Jay-Z and Kanye West
Watch the Throne


3.5
great

Review

by Tyler Fisher EMERITUS
August 10th, 2011 | 273 replies


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: What Watch the Throne needs is not a grander purpose, but any purpose.

Indecisiveness has plagued Watch the Throne since its inception. First it was a five-song EP; now, it is a full blown album with bonus tracks. They finished the album in March; in April, Mike Dean announced that they restarted the entire mixing process. "H.A.M." was the first single, a supposed indicator of things to come; now, it hardly fits the album and is a bonus track more out of necessity than anything else. In April, we knew "Lift Off", featuring Beyonce and Bruno Mars, would be the second single; instead, "Otis" took its place, and Bruno Mars lost his feature.

Of course, things change. The musical process is never straightforward. Inspiration strikes an artist, and he writes six songs in the timespan it normally takes to write half a song. These songs completely change the course of an album, and suddenly, the focus of the project changes. Negotiations with the label and the publisher hit a snag, and the release date gets pushed back. The final mix comes back, and there are mistakes. Contract negotiations with collaborating artists fall through.

Still, I bring up these moments of indecisiveness because indecisiveness is the key flaw in Jay-Z and Kanye West's much-anticipated collaborative album. Indecisiveness keeps Watch the Throne from being the hip-hop classic it could be.

Everything else is in place for a truly memorable album. The list of producers is nothing short of astounding, featuring not just well-known names, but names that have produced the biggest, best, and most memorable hip-hop tracks in the last two decades. Even more impressively, they all turn in their best work-- from RZA's cold yet soulful sampling of Nina Simone's "Feeling Good" on "New Day" to Q-Tip's classic hip-hop bombast on "That's My Bitch". The Neptunes turn in their best beat in years on "Gotta Have It", sampling James Brown in a realm completely removed from funk and soul. 88-Keys creates a positively epic opening track with "No Church in the Wild", full of creeping guitar riffs and pulsating bass, building tension that simply never releases. Even classical choral composer Eric Whitacre tweeted about the track's excellence, and it's easy to see why. It's intimidating when a great No I.D. beat gets relegated to a bonus track because everything else is just too damn good.

Of course, Kanye, a co-producer on every track, forces each song into his realm with a strong guiding hand. "That's My Bitch", in the midst of its boom-bap, launches into a post-chorus featuring West's recent muse, Justin Vernon, and some more modern synths. In the hands of any other producer, the jump would seem out of place, but ever since his early tracks for Jay, Kanye's trademark has been blending the past with the present seamlessly. That makes "Otis" such a surprise, as the sample of Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness" creates almost the entire instrumental track-- no additional beats, no additional synths-- but don't sleep on that subtle but oh-so-effective deep bass kick at the beginning of each phrase. Providing some much-needed punctuation to the bareness of the track, the bass is a classic example of West's attention to detail as a producer. Every song on Watch the Throne sounds immense, no doubt the result of not only big producers but also big money. The mix is meant for speakers you can’t afford, with layers upon layers of sonic detail waiting to be discovered.

Unfortunately, all that effort on the production feels wasted, because despite the album’s track-by-track excellence, neither rapper seems to know what Watch the Throne is. Kanye and Jay are indecisive about the direction and focus of the album, instead attempting to cover a wide variety of topics in a vast array of styles. Much of the album is a brag album; each rapper drops line after line about their favorite luxury brands. West sums it up best in “Otis”, saying, “This is luxury rap/ The Hermes of verses,” speaking volumes about the album sonically and lyrically. But if Watch the Throne is a brag album, it deflates the purpose of songs like “New Day”, where Kanye and Jay rap to their future, unborn sons, regretful about how difficult their life will be as children of superstars. Just as it’s hard to take “New Day” seriously on the same album where Jay asks, “What’s 50 grand to a mother***er like me?” and Kanye brags, “I made ‘Jesus Walks’, I’m never going to hell,” “New Day” contradicts the power Kanye and Jay try to assert. “Welcome to the Jungle” displays unnecessary paranoia on behalf of the two superstars, feeling threatened, but by no one in particular.

While contradictions are what make albums like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy human, these are contradictions that sound contrived and forced. Frank Ocean asks, “What’s a god to a nonbeliever?” on “No Church in the Wild”, but later invokes “sweet baby Jesus” on “Made in America”, pandering to each track without a thought to the coherence of the album.

Since Watch the Throne dropped, writers and peers have criticized the two rappers for not representing something larger than themselves, wishing for an album focused around the topics discussed on “Murder to Excellence”. The song decries the murder of African-Americans before segueing into the second section, where the focus shifts to black excellence. Chuck D of Public Enemy took to YouTube to rap over the original “Try a Little Tenderness”, calling on Jay and Kanye to “elevate the masses to try a little bit more to reflect Otis’ heart rather than swag, because [Jay and Kanye are] too good to be less.” That desire seems misguided. After all, Kanye’s last two albums, 808s and Heartbreak and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, were intensely personal. Jay’s best albums, such as The Blueprint, are the brag albums that Watch the Throne could be. Watch the Throne was always going to be an album centered around larger-than-life egos.

What the album needs is not a grander purpose, but any purpose. Kanye and Jay couldn’t even decide on an opener; after the fantastic “No Church in the Wild” prepares us for fireworks and bombast, we’re given the lackluster “Lift Off”, which feels like an introduction after a prologue. Kanye stumbles through a sung verse that almost makes the rumored Bruno Mars feature seem like a better option, and Beyoncé sings around the song title. Its inherently poppy nature fits more as the introduction to Blueprint III than Watch the Throne. It offers nothing to add to the theme of the album and tries to fill the role that “No Church in the Wild” already excellently fulfills.

Despite the lack of focus, Jay turns in his best performance since The Black Album, and Kanye lets him “go Michael... Jackson, Tyson, Jordan, Game 6” for most of the album, as Jay warns he will do on “Ni**as in Paris”. Kanye’s verses, few and far between, seem tame and uninspired, but he makes up for it behind the boards. So it’s a shame, really, that Kanye and Jay couldn’t focus on something smaller. “Who Gon Stop Me” could be an immense, powerful brag track, but on the song’s chorus, Kanye says, “This is something like the Holocaust/ Millions of our people lost,” a couplet completely removed from the song’s theme, directed at seemingly no one. Songs like “New Day” and “Welcome to the Jungle” could form the basis for an elaborately personal album, beating Drake at his own game of balancing fame and depression. Instead, we’re left with a mess of an album that sounds too good to hate.



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user ratings (626)
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Comments:Add a Comment 
thebhoy
Emeritus
August 10th 2011


4461 Comments


Black Diamond dun dun dununun dun dun.

FlawedPerfection
Emeritus
August 10th 2011


2806 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Yeah, the site won't let me back into my profile for whatever reason. Ugh.

Satellite
August 10th 2011


20818 Comments


kinda apprehensive about listening to this

too many cooks in the kitchen etc.

Polymath
August 10th 2011


3836 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I agree with this review 100%

Oceanus
August 10th 2011


877 Comments


Nice review, have a feeling that I'll tend to agree after hearing this.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
August 10th 2011


15739 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

i dont think so

Digging: Ricky Eat Acid - Three Love Songs

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
August 10th 2011


17920 Comments


lol u censored niggas

FlawedPerfection
Emeritus
August 10th 2011


2806 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

New York Times couldn't even do That's My Bitch.

"two of the album’s highlights, both with unprintable titles, produced by Hit-Boy and Southside."

er, Illest Motherfucker Alive, I guess they meant.

gabethepiratesquid
August 10th 2011


4521 Comments


Cool production, terrible lyrics. (and even production on tracks like, "That's My Bitch" are terrible.

conradtao
Emeritus
August 10th 2011


2090 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I don't get why "Lift Off" is getting such a lackluster reception - I adore it.

But yeah, I think I'd agree with this review if I could be arsed to read it carefully. Might do that tomorrow.

bears
August 10th 2011


106 Comments


ha getting this now im sure ill like it enough

AtavanHalen
August 11th 2011


17927 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

I dig this a lot more than pretty much everyone

As usual, I'm okay with that

patroneyes
August 11th 2011


1919 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

"even production on tracks like, "That's My Bitch" are terrible."

whaaaaat that's possibly my favorite song on this entire disc


Skoj
August 11th 2011


1162 Comments


"too many cooks in the kitchen etc."

x2

Digging: Banks - Goddess

Skoj
August 11th 2011


1162 Comments


"too many cooks in the kitchen etc."

x2

bears
August 11th 2011


106 Comments


yep got it like it alot

BigSimo
August 11th 2011


162 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

that's my bitch FTW

acorncheese
August 11th 2011


7119 Comments


tyler fisher is my favorite staff member tbh

Dunpeal
August 11th 2011


3665 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

wtf does Jay-Z have to rap about anymore? he's making loads of cash, married to beyonce. he's never been in the same vein as Talib, Common, Ye etc. when it comes to lyrical content. He's readily admitted that. seriously, someone retire this guy asap

cirq
August 11th 2011


9264 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

i see a few haters.. whatever, http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_eFzemeXkU_A/TLzibjYse-I/AAAAAAAABH4/9lhrPdXZqeE/s1600/haters-1.gif



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