With Jay-Z and Kanye West being the two biggest rap stars at the moment, they are undoubtedly used to high profile releases. However, a collaboration between the two, along with the numerous delays that preceded its release, pushes this up higher than simply an album release. This is possibly the most hyped event in hip hop this year. So were our extremely high expectations met with a resounding nod?
That would depend on what you were expecting. I’ll admit that after hearing H.A.M. earlier this year and Otis just a few weeks ago, I was a little worried about the direction they were taking. Hell, even after listening to the first couple of songs I was still worried. But rest assured, once the album settles into its groove, all of your worries will be cast aside.
Sonically, this is very much a Kanye album despite being only solely credited on one song. However, if you look closer at the credits, you’ll notice Ye had his hands in pretty much every song as a co-producer. He’s added his own flair to each of the beats, which were already produced by a star studded cast with the likes of 88-Keys, Q-Tip, The Neptunes, RZA and Swizz Beatz with No I.D. and Pete Rock lending their talent to the bonus songs on the deluxe version.
Like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye opts for the epic and grandiose over a more traditional hip hop sound. There are lots of layers and long musical breaks, however it’s not quite as extreme as his previous solo album. The songs flow seamlessly into each other and it’s all held together by a repeating interlude that is such a dusty and lo-fi sample that I can just hear in my head Madlib or El-P looping it back in the 90’s.
Topically, most of the album is braggadocio with the two mega stars talking from their thrones about their lavish lifestyles that none of us commoners can experience. You know, the usual stuff, from ballin, Benzes, jets and a little bit of god complex. It’s no wonder that my favorite songs on the album are when they step down from their star status personnas and rap as regular people.
The first such instance is also one of the best. On the Nina Simone sampled New Day, produced by RZA, the two rappers send messages out to their unborn sons and swear to protect them from the bad in the world. They look inwards and rap as real people with real emotions rather than champagne toting success stories. This song also had my favorite Jay-Z verse on the album. Although he is my favorite rapper of the two, Ye seems much more comfortable on this album while Jigga feels like he is just going through the motions on most of the songs.
Another amazing song and the centerpiece of the album is Murder To Excellence. Here, both rappers switch to some social commentary by talking about violence in the hood. Then, surprisingly as the beat changes in the middle of the song, so does the theme as it switches literally from murder to “black excellence,” where they talk about success in life as an escape from the violence. I would have loved to hear more thematic songs like this rather than the money rap that is more prevalent throughout the album.
Made In America is another song where they step back and reflect on their lives and the paths they took to their success. They rap about the American Dream over a slow burning beat. Finally, the album ends with Why I Love You, a song directed to friends in Jay’s life that turned their backs on him. There might also be subliminal jabs to Beanie Sigel here in response to his recent public outbursts:
“Wasn’t I a good king?/ Maybe too much of a good thing/ Didn’t I spoil you?/ Me or the money, what you loyal to?/ I gave you my loyalty/ Made you royalty and royalties/ Took care of these niggas lawyer fees/ And this is how niggas rewarding me? Damn.“
Despite preferring the reflective songs more than the braggadocio songs, there are still good tracks on the other side of the fence. The Neptunes assisted Gotta Have It is definitely a banger but my favorite would be the Q-Tip produced That’s My Bitch. This is by far the most energetic song on the album largely in part to the always classic Apache break. It’s kind of interesting how this break beat was used on so many songs in the 80’s and 90’s and yet still manages to sound fresh in 2011.
Overall, while this might not be the instant classic some were expecting, it’s still a solid effort and a few really good songs easily make this worth listening to. My only problems with this are Jay-Z not sounding like he’s giving 100% on some songs and the lack of songs where they just go off. There’s also not enough personable or thematic songs but the ones that are here, are great.
With a title like Watch The Throne, I guess we shouldn’t be expecting an album full of humility. Still though, this is a well done album and one that any hip hop fan should listen to.
Watch The Throne was released on August 12th, 2011