This is the week of Monday, August 8th and the date marks the fifth birthday of Watch The Throne – a beautiful, pulsating, gilded, collaborative musical effort by Jay and Ye. This is an important – near perfectly produced and enunciated album – that’s a biased opinion but regardless this thing deserves a lot of attention so we’re hosting the first annual Watch The Throne week here at The Open Field in honor of as much. A feature a day, maybe more, and fun stuff in between. na na na.
I know it’s Watch The Throne week but I can’t talk about Kanye West without writing about My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I still stand by that it’s one of my favorite hip-hop (or all-genre) albums to date. The album’s cohesion, lyricism and production value put this album on the forefront as one of West’s best musical works that I think set the stage for Watch The Throne. After being basically excommunicated by mainstream media after the now infamous incident in where he interrupted Taylor Swift’s (insert snake emoji) VMA speech (Beyonce 4ever,) West went hard to work at creating this masterpiece. His use of creative sampling on this album I believe influenced his albums thereafter, including WTT. Each song on the album varies greatly from one another, however, this work as a whole shows that West is capable of pulling together varying pieces of music into one complete, organic body of art.
First things first, let’s talk about the Phoenix. West’s short film “Runaway” which includes several songs from the album tells the story of his inner struggle. While driving through the woods, West comes across a fallen Phoenix and saves the creature. The Phoenix wakes up in West’s home to the news on TV reporting how a comet has started forest fires throughout the state. West enters and tells the Phoenix, “First rule in this world, baby, don’t pay attention to anything you see in the news.” This could be a form of expression to the audience of not to believe how he was portrayed in the media after the VMA incident. The Phoenix represents West’s muse, his inner creative self. Symbolism surrounding the mythical creature of the Phoenix include wild passion, redemption and fire, things that some may feel need to be tamed. In one scene in the film, West is teaching the Phoenix how to drink out of a teacup. This can be seen as West trying to tame and civilize his inner creative being. After his attempts at civilizing his muse, he brings her to a lavish dinner party that is reminiscent of The Last Supper painting. The guests seem to stare and be uncomfortable at the Phoenix’s presence at the table. West remains happy as he is exposing a form of his self to his acquaintances. However, it seems as though those surrounding him are more critical than accepting.
After a stunningly choreographed ballet performance to the track Runaway, dinner is served to the table. A giant feathered bird is placed in front of the Phoenix at dinner. Disgusted, she begins to scream and scares the other guests away. The Phoenix completely losing control in a public setting is metaphorical for what occurred at the VMA’s with Taylor Swift. His creative self was let loose and offended the public. Afterwards, the Phoenix explains to West that she must burn instead of turn to stone and the two begin to have sex. The camera pans in on the Phoenix straddling West, which is the artwork featured on the album’s cover. The short film Runaway visually presents what the album is trying to say to the audience: explore your creativity and self reflect on the past.
The single thread and theme that holds this album together is the dark and twisted fantasy that West presents in each song as a type of episode. It can also be seen as a response to the huge amount of public criticism and resentment he faced after the VMA incident and prior to the album’s release. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s continuous theme is an aspect of the album that sets a standard for other hip hop albums to be released afterwards. It is how an album should be built and produced. While each track could easily stand on its own individually, the common theme of the dark fantasy pulls them together. Most contemporary hip-hop albums tend to operate on the end of a spectrum that finds each track being more of a separate entity than a part of an album’s whole body of work.
So, how does this bring us to Watch The Throne? To me, at least, there is a huge contrast between these two albums, even though they were produced during the same year. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s genre-bending samples most definitely set the stage for seemingly out of the box features on Watch The Throne. However, and while I am most certainly biased as a mega MBDTF fan, Dark Fantasy provided an entirely different lens for rap. It brought art to the table, it brought self deprecation to the forefront, while WTT at times can feel the opposite as that. Blades of Glory sampling anyone? I mean, I guess it was kind of expected. What would you expect two of industry’s biggest talents to discuss? Yes, it’s a fun album but I think much more taunting and thought provoking lyricism could have been written. While WTT carries over some of the ambitions of MBDTF, we have to appreciate the album for what it is: ‘Ye and Jay epically rapping about what comes naturally to them.
Thanks MBDTF for setting the stage for Watch the Throne – we appreciate you for giving us a proper soundtrack to continue to get ready to post-college. No, track no. 3 will never get old. Ever.FOLLOW THE OPEN FIELD