The John in this metaphor isn’t who you think it is.
Kanye West and Jay-Z released their new track ‘HAM’ online today. Building on their catchy-as-hell collaboration “That’s My Bitch,” “HAM” is epic and haunting. But more notably, it’s something neither artist is on his own: a perfect balance between pop hook and experimental inventiveness. Remind you of anyone?
At first glance you’d think Jay-Z is the John in this metaphor and Kanye the Paul. Jay-Z is cooler than Kanye and pretty much everyone respects him, whereas Kanye’s antics, which include everything from rapping impromptu over an airplane intercom to performing live with 30 Seconds to Mars, can come across corny—which is very Paul.
But actually the reverse is true: for all his stoic poise, Jay-Z’s touch is that of the common man and his musical gift is cranking out pop hits. Each of his records has at least a couple huge hits that pervade every auditory corner of the globe and find their way into the cultural archives. Meanwhile, his best attempt at avant garde inventiveness is probably “The Death of Auto Tune,” which may be one of the single worst-sounding hip hop songs ever recorded.
Meanwhile, for all of his goofy shenanigans (not to mention venetian sunglasses) Kanye has always shined at experimenting with form. “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is a strange record. It spawned the 25 minute film Runaway, and while it was praised as one of the best records of the year and one of the best hip-hop records of the decade, it didn’t have a single hit that will scale to the level of Jay-Z’s “Empire State of MInd.”
In short, Jay-Z is the guy writing “Hey Jude” while Kanye is cranking out “Across the Universe.” And as was the case with Paul and John, the combination of their talents is proving pretty awesome.
“HAM” teeters on the edge of tradition in an exciting way: The strings and bizarre Gregorian chant-style background vocals sound like something from Carl Off’s Carmina Burana (all Kanye) while the track buzzes with a kinetic rapid-fire delivery that’s all Jay.
“That’s My Bitch” similarly benefits from the balance between the two talents, pushing the envelope toward the edge without falling over.