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Jay-Z & Kanye West - 'Watch the Throne' (Def Jam)

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating
User Rating 3 Star Rating (1 Review)

By

Watch the Throne

Jay-Z/Kanye West - Watch the Throne

© Def Jam

Kanye West and Jay-Z have always worked an area of rap defined by the goalposts of opulence and introspection. Kanye, though, had to kick, fight and scream his way to hip-hop royalty; Jay started right at the fringe of braggart rap long before the style infiltrated hip-hop culture at the turn of the millennium. "Chilly with enough bail money to free a big Willy," he bragged on '96's "Can't Knock the Hustle."

Watch the Throne betrays the antithetical trajectory of two careers—Kanye, the flourishing star in love with the spoils of success but still adjusting to its hitches; Jay, who's discovering new ways to enjoy the show. "The Nets could go 0-82 and I'd look at you like this sh-t gravy," he says nonchalantly on "N--as in Paris." While Kanye is still exploring models and Hermes, Jay has moved on to Hublot, Basquiat, and unpronounceable French designers.

Where Kanye reigns supreme, however, is in the fabric of Watch the Throne. The album's musical direction is all Ye's. Kanye and a bevy of all-star producers (Q-Tip, RZA, Swizz Beatz, Mike Dean, 88 Keys, Hit-Boy, etc) keep the album dipped in 60s soul, James Brown samples, and dubstep stabs. Plush samples, synth showers, and piano chords soundtrack the duo's bragfest.

But after the luxury rap comes introspection. Side B finds the pair pumping their breaks on braggadocio and pondering the deceptive American Dream, friendships, injustice, religion, and immortality. Kanye exerts his will on the album's revelatory tracks and helps Jay-Z discover how stunningly human he sounds when the royal veil is peeled back. On the Nina Simone-sampling "New Day," for instance, they write a letter to their future sons in the vein of 2Pac's "Letter 2 My Unborn." Powerful stuff.

Over the pulsating hi-hats and hands-to-the-sky piano strokes of "Made in America," R&B prince Frank Ocean croons a love poem to "Sweet King Martin, Sweet Brother Malcolm," among other martyrs. Kanye kicks off the song with a vengeful rags-to-riches tale, while Jay-Z follows up with the most vivid portrait of his street days yet. Grandma never knew why young Shawn was always boiling water in the wee hours: "The scales was lopsided, I'm just restoring order/Hold up, here comes gradnma/What's up YaYa/What's that smell?/Oh, I'm just boiling some aqua/No papa, bad Santa/The streets raised me, pardon my bad manners," Jay pleads.

Later, they bemoan gun violence on the sprawling "Murder 2 Excellence." Riding itchy rhythms and a funereal children's choir, Jay-Z wistfully recalls the death of 20-year-old Pace student Danroy Henry, while Kanye compares Iraq war casualties with Chicago murder victims. Then the song switches to a head-nodder about black success. "Only spot a few blacks the higher I go," Jay raps. It literally shifts from murder narrative to celebration of black excellence; from gore to glory, from night to day. Still, the stench of inequality overpowers the aroma of success.

The longest tracks on Watch the Throne are the thought-provoking ones: "Murder 2 Excellence," "Made in America," and "New Day" in that order. Coincidence? I doubt it.

Jay-Z and Kanye aren't merely paying lip service to weighty issues. But they're not in total command of the conscious style, either. They're subtle and restrained rather than salient and provocative; clever and charismatic rather than furiously Afrocentric. The glimpses of introspection and social commentary hardly rival the depths of what you'll find on, say, a Black Star album, but Throne is still plenty interesting. Social commentary was never their specialty, anyway. What Watch the Throne offers, instead, is signature Jay-Z, soulful Kanye West, and stark honesty, all laid atop innovative production. It's not the instant classic heads were hoping for, but it boasts several outstanding moments.

Under the garish boasts of Watch the Throne is also a subtle but complex tale of friendship. Jay-Z and Kanye defeat expectations by avoiding obvious references to their own relationship. There's no "Big Brother" here. Instead, they stand side by side and shake a stick at a common enemy, namely the mess of animosities their monarch attracts. Their friendship may be a delicate one, but you'll never find yourself questioning its legitimacy.

For all their dichotomies, they display infallible chemistry throughout. In fact, this may be the only time Kanye has been comfortable ceding power to another mortal. And with Jay-Z hogging the mic, Ye busies himself on the boards. Their formula is simple yet successful: Jay-Z asserts himself lyrically, Kanye plays the king's loyal fiddler, as exemplified on "Why I Love You." Ultimately, the sum of the two is almost as great as the individual parts.

Top Tracks
  • "N--as in Paris"
  • "Otis"
  • "Made in America"
  • "New Day"
  • "Murder 2 Excellence"
Release Date: August 12, 2011
User Reviews

Reviews for this section have been closed.

 3 out of 5
Watch The Throne, Member blakedroesch

The average newspaper is written at a high school reading level. Publishers use this tactic, in order to appeal to a wider population of consumers and sell more copies. In Hip-Hop, artists have started to do the same thing; dumbing down their lyrics, in order to appeal to a commercial audience and sell more records. Jay-Z and Kanye Wests' Watch The Throne has got the beats, the flow and the creativity, but this is Hip-Hop and if you don't have the lyrics, you've got nothing. Jay-Z used to be one of the most well rounded MCs in Hip-Hop. He had a unique style and flow that complimented his witty and ardent lyrics. Unfortunately, after his self proclaimed final record, The Black Album, Jay came out of retirement sounding way different than he did a mere 3 years earlier. At this point in his career, Jay's lyricism is completely absent from his music, while only remnants of his style and flow remain. Watch The Throne suffers tremendously under these circumstances. Jay-Z, who is supposed to be the real MC of the duo, delivers nothing but mediocre, barley bearable verses. Jay's rhymes are upstaged by partner Kanye West, who is a producer first, rapper second; making Jay-Z's presence on the record almost seem unnecessary. Watch The Throne is a terribly inconsistent record. Five of the last six tracks on the album are all filler, while the dragged out instrumentals add to the inconsistency. Songs like “Niggas In Paris” and “Who Gon Stop Me” try to go hard, but the mediocre lyrics and production just make the tracks sound corny. While other tracks like “Lift Off (Feat. Beyonce)” and “Made in America (Feat. Frank Ocean)” are decent pop songs, but not something that real Hip-Hop fans want to hear from Kanye and Jay-Z. The greatest attribute of Watch The Throne is most definitely the production. The album is a Jay-Z and Kanye West collaboration. However, the real art of collaboration on this album is between Kanye and the producers he worked with. Kanye's work with other producers on Watch The Throne blend beautifully; incorporating both producers styles, to sound equally prevalent on the track. Most noticeably, Kanye's work with The RZA, Q-Tip, Swizz Beatz and The Neptunes provide the instrumentals that make the best tracks on the album. While it is always necessary to give an artist like Kanye some room to explore his creativity, some of the production is just too all over the place. Particularly, the Dubstep influence on “Niggas In Paris” and “Who Gon Stop Me” , which is something that should never tamper with Hip-Hop ever again (if it does, Kanye West will be held accountable). Watch The Throne is an average album at best. If Jay and Kanye decided to collaborate on a full length album five to ten years ago, they probably would have recorded another classic. However, these days with Kanye focusing his creativity on incorporating different genres into his music and Jay-Z's fade to mediocrity, the chances of Watch The Throne becoming a classic album were slim to none to begin with.

4 out of 9 people found this helpful.

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