Monday night Kanye West made a surprise appearance in Toronto at Drake’s annual OVO Fest and in true Yeezy fashion, got the crowd as riled up with a mid-song address as he did with his music. This time, it was talk of a collaborative album with Drizzy. Signs of a productive frienship between the two have been plentiful. A little over a year ago Kanye revealed on The Breakfast Club that his song “Wolves” was inspired by a joint project he and Drake had discussed doing under the same title; they even got as far as sharing beats. Drake is credited as a co-writer on “30 Hours,” a stand-out on Kanye’s The Life of Pablo, and Kanye had a fun verse on the single version of Drake’s “Pop Style.” And while a union between one of the greatest to ever do it and his successor sounds fun in theory, one specific line in ‘Ye’s “Pop Style” verse is tempering my excitement. If Kanye and Drake are seriously talking about working together, we’d be remiss not to address the GOAT in the room. What about Jay Z?
“Throne is back up in it.” That’s ‘Ye’s mid-verse declaration on “Pop Style,” several bars after Jay Z makes what could be generously described as a cameo. Nevertheless, the song was billed as featuring the Throne, and upon its initial release, that was enough to flare up the dying embers in the fire and desire for a sequel to Jay and Ye’s still-can’t-believe-this-actually-happened opus, Watch the Throne. Drake later danced around the brevity of the cameo and altered album-version in an interview with Zane Lowe, but his words suggested that the feature was Kanye’s idea and it became complicated by the cold war between Tidal and Apple Music. More subtext from the same interview: Drake’s relationship with Kanye is currently much warmer than his relationship with Jigga.
That’s fine—the two have long had a seemingly awkward relationship, buoyed by mutual respect but undermined by competition, ego, and tertiary beefs. Jay and Kanye, of course, have a decade-plus history of collaboration—mired by occasional, inevitable cold spells but overall marked by a brotherly bond with a propensity to yield classic results. In the half-decade that’s passed since WTT, Jay Z has released one solo album with plans to return with another sometime soon; Kanye has released two solo albums, plus Cruel Summer, the G.O.O.D. Music crew project. But on every project and guest verse since, neither rapper has reached the heights they soared to on WTT. Did Jay and Kanye empty their collaborative tank across those sixteen tracks? Is it the fitting apex of their decades-long transition from employee-employer to mentor-mentee to eye-level peers on rap’s Rushmore? It’s hard to say—outside of Cruel Summer’s “Clique,” the two haven’t worked together since. But the fact remains, they haven’t matched those highs since their paths diverged. Jay for his part, is sounding particularly re-energized this year, but why stop that momentum at a solo album?
Let’s dispense with the uselessness of acting brand new, as if everyone—Stan, hater, and innocent bystander alike—won’t rush to listen to Wolves (which it should totally still be called) if and when it happens. I, for one, am here for it. But Drake, only on album four (five, if you want to count If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late) still has his years ahead of him. Jay Z, meanwhile, is pushing 50, with a waning interest in maintaining a musical presence, despite flashes of once-consistent brilliance when he wants to. Even if he drops an album this year, the gap between it and Magna Carta Holy Grail will still mark his longest recording absence to date. In the five years since WTT, FamousGate, the elevator and LEMONADE happened; Blue, North, and Saint happened. ‘Ye broke through fashion’s glass ceiling; Jay’s knocking against the music industry’s with his own streaming service. The country is suffering from a bonkers election and racially-charged violence; both rappers have commented, in Jay’s case, his music is getting more political.
WTT turns five next Monday, and all of the themes they explored so thoroughly—legacy, fatherhood, marriage, social injustice, civic duty, industry disloyalty, and the color-coded loneliness of success—have gone through significant changes and updates worthy of a reunion. (There are ready-made sequels to “New Day,” “That’s My Bitch,” and “Murder to Excellence,” off top.) Their own trusted consiglieres seem to agree—in recent months the likes of Lenny S and Mike Dean have praised the importance of WTT and fanned rumors of a sequel, respectively. Throw in the fact that Kid Cudi, the album’s secret weapon (his contributions to “IMF,” “Gotta Have It,” and “The Joy” are priceless), is back in G.O.O.D.’s fold and the stars have aligned for a grand return.
It’s childish to think that just because Yeezy is flirting with the idea of working with Drake on a full length that he’s abandoning the foundation he and Big Brother created. If anything, the timing of this tease coupled with his recent Apple-Tidal tweets suggest ‘Ye’s ideal scenario is one big happy family. Would he and Jay even vibe musically in 2016 as well as they did in 2011? It’s anyone’s guess, but I’d wager a working relationship of 16 years is hard to erase. Jay Z, still rapping at an elite level in his 20th year, pushed the notions of a rapper’s perceived expiration date back by about a decade. But his inevitable for-real-this-time retirement is approaching sooner rather than later. If there really is potential for another LP between them, then it’s a higher priority than a ‘Ye-Drake album. As Kanye advised way back when, on his ode mythologizing his complicated relationship with Jay, people never get the flowers while they can still smell ‘em. Mutual admiration is the key to any successful collaboration. It’s nice that ‘Ye and Drake have it, but if it’s still as strong for Jay and ‘Ye, well, they should go ahead and tell each other soon.