Despite its entry-grade rap reference title, Channel 4’s new documentary Public Enemies: Jay-Z vs Kanye does succeed in providing an overview of the long-running, at times tense, but ultimately unconditional bromance between the two hip-hop titans. It also manages to do the almost unimaginable by portraying Kanye in a better light than his mentor. You can say what you like about its slapdash array of Z-list “insiders” but that is one particularly impressive achievement.
In the film, Jay is portrayed as a rags-to-riches self-starter who’s obsessed with money (at one point, he is described as “the American Dream on acid”), while Kanye is the sensitive one, more concerned with art and woo-ed by the world of celebrity. After airing on Monday night (July 31), many took to Twitter to declare that Jay-Z “used” Kanye. In fact, it may not be as clear-cut as that, but here are some of the arguments the show presents.
Jay signed Kanye under false pretences
Having cut his teeth working with Beanie Sigel, Kanye went on to produce four tracks for Jay’s 2001 record ‘The Blueprint’. Despite his talent as a producer, West always saw himself as more of a rapper, a view not commonly held by his peers. One anecdote describes how Kanye played ‘Jesus Walks’ to a group of A&R execs, who laughed as soon as he left the room.
To keep him on board as an in-house producer, Jay allegedly signed Kanye to his label under the guise of a rapper, even anointing him with his own Roc-A-Fella chain. However, Jay-Z’s true intentions were allegedly to “put Kanye on the shelf”. Childhood friends of West go on to describe tearful conversations with the rapper in which he vented frustrations about his career not moving forward. Yeezus wept.
Jay tried to stop Kanye from releasing ‘Through The Wire’
With his career stagnating, West was involved in a near-fatal car crash in October 2002, having fallen asleep at the wheel and shattering his jaw. Two weeks later, Kanye took to the studio with his jaw still wired shut, recalling his story in what would become his breakthrough hit, the aptly-named ‘Through The Wire’.
However, Jay, the film suggests, didn’t want the song to see the light of day, seemingly not picking up on its brilliance and arguing that Kanye sounded precisely like “you have your mouth wired up”. Instead, Kanye decided to film a video for the song behind Jay’s back, leaking the thing without the label’s permission. It was only after the song became a hit that Jay and co changed their tune.
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Kanye had to buy his own ticket for a Jay-Z gig
In 2003, having just released ‘The Black Album’, Jay-Z announced what was being billed as his “final” ever concert, confirming that he would retire from music thereafter. Despite it not being his last gig at all, the show was still one of the rap’s most hottest anticipated ever, with everyone from Diddy and Usher to Mary J Blige, Pharrell and even ex-NFL star Johnny Roland in attendance. The concert was later documented in the 2004 film Fade To Black. One notable absence from a show billed as ‘Jay-Z and friends’, however, was Kanye. Ouch.
Upon asking to attend the show, Jay apparently told Kanye that he would have to buy tickets himself. This “hit Kanye in the heart”, according to the film’s talking heads. “Jay was his idol… he wanted to be loved by this guy, he wanted to be recognised by this guy,” one childhood friend explains. Despite Jay later denying this side of the story, Kanye went on to write ‘Big Brother’, which included slightly blubbery lines like: “I guess big brother was thinkin’ a little different / And kept little brother at bay, at a distance”.
Jay and Bey never approved of Kimye
Last year saw Kanye claim in an onstage rant that Jay hadn’t contacted him after his wife Kim Kardashian was the victim of an armed robbery in Paris. The film contrasts the lives of Kanye and Kim with that of Jay-Z and Beyonce, comparing the hard work ethic of the latter with the never-ending reality show-as-art lives of the former.
After less convincingly putting forth the theory that Kanye’s flirting with Trump was simply an exercise in trolling the Clinton-supporting Jay-Z, the film leaves the prospect of the pair reconciling in the future up in the air. So, as Kanye might say, get Jay on the phone!