4. Watch The Throne (2011)
There were so many reasons Watch The Throne should have failed. Two of rap's biggest self-mythologizers, with a history of competitiveness and hurt feelings (see: "Big Brother" and the hubbub over who featured Chris Martin first), were attempting to function as a team. (It's no wonder LeBron and D-Wade got a shout-out on "Gotta Have It.") Jay was in the thralls of post-retirement mediocrity; Kanye was still basking in the afterglow from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. So many of these collaborative albums end up being less than the sum of their parts -- just ask Jay-Z how his records with R. Kelly turned out. And how could two middle-aged men swimming in Scrooge McDuck money pull off a monument to their own opulence while most of their audience fingernail-scraped its way out of a recession? Fortunately for Jay, 'Ye and everyone who spent 2011 bumping "Niggas In Paris," Watch the Throne beat those long odds. Mr. West is clearly the guiding hand: pushing the music into inventive directions, his creative energy inspiring Mr. Carter to some of the most vital microphone turns of his career. Let's not discredit Jay-Z for pushing Kanye, either; their chemistry on "Otis" is intoxicating. Yes, they broadcast their absurd wealth via braggadocious lyrics, expensive samples, and fashionable guests. But in light of the rags-to-riches backstory "Niggas In Paris" alludes to, it feels like the kind of triumph we all can share in.