Kanye West and Jay Z are two of the biggest names in rap music today and all time. While the two rappers are both best-selling artists and worth millions of dollars each, they do certainly have an interesting relationship. The history of this friend/enemy, or ‘frenemy’, relationship is pretty long, but it’s all laid out here for you to catch up on.
West began his career initially as a music producer at Roc-A-Fella Records in the late nineties. He quickly became known as one of the best emerging producers and many people were keen to keep him at the mixing desk, despite his dream to become a solo artist. West and Jay Z first met when West produced Jay’s 2001 album ‘The Blueprint’. Jay was also influential in Roc-A-Fella Records, finally signing West to their label. However, the West and Jay breakthrough came in 2002 when West featured on Jay’s track ‘The Bounce’.
2003 saw one of the first arguments between the two, when Jay Z threw a ‘retirement’ show at Madison Square Garden. West, of course, was invited, but went on to say that he was actually told to buy tickets instead. Jay later explained that West wanted additional tickets to the four he’d already been given.
The next major spat between the two rappers came in 2006 and 2007, when they both did a collaboration project with Coldplay frontman Chris Martin. Jay Z released his album ‘Kingdom Come’ in 2006 with Martin featuring on the track ‘Beach Chair’, while West’s collab with Martin didn’t arrive until 2007 in the form of ‘Homecoming’. According to West, he told Jay early on that he was planning to do the collab with the Coldplay frontman, but Jay then ran ahead with Martin and released their collaboration a year before West’s. Although Jay and Martin had actually been friends first before the collaborations.
Who could forget that infamous moment at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, when West jumped up onto stage to interrupt Taylor Swift receiving her award to say that Beyoncé (who happens to be married to Jay) deserved it more. While West may’ve thought he was doing his bit for his friend’s wife, the incident created a media superstorm and West was subject to major scrutiny for a long time. The next year, however, West returned to the spotlight after the VMAs incident with ‘Power’. Jay featured on the record and appeared to offer big-brotherly advice to West in his verses:
“Rumble young man, rumble.
“Life is a trip so sometimes we gon’ stumble.
“You gotta go through pain in order to become you.
“But once the world numbs you, you’ll feel like it’s only one you.”
Later the same year, West and Jay were seen having dinner together in New York, showing that they were still close friends.
The first proper collaboration between West and Jay came around in 2011, with the hit album ‘Watch The Throne’. While the two had collaborated before then, it was more of a master and apprentice style of work. West did steal the show on the album with some major-breakout songs like ‘N***as In Paris’. The relationship between the two rappers can be nicely explained with some of what went on behind the scenes of ‘Watch The Throne’. Two songs off Jay’s album ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’ were apparently written and recorded for the collab album, but West wanted them on ‘Watch The Throne’ and Jay wanted them for ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’. A compromise was eventually reached; the two songs would be put on Jay’s record, while ‘No Church In The Wild’ featuring Frank Ocean (which would become another major highlight of ‘Watch The Throne’) would be put on the collab album instead.
‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’ was released in 2013 (featuring the two songs initially from ‘Watch The Throne’) only two days before ‘Yeezus’, West’s heavily-publicised and highly-anticipated seventh album. Jay’s drop did steal a lot of the limelight surrounding ‘Yeezus’, which probably didn’t make West very happy.
2016 was a pretty turbulent year for West. He alluded to a rift between him and his ‘big brother’, saying that their kids haven’t ever played together. While on his ‘Life Of Pablo’ tour late last year, West criticised Jay for allegedly only calling briefly after the Paris hold up and robbery of West’s wife Kim Kardashian. West appeared to not appreciate the call, saying, “don’t call me after the robbery and say ‘how you feelin?’ You wanna know how I’m feelin? Come by the house”.
While West probably wouldn’t have the rap career he has now without the record deal from Jay Z and Jay Z wouldn’t have some of his best work from West’s producing, the history between the two certainly has some rocky parts.
The future may hold some more collaborations or it may not, but both rappers are certainly not finished making music.