The 20/20 Experience and Kanye West: A Beef and an Album Explained

To many, the recent war of words between Kanye West & Justin Timberlake may seem completely random. To others, including the people at Buzzfeed it’s a middle school battle of the besties – who is REALLY Hov’s BFF? Each example as wrong as the other. Because the Timberlake-West beef is not random, nor completely juvenille – it’s a heavyweight title match nearly a decade in the making.

To catch the uninformed up: Kanye West  made headlines in late February by saying “I got love for Hov, but I’m not fucking with that Suit & Tie,’ amongst other things during a mid-show rant. Timberlake then returned fire on ‘Saturday Night Live’ during a performance of said-song by replacing the line ‘Shit’s so sick, got a hit and picked up a habit’ with ‘My hit’s so sick got rappers acting dramatic.’

The source of the beef (bravado) can really be best explained by this quote taken from a 2007 interview Kanye West did with XXL magazine.

“My biggest inspiration and biggest competition is Justin Timberlake,” the 29-year-old rapper tells XXL magazine in its October issue, on newsstands Sept. 11. “He’s the only other person that gets an across-the-board response and respect level — black radio, white radio.”

“If Justin hadn’t come out and killed the game, I can’t say that my album, singles and videos would be on the same level that they’re on,” he says.

We push each other. I look at me and Justin like Prince and Michael Jackson in their day.”

To this point  West’s career has been more Jordan than Jackson when it comes to Mikes. After Magic Johnson retired, Chicago’s Michael Jordan found himself unrivaled – perhaps his most worthy adversary was on his own team (though a clear second best) – chomping at the bit for an opponent to say or do something that he could use as ammunition to bring his game to the next level. It was something he HAD to do because while the Barkleys and the Malones of the world were good, they weren’t truly worthy adversaries. West entered his prime when FutureSexLoveSounds was dominating the radio. He stayed and kept making great albums, Timberlake left to make movies. In the interim other pop and rap acts have come and gone, but West stayed unrivaled at the top, unquestionably levels above his closest competition.

Which is why it’s funny – and perhaps not that far fetched – to mentally picture Kanye West in a dark high rise like the Die Hard villain he’s cast himself to be, receiving the present he’s both most feared and desired.

Because Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience is every bit of the masterpiece that West’s My Dark Twisted Fantasy was. A top to bottom instant classic that’ll unquestionably find itself #1 on the majority of ‘Best Album of the Year’ lists come year end.

And it’ll be well deserved. Because again, much like West’s 2010 efforts, The 20/20 Experience is a great record. Not a compilation of songs with radio friendly hits dispersed evenly, but a piece of music that commands that you sit down and listen to it from it’s first second to it’s last. Sure, there’s stand out tracks – but they stand out in the context of the album. Suit & Tie wasn’t meant to be a radio single, it was meant to be the second song on a great record.

Timberlake weaves his way throughout the album like a modern-day Al Green opening the gates to his own personal, sexualized Chocolate Factory. A look into a world that we envy and enjoy, even if we don’t 100% completely understand. Happy, poppy bookmarks with a surprisingly unpredictable, and even occasionally dark, tunnel of terror like middle. 

And it’s the completion of a masterpiece that leads us to where we are today: With any doubts about musical staying-power removed, Timberlake stands strong as the adversary West at least claimed he’s always wanted: The Frazier to his Ali. The Superman to his Batman. The Jackson to his Prince.

I’m not sure who makes the next move or when it happens, but I look forward to it. Til then, I’ve got another couple hundred listens of The 20/20 Experience in me.

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