Watch the Bromance

Jay-Z and Kanye’s fallout can be attributed to a variety of factors. Regardless, it’s hard to accept that Hip-hop’s most joyous and successful friendship, may in fact, be over.

In July 2011, one month before Jay-Z and Kanye would release their collaborative album, Watch the Throne, a 10-minute documentary surfaced online, featuring footage of the two Hip-hop artists recording their monumental album at a private estate in Sydney, Australia. The feeling of intimacy is palpable in the mini-doc’s first scene, as Beyonce, Kanye, and a few other friends, celebrate Jay-Z’s birthday over dinner. In the most poignant moment, after Kanye gifts him an expensive ring and the original artwork for their single, “Monster”, Jay-Z stands up, playfully cackles, “Come here man!”, and embraces his friend.

Depending on how cynical you are, the recording of the moment, in of itself, may entirely diminish the bromance’ legitimacy. That being said, for anyone who’s been a part of a true friendship, the Hip-hop stars’ mutual affection feels unquestionably genuine. That was almost exactly six years ago. Six years later, their relationship couldn’t be more different.

Since last Friday, Jay-Z has been at the center of the pop-culture news cycle, not just because of the release of his new album, 4:44, rather, specifically due to what he allegedly says on certain tracks, along with the subsequent reports that have filtered out over the weekend. Put simply, in response to Kanye questioning Jay-Z’s friendship during an onstage rant last November, Jay-Z addressed their relationship on 4:44’s opening track, “Kill Jay-Z.”

I know people backstab you, I felt bad too
But this ‘fuck everybody’ attitude ain’t natural
But you ain’t a saint, this ain’t kumbaye
But you got hurt because you did cool by ‘Ye
You gave him 20 million without blinkin’
He gave you 20 minutes on stage, fuck was he thinkin’?
“Fuck wrong with everybody?” is what you sayin’
But if everybody’s crazy, you’re the one that’s insane — Jay-Z (Kill Jay-Z, 2017)

Coincidentally or not, media outlets announced on Sunday, that Kanye was leaving Jay-Z’s streaming service, TIDAL, over a financial dispute. Subsequently, TIDAL stated that they would sue Kanye if he breaks his exclusivity with another streaming service.

After having spent the last three years witnessing the unfathomable fallout between Birdman and Lil’ Wayne — two rappers whose bond runs as deep, if not deeper, than Jay-Z and Kanye’s, respectively — Hip-hop fans have lost their innocence. For as much as we want to convince ourselves otherwise, both feuds prove that, above-all, this music shit is a business.

And yet, Jay-Z and Kanye’s relationship always seemed to stem from a genuine sense of humanity. In hindsight, this potential TIDAL lawsuit is just the culmination of an array of life changes that both rappers have experienced over the past six years. Like every friendship, the arrival of marriage, child birth, and simply, the passage of time, forces us to grow apart. As naive as it might seem to be affected by a friendship that was perhaps, nothing more than a close working relationship, forgive me for longing for a time when Jay-Z and Kanye were outliers in an industry full of media-constructed rap beefs.

Nonetheless, they too, have succumbed to an industry predicated on money, power, and respect. That being said, I find it hard to accept that their fallout is attributed to breaches of contract, considering that Jay-Z and Kanye’s bromance was based on their unquestionable loyalty to one another. Then again, the more I mull their past over in my mind, the easier it is to realize that it may have been a one-sided relationship all along.

Kanye was first recruited to produce tracks for Roc-A-Fella Records — which was founded by JAY-Z, Damon Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke, who began the label in 1996 — after he worked on the self-titled track off Beanie Sigel’s The Truth album in 2000. The sample left the founders so impressed they enlisted the Chicago rapper to produce “This Can’t Be Life,” the fifth track off of Jay’s 2000 album, The Dynasty: Roc La Familia.

The following year, Jay-Z tapped Kanye to produce for his forthcoming album, The Blueprint. Its finished product would include five Kanye-produced tracks. After the album was regarded as Jay-Z’s magnum opus, Kanye was signed to the ROC in 2002. After achieving success with his debut and sophomore album, in 2004 and 2005, respectively, Kanye and Jay-Z’s working relationship blossomed into a friendship.

While Kanye never shied away from his loyalty to Jay-Z, he cemented his allegiance on Graduation’s “Big Brother.” The album’s final track details the ups and downs of Kanye’s working relationship with Jay-Z. Both sentimental and honest; Kanye runs a fine line between hero worship and idol killing.

My big brother was B.I.G.’s brother
Used to be Dame and Biggs’ brother
Who was Hip Hop brother, who was No I.D. friend
No I.D. my mentor, now let the story begin — Kanye (Big Brother, 2007)

In hindsight, Kanye’s unabashed loyalty to Jay-Z has perhaps made us quantify their affection as mutual. As if his obediance was ever in question, Kanye went to even greater lengths to solidify it, in what would become arguably his career-defining moment. We often forget that Beyonce, through her marriage with Jay-Z, combined with strong amounts of Grey Goose consumed by Kanye, is the main reason Kanye interrupted Taylor, in an attempt to defend Beyonce for deserving the VMA for having, in his words, “the best video of all-time.”

In any event, the bromance’ wheels began to come off around the time that Kanye started dating Kim. At the 2012 BET Awards, after Kanye and Jay-Z won video of the year, they hugged their significant others, followed by Kanye hugging Beyonce and Jay-Z standing there like he had no idea what to do. In failing to even acknowledge Kim, Beyonce and Jay-Z had thrown down the gauntlet. For all intents and purposes, they weren’t keeping up with the Kardashians. Granted, that was early on in the relationship, but the Carters’ subsequent actions made any future reconciliation, seemingly impossible.

In 2013, Beyonce and Jay-Z were no-shows at Kim’s baby shower. The following year, after Kanye asked Jay-Z to be his best man, the Carters skipped the wedding. Fast forward to the fall of 2016, and everything came crashing down during Kanye’s onstage rant.

“Don’t call me, after the robbery, and say ‘how you feelin?’ You wanna know how I’m feelin? Come by the house. Bring the kids by the house like we’re brothers. Let’s sit down. I can’t take this s*** bro. Our kids have never even played together.” — Kanye (November 2016).

Unsurprisingly, the public reacted as they have to any Kanye rant that’s focused on politics and race — deeming him a head-case. Except this wasn’t a rant about racism, institutions, or the illuminati, rather, one focused on him feeling betrayed by someone he considered his best friend. Granted, I’m assuming that Kanye’s side of the story is the truth, but until I have evidence that points me elsewhere, I’m sticking to it. Regardless, this was Kanye West, the man, father, brother, and most notably, friend, sounding genuinely hurt. Immediately after hearing it, I kept coming back to the final comments about their kids, which brought to mind the track off WTT, “New Day.”

“New Day” is an uncharacteristically personal and emotional song, in which both rappers speak to their unborn sons. At the time, Kanye was single, and Jay-Z, although married to Beyoncé, wasn’t yet expecting their first child. And so, only recently — specifically, after Kanye’s son, Saint, was born two years ago, while Jay-Z’s heir, Sir, arrived last month — does the track feel heavier. Sadly, all signs point toward Kanye and Jay-Z experiencing fatherhood, without one another.

Over the past few days, whenever I’ve thought about Jay-Z and Kanye, it doesn’t take long before I end up watching the music video for “Otis.” At the time, they couldn’t have been at more different chapters of their careers, with Kanye at his absolute Apex following the 2010 release of his magnum opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, while Jay-Z was still searching for the comeback success that had alluded him since 2006. We were hoping that WTT would be it, yet in the back of our minds, we were preparing for the worst case scenario — an overblown production, featuring a washed up Jay-Z.

Three weeks before the album was released, “Otis” leaked, showcasing everything we hoped for. And the music video, man, was it a doozy. You couldn’t watch it without feeling both rappers’ palpable happiness. Further, it felt like they were keeping a secret that they couldn’t wait to share. In retrospect, they were. Being two of Hip-hop’s most creative minds, it’d be irresonspible to assume that they didn’t know the impact the album would have. Well, they were right. In the years since its release, WTT is being regarded as the most grandiose work of art in Hip-hop history.

And so, with their friendship on life support, forgive me for being overcome with nostalgia. In a genre predicated on maintaining power by not sharing it, a mentality that prevents the best rappers alive from collaborating, a la Drake and Corn-Row Kenny, Jay-Z and Kanye were content sharing the spotlight with one another. More importantly, celebrity aside, they seemed genuinely happy in each other’s company. If things keep going the way they are, their unmatched camaraderie is what I’ll miss most.

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