Jay Z, Justin Timberlake bring chemistry, hit formula to sold-out Ford Field

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Providing the yin to the other’s yang, Jay Z and Justin Timberlake dropped a potent one-two punch onto Ford Field Tuesday night.

With Timberlake laying down smooth dance moves alongside Jay Z’s seasoned laid-back swagger, the superstar duo lived up to one of the summer’s premier concert billings for a roaring, engaged audience of more than 40,000.

In a show that was intricately orchestrated but still loose enough to give the whole thing a freewheeling mood, the nearly 2½-hour set was a marathon party, a rat-a-tat-tat of hits and high energy.

Detroit was one of just a dozen cities to luck out on one the duo’s Legends of the Summer tour stops, and the football stadium was bristling with buzz well before the two appeared onstage at about 9:20 p.m. The last time we’d seen each of these guys in a stadium-sized setting here, it was across the street at Comerica Park: Timberlake in 2001 with ’N Sync, and Jay Z in 2010 when he co-headlined with Eminem.

Related: Jay Z, Justin Timberlake rock Ford Field, fans buzz on social media

They opened Tuesday with their new collaboration “Holy Grail,” appearing astride risers at opposite ends of the mammoth, lavish stage before making their way to the middle for the first of many side-by-side musical moments.

From there it was on through a rapid-fire selection of tunes to rev up the party: Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body,” a sprightly “I Want You Back” in its natural pairing with Jay Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” Timberlake’s “Senorita,” Jay’s “On to the Next One.”

It was all gloriously bombastic, the kind of night when having two drummers (and a percussionist), three keyboardists and a pair of video screens big enough to beam images to Canada all made perfect sense. And anyway, it wasn’t all just for show: The 14-piece band — complete with a feisty horn section and topped with four stylish backup singers — was tight, dense and nimble enough to serve both performers well.

Sure, this tour is a gimmick of sorts, teaming up two of the era’s biggest stars — and periodic studio collaborators — for a high-powered festival of hip-hop, R&B and pop. But Tuesday night, it was a gimmick that really worked: Jay Z and JT looked liked they’d been doing this together for years, sporting an affable chemistry as they played to one another and handed off the mic between comings and goings.

They’d arrived at Ford Field in dichotomous career spots: Jay Z the veteran rap kingpin on cruise control, Timberlake the comeback kid who seems to have remembered that he really digs this whole music thing. The latter was the harder working performer of the night, jumping from keyboard to piano to acoustic guitar when he wasn’t serving up his Michael Jackson-inspired maneuvers up front (and calling out to Detroit “Rock City” all night).

That certainly doesn’t mean Jay Z was second fiddle, and it was his litany of hits (“99 Problems,” “Hard Knock Life,” the stacatto-rapped “Jigga What, Jigga Who” and “Big Pimpin’”) that consistently drove the show. It’s old news at this point that the 43-year-old emcee has singlehandedly elevated the standards for live hip-hop in a big-stage production. But it’s still impressive to see it in action, and he prowled the Ford Field stage Tuesday night a larger-than-life showman, fully occupying his moment.

The set never dwelled too long in one musical place. The night’s most straightforward stretch came with Timberlake’s relatively lengthy midshow run of lush-grooved pop (“Summer Love,” “What Goes Around … Comes Around”), with “Cry Me a River” intensifying into a twin-guitar climax.

The only real awkward moment came with Timberlake’s rickety cover of “New York New York,” buttressing Jay’s “Empire State of Mind.” It was a lone clunker in a potent homestretch as the show began to hit its climatic run.

By the time they got to the encore, clad in tux jackets and hoisting glasses of champagne as they ran through a solid “Suit & Tie” and even better “Young Forever,” it was clear they’d accomplished something worth toasting themselves for. And don’t be suprised if 2013 isn’t the last time you see them doing it.

 

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Jay-Z carries a heavy load as ‘Girls’ star Jemima Kirke has to be removed from his video shoot

Ma’am, please remove yourself from Hova immediately.

Jay-Z had back problems while filming a 10-minute performance video promoting his “Magna Carta Holy Grail” album. According to sources at midtown’s Pace Gallery, he needed help from security to lighten the load.

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	Jay Z's 'Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film'.</p><br />

JAY Z’s Life+Times via YouTube

Jay Z’s ‘Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film’.

In the video, which debuted over the weekend, Jay-Z talks about performance art and raps the single “Picasso Baby” live. The audience is a group of art world stars like Marina Abramovic and celebs including Alan Cumming and “Girls” star Jemima Kirke, who stood on the sidelines and took turns sitting on a gallery bench while Jay-Z rapped to them during the seven-hour shoot.

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	Jemima Kirke in Jay Z's 'Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film'.</p><br />

JAY Z’s Life+Times via YouTube

Jemima Kirke in Jay-Z’s ‘Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film’.

But for quirky Kirke, watching quietly wasn’t going to work. In the video, she first takes her turn on the bench, letting Hova serenade her. Wearing hot pink pants and a black top, the smiley actress still has her act together as she lets down her hair and grins away. A short time later, the video cuts to Kirke, now draped on Jay like a cheap suit as he raps to the cheering crowd.

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	Jemima Kirke in Jay Z's 'Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film'.</p><br />

JAY Z’s Life+Times via YouTube

Kirke hangs on to Jay-Z during filming of his video for ‘Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film’.

“She was acting totally nuts!” said one witness, who watched Kirke climb onto Jay’s back and hold on tightly while the hip-hop superstar walked about, rapping to fans without missing a beat. “She kept jumping on his back like a little monkey,” says our source.

Seeing Kirke going bananas, Jay Z’s security staff peeled her off the rap icon.

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	Jemima Kirke in Jay Z's 'Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film'.</p><br />

JAY Z’s Life+Times via YouTube

The ‘Girls’ actress was carted off kicking and screaming, according to witnesses, but this shot made it into the final video.

“Someone was screaming ‘Get her off of him!’ ” says our spy. Kirke went away kicking and begging, “Let us finish!” as she was removed from the gallery.

Rest assured, Jay never lost his cool.

“He kept rapping the whole time!” our amazed onlooker assures us.

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	Jemima Kirke in Jay Z's 'Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film'.</p><br />

JAY Z’s Life+Times via YouTube

Kirke is known to really get into her art. In 2010 she was photographed bawling during a Marina Abramovic performance.

This isn’t the first time that Kirke, a painter who plays the bohemian Jessa Johansson on the popular HBO show, has lost control during a performance art piece. In 2010 she was photographed bawling her eyes out at performance artist Abramovic’s “The Artist Is Present” MoMA exhibition, where Abramovic sat still for more than 700 hours, simply staring at visitors who took turns sitting across from her. Called for comment about their client’s Jay Z meltdown, Kirke’s reps said they knew nothing of the incident.

Top model Miles McMillan, above, and Zachary Quinto are a hot new pair.

Kirstin Sinclair/Getty Images

Top model Miles McMillan, above, and Zachary Quinto are a hot new pair.

QUINTO: PLENTY MILES PER HOUR

Zachary Quinto is dating one of the world’s hottest male models, sources tell Confidenti@l. The “Star Trek” star has hooked up with Miles McMillan, who has been the face of Topman and fronted campaigns for Paul Smith and H & M. Quinto, 36, was sighted Monday night at the after-party for “The Butler” at the Bowery Hotel with his arm wrapped around the 24-year-old McMillan. “They were making out and couldn’t take their eyes off each other,” says our source. “They have traveled together and have been getting closer over the last few weeks. There are definitely sparks there.” Quinto split from “Glee” actor Jonathan Groff last month and appears to have wasted no time in finding his latest love interest. Also at the star-packed DeLeon Tequila and Samsung-presented bash were Oprah, Forest Whitaker, Lenny Kravitz, Cuba Gooding Jr., Mariah Carey, Naomi Watts, Liam Hemsworth, Anna Wintour and Harvey Weinstein.

CHRIS HAS HEAVY BOOKINGS

One minute he’s behind bars, the next he’s leaving bars. Chris Brown had a busy Monday after turning himself in at the Van Nuys jail in Los Angeles around 2 p.m. (after a hit-and-run allegation from earlier this summer), staying for only 45 minutes, and then showing up less than 12 hours later partying at AV nightclub. The 24-year-old continued to flaunt his player lifestyle, leaving the club with a mystery blond before jumping in his $700K customized Lamborghini.

Kellan Lutz can wow ’em with his Ah-nuld impression.

John Lamparski/Getty Images

Kellan Lutz can wow ’em with his Ah-nuld impression.

HE’S LUTZ OF LAUGHS

While in Chicago for the Lollapalooza music festival, Kellan Lutz entertained pals including Danny Masterson and “Breaking Bad” actor Aaron Paul with his impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sources tell us Paul was in high spirits at ASOS Rocks’ Barefoot Wine bar, even though his show … won’t be bock. “Aaron Paul was hilarious!” said one partygoer, who saw Paul telling people to dance and offering massages to loosen them up. He also managed to talk his way into meeting Salt-n-Pepa, who performed at the bar.

Edie Falco says that her 5-year-old daughter, Macy, is the family trend-setter in style.

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Edie Falco says that her 5-year-old daughter, Macy, is the family trend-setter in style.

FALCO FOLLOWS MACY’S STYLE

At the Ralph Lauren Girls Fashion Show at Wolffer Estate in Sagaponack, L.I., on Monday, Edie Falco told us her adorable daughter Macy, 5, already has a skill that Falco never had — style. “Now she’s all about, ‘I wanna wear this’ and she’ll say, ‘No, this goes with this!’ ” Falco told Confidenti@l. “But she has a great sense of it. She’s great with color. It’s an aptitude I never had.” Asked if Macy copied mom’s style, Falco laughed and said, “No! She’s got her own thing going on.”

Sydney Leathers’ message is that she’s getting fit for new projects.

REUTERS

Sydney Leathers’ message is that she’s getting fit for new projects.

LEATHERS’ SLIM HOPES FOR STARDOM

Sydney Leathers is not fat, she’s from Indiana, and weight is “a sensitive subject for any woman. And the most I have ever weighed is 140 pounds, and I’m 5-feet-6. So I have never been morbidly obese,” she tells Confidenti@l. But the aspiring porn star and Anthony Weiner’s Twitter pal says her days of being mocked over her physique are coming to an end.

“I’m now dieting and exercising,” she says. “I want to be as healthy and look as good as I can.”

Desiree Hartsock and Chris Siegfried get together on ‘The Bachelorette.’

Francisco Roman/ABC

Desiree Hartsock and Chris Siegfried get together on ‘The Bachelorette.’

‘BACHELORETTE’: FINALLY A RINGER

For the first time in “Bachelorette” history, ABC’s leading lady of reality TV wound up majorly rejected by her first choice. As Desiree Hartsock, 27, and her fallback fiancé Chris Siegfried, 27, made their first public appearance in New York City on Tuesday, not even the shine from Hartsock’s Neil Lane engagement ring could distract fans from the facts: Hartsock wound up settling. Still, the couple looked happy out and about … for now.

SHEEN BACK WITH WINNING WAYS

Just two years after Charlie Sheen spent his time with two adult film stars he called his “Goddesses,” the unpredictable star has found a new bevy of porn stars to pose with him topless — this time, they’re Charlie’s “Angels.” Capri Anderson and Georgia Jones, both porn stars, have reportedly moved into Sheen’s L.A. mansion. On Tuesday, Sheen tweeted this photo from a Hawaii vacation, showing three new sets of … beautiful eyes. Party of five, anyone?

MORE ON BIEB’S LATEST HITS

Southampton Town police have stepped up their investigation into a weekend brawl that centered around bratty pop star Justin Bieber when a brunette waitress and an Asian woman — not a blond woman, as some reports had claimed — left the club with Biebs and his entourage. As Confidenti@l first revealed, the incident started in the club and continued in the parking lot on a night when some media outlets reported an incident-free evening.

GIUDICE’S BUSY DAY IN COURT

Jail? Fuhgeddaboudit. Kim “D” DePaola is hosting an Aug. 14 book-signing party for her “Real Housewives of New Jersey” pal Teresa Giudice at her Posche Boutique in Wayne, N.J. Never mind that Giudice has a court date that day where she’ll be addressing 39 counts of fraud that could make her a Real Inmate of New Jersey. “I don’t understand how she can do a book signing that day,” says a source close to the housewives. “She definitely has balls.”

Minka Kelly glams up the red carpet at ‘The Butler’ premiere.

ANDREW KELLY/REUTERS

Minka Kelly glams up the red carpet at ‘The Butler’ premiere.

MINKA BACKS HER FILM

Minka Kelly goes backless in a Sophie Theallet gown as she attends the Ziegfeld Theatre premiere of her film “The Butler,” directed by Lee Daniels. Kelly’s got the plum role of Jackie Kennedy in the movie, starring Forest Whitaker.

REBEL WITH PAWS

Sure, Cosmopolitan’s September issue may feature a leggy shot of “The Vampire Diaries” star Nina Dobrev on the cover, but Aussie actress Rebel Wilson and an insanely cute fluffy dog are the real stars of the issue. Inside, the curvy comedy star poses for a fall fashion spread alongside the white furball, and gets to wear a red-hot Schott NYC jacket, Miu Miu sunglasses and Michael Kors jewelry. We can’t decide who we love more: Wilson or that photogenic pooch.

SEEN & HEARD …

Tyra Banks leaving the Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa in the Plaza Hotel. … “Suits” actor Gabriel Macht dining with girlfriend Jacinda Barrett for her birthday celebration at LES eatery the General, before heading to the downstairs Jazz Room for live music. … Michael Kors dining at Amagansett, L.I., hot spot Sotto Sopra. … Singer/songwriter Julie Kathryn will preview material from her debut album “Black Trees” at the Slipper Room on the LES Thursday. … Dutch DJ R3hab will spin at Hamptons hotspot South Pointe on Saturday.

 

Jay Z Joins Beyonce at Final Brooklyn Show

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It’s always exciting to show off your husband at work, and Beyoncé got her chance last night onstage at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, when Jay Z made a surprise appearance. The hip-hop mogul and rapper joined his wife during “Bow Down,” and then treated the crowd to “Tom Ford” off his Magna Carta Holy Grail.

The New Immortals: Beyoncé

Beyoncé took in her husband’s performance while seated on stage and then strutted over during the song’s climax. After the impromptu performance, the couple hugged briefly before Jay Z left the stage and “The Mrs. Carter Show” carried on.

 

Beyoncé and Jay Z Attend Trayvon Martin Rally in NYC

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Beyoncé and Jay Z joined a rally in New York City honoring Trayvon Martin on Saturday.

The two stood alongside activist and MSNBC host Al Sharpton, who spoke at the peaceful protest and introduced the the couple as “two of the baddest artists of all time.”

“Jay Z and Beyoncé said they didn’t want to speak and they didn’t come for a photo op,” he announced to the crowd of hundreds of thousands.

“Jay Z told me, ‘I’m a father. Beyoncé is a mother.’ We all feel the pain and apprehension—the laws must protect everybody, or it doesn’t protect anybody. We do not come from hate, we come from love of children,” Sharpton continued.

The “Grown Woman” singer went with a more demure ensemble for the event, a black sundress and conservative heels. Her rapper hubby donned a suit and white T-shirt for his public appearance.

NEWS: Stars react the the George Zimmerman verdict

Beyonce, JayZ, Reverend Al Twitter

Both music industry heavyweights have been outspoken about their feelings on the trial.

On July 19, Bey tweeted, “#actnow4Travyon” and attached a link asking fans to sign a petition on MoveOn.org to join the protest.

“Trayvon Martin’s most basic civil right, the right to live, was violated,” she wrote on her Tumblr.

She also shared a photograph of herself, Jay and Travyon Martin’s parents on her website earlier today and asked for a moment of silence at a Miami concert last week following the verdict announcement.

Meanwhile, last night at the Legends of the Summer tour with Justin Timberlake, Jay dedicated the song “Forever Young” to the slain teenager.

“This is for Trayvon, so light up your cell phones New York!” he shouted at the crowd.

NEWS: President Barack Obama weighs-in on the Travyon Martin case

Bey’s sister, Solange, also spoke out publicly regarding the death of Martin.

Last week, she held a peaceful protest in Brooklyn and spoke in front of a crowd of hundreds.

She carried a homemade sign that quoted the late human rights leader and Muslim minister Malcom X that read, “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against. Malcolm X”

The singer took to Twitter to further vent about the trial that rocked the nation and the peaceful protest.

“Seeing & gathering with people today/tonight all for the same fight helped to restore my faith in humanity…” she said.

She added: “I am optimistic…I am sick of racism & want to do something about it.”

Jay-Z and Kanye West: Are they out of ideas of their own?

ImageLast week, producer Hudson Mohawke — a centerpiece of Kanye West’s extended crew and a producer on “Yeezus” — said something that almost no other producer peer was willing to. He thought the new Jay-Z album didn’t sound all that exciting.

“This record could’ve came out 10 yrs ago n no one wouldve batted an eye lid,” he wrote on Twitter. In a followup reply to the producer Mike Dean, he added: “Not negativity just honest opinion I think it’s lazy, just my own opinion. Not hating.”

Plenty of fans chimed to support Mohawke, with the droll Flying Lotus mock-chiding him that “hey hey. Ur famous now. U not allowed to b honest no more.” Dean, for his measure, ominously warned Mohawke that he was screwing up his chances to make beats for “Watch the Throne 2.”

PHOTOS: Celebrities by The Times

Jay’s recent collaborations in the performance-art world (like playing his Jeff Koons and George Condo-riffing single “Picasso Baby” for six hours at New York’s Pace Gallery) imply he’s not lacking for high-art fans. But it’s interesting that Mohawke — now one of mainstream rap’s edgiest and in-demand producers — would feel comfortable calling the new album from hip-hop’s corporate titan “lazy” and wanting “beats in general (that) dont sound like 2003.”

Is it because these young producers know that the older guard needs the credibility of other, more challenging artists more than ever?

In a recent bomb-chucking piece on Grantland, Sean Fennessey suggests that Jay-Z and Kanye West have both essentially become vampires of other, vital underground sounds and aesthetics. This isn’t a new thing in pop music — go ask Carole Kaye who really played the bass lines on “Pet Sounds,” or the Funk Brothers about who forged the Motown sound.

But as the Internet underground churns out an astonishing amount of interesting, evolving hip-hop, kingpins like West and Jay are left in a tough predicament. They know they live on a musical and capitalist Mt. Olympus full of fine paintings, wine and women and are happy to tell you about it.
But it’s also kind of telling that the most notable conversation points about each of their new records were a Samsung affiliation and the fact that Kanye admitted he barely even tried at all in writing about half the album.

RELATED: Best albums of 2013 so far | Randall Roberts

If that’s what it means to be a god, being a god sounds kind of boring and unrewarding.

Maybe that’s why each of them have taken their generally acknowledged “coolest guys on the planet” reputations and latched onto others who are doing arguably more interesting actual work.

It’s a smart move. When Jay-Z raps “Picasso Baby” to Marina Abramovic and the art critic Jerry Saltz for six hours, it’s hard not to feel smitten and bit jealous.

But then one remembers Kanye already tried a similar concept at the release of “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” where he hosted an album playback amid a Vanessa Beecroft performance piece with dozens of nude models.

And then you remember a few years ago when Jay put out an “Occupy”-themed T-shirt for profit in the thick of the street protests. And then you pull up the “Watch the Throne” video for “No Church in the Wild” that evokes Arab Spring revolutions, on an album that’s fundamentally about having bankrolls and lifestyles befitting a cynical Middle East oil titan.

And then you go listen to “Yeezus,” which after a few weeks still sounds unimpeachably progressive, with an impeccable roster of noise-rap and electronica producers. But then notice just how far behind Kanye’s knuckleheaded lyrics about sweet-and-sour sauce sex are, by comparison, to the record’s searing sonics. Note how absurd a pairing of “Strange Fruit” and his complaints about being persecuted by money-hungry women is in hindsight.

TIMELINE: Summer’s must see concerts

Almost everything that’s genuinely “cool” about these new albums comes from a reflection of someone else’s vision. Rap is built on smart curation and collaboration, and having a deft ear for a novel sample or lyrical allusion is an artist’s stock and trade.

But like a lot of the contemporary art they collect and name-drop on record, these albums get much of their worth from their associations — with money, with reputation, with taste, with youth and their experiments — rather than what original things they actually have to say.

Much of the conversation about the production on Jay-Z’s “Magna Carta” is about how the 16-year-old Canadian producer Wondagurl earned a credit on it, and thus probably changing her life forever with the blessing of rap’s titans.

But maybe it’s the reverse. I’d bet Jay and Kanye know, deep in their true artists’ hearts, that all the Samsung money on Earth can really buy you is proximity to other people’s good ideas. And the young blood they’re tapping to get there might finally be ready to call them out on it.

ALSO:

Review: Jay-Z’s ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’ full of empty boasts

Review: Kanye West’s wildly experimental, narcissistic ‘Yeezus’

This week’s on-sales: The Weeknd, Rascal Flatts, Epicenter and more

Win tickets for Jay-z’s Dublin show

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But here’s your chance to secure tickets for you and a friend for what is the most hotly-anticipated hip hop show of the year and Jay-z’s first gig in Dublin since he played the o2 with Kanye West on the Watch The Throne tour last year.

To be in with a chance of winning a set of tickets to the show, simply e-mail the answer to this question to tencompetitions@rte.ie along with your contact details.

What is the title of Jay-z’s new album?

What two epic albums say about Kanye West and Jay-Z

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At 12:01 a.m. EST. on July 4, hip-hop fans and music insiders around the world were agog. Magna Carta Holy Grail, the new opus from rap titan Jay-Z, was moments away from becoming an instantaneous bestseller. The emcee had presold a million virtual copies to Samsung for a cool US$5 million; users of Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones who downloaded an Android app would get the album, free of charge, five days before the release date. Commentators puzzled over this brave, branded world. How could Jay-Z guarantee chart success if his album was being given away for free? Was this the future of music releases? By 12:02 a.m., the app had crashed. By 3 a.m., Magna Carta Holy Grail was out there, its beats and lyrics breathlessly parsed by Twitter users. For all the sturm und drang, MCHG made its way into eardrums in the same manner as most other buzzy albums: illegally, on the Internet.

Losing control of your product is an occupational hazard for modern pop stars. The website Has It Leaked exists to keep track of whether unreleased albums have made it on to iTunes playlists. It takes a true businessman to parlay the inevitable into an opportunity to make major cash. And it takes a mogul to turn the entire exercise into an extension of his personal brand. Jay-Z’s approach to his Magna Carta-stravaganza—which included no one-on-one interviews but weeks of behind-the-scenes “trailers” for individual tracks, and lyric sheets that mysteriously made their way online—is a neat summation of how the man who calls himself “Hova” (after “Jehovah”) wants to be seen. In a 2012 profile in the New York Times, author Zadie Smith described his persona as “cool, calm, almost frustratingly self-controlled,” and quoted rapper Memphis Bleek, a long-time acquaintance, who said Jay’s self-contained confidence goes back decades: “This was Jay’s plan from day one: to take over. I guess that’s why he smiles and is so calm, ’cause he did exactly what he planned in the ’90s.”

While Jay-Z’s carefully arranged dominoes fell, his friend and sometime collaborator, Kanye West, was on a full media tour. Three weeks before Magna Carta surfaced, Kanye West unleashed Yeezus, his much-ballyhooed new album. Instead of carefully calibrated video clips and artfully lo-fi liner notes, Yeezus got an old-fashioned, if abridged, promo blitz: West appeared on Saturday Night Live, performing two of the album’s most politicized tracks. He laid bare his artistic psyche in a New York Times interview through a series of audacious quotes. “All I want is positive! All I want is dopeness!” he declared. Later, he pronounced himself the “Steve [Jobs] of Internet, downtown, fashion, culture . . . I got the answers. I understand culture. I am the nucleus.” (Vulture, the culture blog for New York magazine, turned a selection of his choicest bons mots into spiritual posters.) By the time Yeezus rose, it was hard not to know everything Kanye West thought of Kanye West’s latest achievement: it was inspired by a Corbusier lamp, it was super-minimalist, it was “pushing the furthest possibilities.”

The inevitable Yeezus leak, like the Yeezus press, felt unpremeditated and unfiltered, a sudden outpouring from an artist given to sudden outpourings. Given his history of public fits—lamenting (via Twitter) the paucity of cherubs on his Persian rug, accusing George W. Bush of racism after hurricane Katrina, hijacking Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards—you could read West as a loose cannon who doesn’t care about his public image. But if his persona isn’t as meticulously constructed as Jay-Z’s cucumber-cool facade, that’s equally central to the Kanye West brand. We’re drawn to his antics and outbursts, his ego-fuelled flights of fancy, because they suggest the wild, unpredictable “authenticity” we associate with true savants.

It’s no coincidence that the allies, whose 2011 collaboration, Watch the Throne, broke iTunes sales records and cemented their collective power, released albums within a month of each other without stepping on one another’s toes. Neither appears on the other’s album; the stark percussiveness of Yeezus sits in sharp contrast to the ’90s hooks, Timbaland beats and Grammy-royalty guests on Magna Carta Holy Grail. The two aren’t Batman and Robin—they’re Batman and the Joker, playing off one another in a bizarre, beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy universe. “Juxtaposing those two personality types has been helpful for Jay and Kanye’s respective brands,” says Cord Jefferson, the West Coast editor of Gawker, who’s parsed the strategic moves of both artists. “Their friendship and professional relationship has this kind of ‘Goofus and Gallant’ or Odd Couple mythology around it, which is a common story the public has always loved. Jay is like the big brother who does everything right and Kanye is the little brother who messes up and throws tantrums.”

West, who earned his stripes as Jay-Z’s producer, represents the mania to his mentor’s gravitas, the knee-jerk reaction to Jay’s considered pause. He can’t beat Jay-Z at his own game—on the worshipful Big Brother, from his 2007 album, Graduation, he raps, “I told Jay I did a song with Coldplay / Next thing I know, he got a song with Coldplay.” So, as Jay-Z and Beyoncé, the king and queen of pop, hang out with the Obamas and live airbrushed lives where even their “revelatory” documentaries are hyper-mediated (see: Beyoncé’s self-directed HBO hagiography, Life is But a Dream), West has his own warped funhouse-mirror version: He’s signed on to girlfriend Kim Kardashian’s family business, the inane reality show Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Jay-Z inches ever more toward patrician political correctness—last year, following the birth of his daughter, Blue Ivy, he condemned the cavalier misogyny of his past lyrics and vowed to stop referring to women as bitches. In contrast, West, even on the verge of fatherhood (Kardashian gave birth to their first child, North West, the day after Yeezus leaked), positioned himself as a lusty creep. There was the boast of a sex tape he might release, there are the crass, racially fraught come-ons on his album (too many examples to name, but let’s pick I’m In It, in which West describes putting his fist in a paramour “like a civil rights sign”).

Some have interpreted all of it as straightforward glimpses of the face behind the mask: “Kanye West the man may be a misogynist,” the online magazine Grantland’s Steven Hyden allows, “but as an artist he was honest.” But if West comes across as juvenile and filthy and silly, if his “hidden self” has flashes of toilet humour and the sexual maturity of a 2 Live Crew song, it’s perhaps because he wants to be seen that way. Authenticity is a powerful sell—although, Jefferson points out, “I don’t believe his is a calculated eccentricity in the way Jay-Z calculated his business demeanour. It may be on display more when he’s in the public eye, but only because that’s what people desirous of attention do.”

Meanwhile, Jay-Z’s lyrics make vague gestures toward the legacy of slavery, appropriation of black culture, his own paternal anxiety, and his love for Beyoncé, but more than anything, he’s drawing our attention to his billions. His album is a measured, almost clinical statement from a man more interested in being an elder statesman and CEO of hip-hop than one of the genre’s creative masterminds. “I think Jay-Z is a culture hero to a generation of consumers who have been socialized to conflate materialism with social change,” tweeted Greg Carr, chair of Afro-American studies at Howard University, 12 hours after Magna Carta hit the streets.

West and Jay-Z cater to different psychic needs, and each is the perfect foil to the other. Jay-Z’s is in fact the archetypal hip-hop story: A former drug dealer who grew up poor, without a dad, in New York’s Bed-Stuy neighbourhood, the man born Shawn Carter rose to become the de facto king of contemporary hip-hop. If he has adopted a posture of gravitas, he’s surely hustled enough to earn it. West, for his part, was raised by middle-class parents in Chicago. He had support, education, comfort; the badass attitude adds much-needed cred.

That division of labour is arguably part of the strategy, and it’s worked. As mainstream pop goes, Yeezus is on the fringes. There are no melodies. It’s confrontational and weird. It also had the third-best first-week sales of any album this year—behind Justin Timberlake and, curiously, Daft Punk. The album, with its erratic sounds and forays into awful taste, sounds like the psychic echo we imagine inside Kanye West’s head. Critics noted it was “difficult” to listen to, but gave it raves anyway. As for Magna Carta Holy Grail, it dropped with a disappointing thud. Influential website Pitchfork condemned the album as “a celebration of unlimited financial privilege and power” that separates even Jay-Z’s fans “into haves and have-nots.” On the other hand, Jay-Z still landed a seven-figure first-day sales tally and prompted the Recording Industry Association of America to rewrite its rules to count initial digital sales toward commercial certification. Those million app downloads may have been a bust, but the numbers still counted. And to Jay-Z, making bank is more important than making a masterpiece. “Jay-Z thinks he’s revolutionary because he’s managed to make a lot of money in a structurally racist society,” says Jefferson. “Then signing a deal with Samsung to help sell smartphones is a revolutionary act. That’s the saddest revolution in the world.” Maybe so, but to borrow a line from The Wire, the game done changed.