Watch the Throne
07:00AM ET August 9th, 2011
Contributor: Todd Williams
A Rocky Williform Company
Since it was announced that Kanye West and Jay-Z would be releasing an album together, it seems like every other major 2011 release has been an afterthought. Tracks hit the web, every single facet of the album-making process was plastered across hip hop websites and blogs, tours were announced, release dates pushed back and pushed up--and it all leads up to Watch the Throne, an album that's more or less a gaudy, ambitious vanity project.
It's not formulaic--both artists are clearly trying to hit the ball out of the park--but this is still an ego-driven exercise more than a fully-realized, cohesive, inspired album. And coming on the heels of West's 2010 opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, its hard to not feel like parts of Watch the Throne are throwaways from Kanye's previous masterpiece.
But when they are inspired, the chemistry that the duo birthed on 2001s classic Jay-Z album The Blueprint is still as palatable as it ever was. "Welcome To the Jungle," which ironically is produced by Swizz Beatz, is the best song on the album; with both rappers in top form over a skittering, stone-cold backdrop. And while "That's My Bitch" may turn off some listeners with its latent misogyny, it features some of the most clever production on the album (with an assist from Q-Tip.) And "Who Gon Stop Me" provides the requisite bottle-popping, baller anthem that you just knew was going to be the centerpiece of the album.
Where the album loses punch is when the rappers--specifically Kanye--decides to remind everyone how hard it is being them. "New Day" is one of the album's more interesting cuts, in which Jay and Kanye offer words of wisdom to their unborn children. But, of course, Kanye can't resist climbing up on his cross in his opening verse, not-so-subtly referencing the backlash(es) he's endured over the course of his career for various PR nightmares. "Gotta Have It" is another of the album's stand-up tracks--despite Kanye overindulging his persecution fetish again. "White America assassinate my character/Money matrimony/Yeah they trying to break the marriage up" he raps before Jay-Z joins in, name-dropping Lebron James and Dwyane Wade's backlash as evidence that the world "hates players these days." It's hard to tell if the Jay and Yeezy are looking for sympathy, but its hard to feel sorry for anybody that brags about "planking on a million."
Hov and Yeezy get topical--most notably on "Murder To Excellence." The song wants desperately to be an anthem for Black unity--and it almost hits the mark, but it feels a bit forced on an album that seems so content to wear its narcissism on its sleeve.
Jay-Z's greatest strength has been his ability to tap into the upwardly mobile sensibility of Generations X & Y; and Kanye's greatest strength has been his ability to take that ambition and inject pathos and conflict into the mix. In a way, these two differing personalities should be more complimentary than they actually are. Somehow you don't get the push-and-pull you'd expect--on Watch the Throne, they're both cocky as hell and conflicted as hell in equal measure. Which can make for a frustratingly monotonous listen.
Watch the Throne feels like one bombastic brag-fest after another. So while this much-hyped project will undoubtedly make the perfect soundtrack to a thousand Saturday nights--there isn't a whole lot of substance on the record. It winds up sounding a lot closer to Blueprint 3 than My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy--and that can't help but be a little disappointing.