On the lyrics interpretation website Rap Genius, someone has slapped an image of the poster for Vicky Cristina Barcelona on that last Kanye couplet. It's
perfect. The 2008 Woody Allen flick depicts Javier Bardem, improbably, arranging to love and live with Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz—together,
under the same roof. Chances are, Kanye's a fan. To an ever-increasing extent, his rap fixates on the idea of sanctioned polyamory, in which sleeping
around jibes with having a committed relationship. Which is funny, given how much his Watch the Throne partner Jay-Z talks up one girl and one girl alone.
Kanye's romance rap typically comes across as bitches-and-hoes boilerplate, but listen closer. He's trying to establish a new order, to evangelize for
Dan Savage-ordained good-giving-gameness between lovers—an acceptance of kink that the outside world condemns. For Kanye, as for a lot of guys, that
kink is having multiple partners. "Hell of a Life," off 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, was about this; on it, he fantasized about
being married to a permissive porn star who'd let him get with whomever he'd like. On the track before it, "Runaway," West's protégé Pusha T
laid down a far colder verse on what infidelity often means to rappers. "I did it, all right, all right, I admit it," he rhymed, putting himself in the
moment of confrontation with a girlfriend who'd found he'd been cheating. "Now pick your next move: You could leave or live with it."
There's the tension: West's previous relationships have been apparently marked by a kind of infidelity tied, corruptly, to his own wealth and influence. He cheats because he can; she accepts it because she relies on him; there's no trust. But he wants out. In Watch the Throne's opening number "No Church in the Wild"—a song
about having the ability to write one's own rules—he rhapsodizes about a new religion: "No sins as long as there's permission' / And
deception is the only felony / So never fuck nobody without tellin' me." A few lines later, his mind drifts to a dream girl marked by two tattoos: "One
read 'No Apologies' / The other said 'Love is Cursed by Monogamy.'" The sour tone of "That's My Bitch," meanwhile, comes from remembering a relationship where money was definitely an object, and where the girl wasn't on this wavelength—" You had no idea what ya dealing with," he opens.
As for Jay-Z? His rap about girls—or, about a girl these days—is significantly less fraught (remember the one problem he didn't have on "99 Problems"?). But that's true for virtually every subject the two
rappers touch on Watch the Throne. Kanye's persecuted; he externalizes his woes. Jay just wants to inspire imitation through coolly executed
awesomeness. Kanye's rapping about how, for all of his success, he's still out of step with the way the world works; Jay's demonstrating that he's conquered the world as it is and wants to show others how he did it. But disconnects like these are to be expected. Watch the Throne
is an album about bromance—about Jay and Kanye's own buddy-buddy relationship serving as an example for black aspirational unity—but it's also,
necessarily, a study in contrasts. Debate all you want who's got the right view, or who's the better rapper, or whatever. But it's clear which of the two sounds happier.