, long time.
Discussions on "wax" declaring "I stink of success. The new Black elite." That "I only see a few Blacks the higher I go." That Will and Oprah aren't enough and we need a million more. What are you saying!? Say. It. Again. Press Repeat.
I for one thoroughly enjoy hearing "the greatest rapper alive" ask: "Why all the pretty icons always all white? Put some colored girls in the MOMA. Half these broads ain't got nothin on Willona!" *FIST PUMP*
And, hearing Ye discuss wanting his son to be liked. And that in order to do that he'll advise his young one not go on telethons or speak his mind but instead "may even make him be Republican, so everybody know he loves White people." LIKE WHOA.
And, hearing Beyonce sing out over a superhero track, "How many people you know can take it this far? You don't know what we went through to make it this far. So many scars." *SOUL CLAP*
And, Ye talking about its "time for us to stop and redefine Black Power." It is? I mean, I think it is, but you do too?! Well okay!
My favorite line -- and one of the most poignant to me -- is Jay-Z's: "Power to the people. When you see me, see you." *WIPES TEAR*
They talk all this and then brashly ask, "Who Gon Stop Me." Dammit, not me. Not me! Preach!
Watch the Throne is for the Kings and Queens. A call to action. A call to raising our heads, raising our hands. At least it feels that way to me on Night One after the first four spins.
Will it stand up? Will I feel this way tomorrow? Will I regret my enthusiasm after the real critics tear into this thing? Who knows.
All I know is I love hip hop. And hip hop should have been this. It should have been feeding our collective ego all this time. It should've had us fired up. Made us stand taller. The past two decades have been a shame in this regard. The detours from Public Enemy and X-Clan and Freestyle Fellowship into what passes for rap on the radio today is culturally tragic. But this collection of music from Hov and Ye feels like a "New Day."
The detour has brought us here. To a hot, sexy "all black everything" moment. Braggadocio and Black Power in a slick, delicious stew. As Jay-Z proclaims it's "A celebration of Black excellence. Black tie. Black Maybachs. Black excellence, opulence, decadence. Tuxes next to the President." It looks good. Sounds good. And feels good. Will it empower? I don't know. But hearing someone as massive as these brothers say aloud, "It's all Black. I love us." Yeah, that feels good to hear. Bump that.