Kanye West & Jay-Z (The Throne)
Watch The Throne (Deluxe Edition) (released August 8, 2011)
Tell me, is it more surprising that Watch The Throne actually has been released, or that it didn’t leak beforehand?
Well, that’s all irrelevant now. When discussing an album of this magnitute, the question isn’t “is it good?” More specifically, you’re left to wonder “how good is it?”
Jay-Z and Kayne West, rap’s twin towers who are collectively known as The Throne, have all but guaranteed a classic. Y’all know me – I’m definitely the right guy to put it to the test.
There are four required qualities that define a classic rap album: Stellar, influential production; intriguing lyrical content; variety of sounds and themes; and enduring material. Unless ALL these elements are in place, you CANNOT call an album a classic.
Jay and Ye certainly have outstanding production in spades. The majority of the album was produced by Kanye and the team that brought you My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. As you’d expect, dark-multilayered beats abound but a few surprising samples also balance things out. Otis Redding’s chopped up vocals on “Otis” give the track so much energy and aggression. “Who Gon Stop Me” borrows English DJ Flux Pavillion’s “I Can’t Stop,” slowing it down to the perfect pitch to rattle your systems on the interstate. Bonus track “The Joy” uses Curtis Mayfield’s familiar “The Makings of You” without becoming too cliche. Much of the production straddles the line between Kanye’s old “soul beats” of the early ’00s and the rampant piano keys used in his last project.
Intriguing lyrical content also comes easy to these two. Someone must have slapped Jay out of his complacency coma because he sounds MUCH sharper here than on The Blueprint 3. On “Welcome to the Jungle,” Jay struggles with life’s ills: “I look in the mirror/my only opponent/Where the f*** is the press, where the f*** is the prez/either they don’t know or don’t care, I’m f***ing depressed.” But more often that not, Kanye steals the show with his razor-sharp punchlines. On “Otis” he brags about “sophisticated ignorance/I write my curses in cursive.” And I have to mention the most hilarious line I’ve heard in months, from “No Church in the Wild”: “Thinking about the girl in all leopard/who was rubbing the wood like Kiki Shepard.” The duo have mastered blending their somewhat contrasting styles together, giving each track a fresh feel and a different point of view.
My biggest fear regarding Watch The Throne was a that there would be a lack of varying themes. I assumed we would be subjected to 60 minutes of Kanye and Jay bragging about how rich and cool they are, but being depressed that everyone hates them cuz they’re so rich and cool. Of course, there’s a lot of that but both stretch beyond their worn-out woes. “Murder to Excellence” is essentially two tracks in one – first, detailing the darker side of urban living while later celebrating the black success. Ye quips: “In the past, if you pictured events like a black tie/what’s the last thing you’d expect to see? Black guys.” And on “New Day,” Ye and Jay share how they’ll raise their unborn sons, and provide introspection into their own mistakes. Jay realizes that “sins of a father will make your life 10 times harder.”
Finally, does Watch The Throne endure? Sadly, that’s its biggest shortcoming. Although there is a lot to love here, there are no classic, defining tracks. “Lift Off” could have been this album’s “All of the Lights” but neither Jay nor Ye seemed concerned with putting forth much lyrical effort. The much-maligned “HAM” actually isn’t bad, it just sounds like it migrated from a Waka Flocka album. “That’s My B****” is the only true dud. In a sense, Watch The Throne is like Nas’ Lost Tapes – on their own, most of these tracks aren’t a draw, they work better as a cohesive unit within the album. Honestly, the hardest part of this review was selecting the album’s three top tracks to highlight below.
For those of you expecting The Reasonable Doubt of a College Dropout, I’m sorry to break the news – Watch The Throne is not at all a classic. But don’t let that revelation dissuade you from experiencing one of the year’s best rap releases.
Best tracks: “Otis,” “Murder to Excellence,” “Who Gon Stop Me”
4 stars out of 5