The two most anticipated albums could not be more different. Yeezus could not be farther from Magna Carta Holy Grail (MCHG), and MCHG could not be farther from Yeezus. The stark disparity is no mistake; the artists behind the two albums — Kanye West and Jay-Z — have ideas about music that are growing farther and farther apart.
In 2007 Kanye West included a song called “Big Brother” on his album Graduation. The song outlined his affinity for his mentor, Jay-Z. The song however, was not needed to translate the amount of influence Jay had on Kanye’s career up until that point. Kanye modeled himself after his mentor — the rhymes, the beats, the flow — they were all set up in such a way that comparisons made between the two would be easily justified.
[Big Brother]: “At the Grammys I said, ‘I inspired me’/But my big brother who I always tried to be.”
Five years later, when Kanye West is one of the — if not the — most important, famous rappers in the world, the differences could not be more stark. It seems like neither rapper has any inclination to sound like the other. Not only that, but both rappers seem as if they are making the conscious choice to anchor opposite sides of the rap music spectrum — Jay-Z holding down the fort for the commercial rappers, and Kanye (oddly enough) holding it down for those who are less concerned with a commercialized product. Oddly enough, this comes only after they created a full album together; an album rife with similarities between the two — at least in terms of subject matter — throughout.
There is not necessarily a competition between the two. Instead, we are witnessing two fundamentally different views of how rap music should sound — where rap music should go.
Jay-Z thinks rap should integrate with the masses. Kanye West thinks rap should disassociate — even segregate. There will probably never be an instance where you hear Justin Timberlake featured on a Kanye West song. Where one uses timeless R.E.M lyrics, another minces no words when it comes to race relations and the different places people of color find themselves in. This is not to say that Jay-Z does not offer his own thoughts on race relations, but that he finds much more palette-pleasing ways of expressing his thoughts.
Jay uses Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” in his song, "Oceans," to illustrate his aspirations to make a billion dollars in a white man’s world (previous lines like “I crash through glass ceilings, I break through closed doors allude to the setting). West uses the same song in Blood On The Leaves to describe things that he cannot attain.
Sonically, the albums also diverge. A guiding light for the creation of Yeezus was minimalism. In the case of MCHG, opulence seems like an overarching theme. More sounds, more beats. Less room for expansion — both for the rapper and for the music itself. MCHG’s 17 songs instead of Yeezus’ ten.
“(Corporate sponsors) trying to put their logos on every concert and [expletive].”
The namesakes may be similar, but as the artists grow, the similarities tend to thin out. Trying to compare the albums would be to force a common ground on two figures who are levitating on different planes.