Review Summary: Two former MVPs suit up for an exhibition.
Remember a few years ago, when the world hated Kanye West? Where did he get off with his God complex, his unearned pretentions, his crown of thorns on the Rolling Stone cover? When his personality distracted us from the talent he supposedly had? And then remember how he found a way to finally, gloriously bridge the gap between Kanye West the musician and Kanye West the pop-culture punching bag on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
? At long last, he buttressed his braggadocio with grand productions and a cast of superstars, elements that insisted “I’m Kanye Goddamn West. Fuck
you.” And it was bloody fantastic.
Now he and adopted grandfather Jay-Z are literally saying that. Watch the Throne
? The conceit is exposed in that middle-school title: Look at Us, We’re the Best. Look at us, we who demanded the best beats from the best producers in the world, we who embrace both hip-hop’s odd future and Beyonce every night. And they can demand that we pay attention. They’ve earned it. Kanye’s still the strongest force for good pop music has and Jay’s the Game’s Derek Jeter, a New York darling, past the peak of his impressive career, running victory laps. And as good despots, they deliver: jams, tons of ‘em, well-crafted and produced to the stratosphere. Watch the Throne
is in no way a disappointment; in fact, it satisfies expectations perfectly. Kanye and Jay live up to their egos and literally remind us how brilliant they are, which is all we could’ve asked for.
But should that be all we could ask for? I struggle to go nuts over Watch the Throne
, because even though it boasts better beats and more progressive structures than Dark Twisted Fantasy
, it is messy, mildly underwhelming, and redundant. We already know that these artists are the kings of hip-hop; did they have to make a whole album
about it? West, rather than continuing to do the real-person thing, returns to caricature status, while Jay, though nowhere near as out of place as he was on Fantasy
’s “Monster” and “So Appalled,” continues to struggle with bringing A-game. Kanye and Jay-Z create with no tangible point other than to sing their own praises, exploiting the post Fantasy
high and sacrificing ambition for traditional pop thrills.
The resulting hodgepodge sounds great in the instrumentals, it really does, but it is also aggravatingly shallow. So often, mind-blowing beats are flattened under the Ye-Z combination’s clumsy, witless junk. Eye-rollers like “Twisted love story, true romance/ Mary Magdalene, from a pole dance” and “I made ‘Jesus Walks,’ I ain’t ever goin’ to hell” seem have to have slipped through the editing process because they’re The Throne, dammit. That’s where this whole celebration parade gets its route mixed up. Without something to prove, they have no check, and there’s no other voice but the unfiltered opinion of these two affirmed braggarts on themselves. When Kanye indulged in himself on Fantasy
, he exposed a flawed character in an honest way. On Throne
, the character is mostly just boring, lacking narrative, lacking something to hold on to warrant the its braggadocio. Without it, Kanye and Jay are left to rephrase hollow boasts and breeze through their A-List jams without the counterpoint to sell it. Even the album’s more meditative moments like “New Day,” and “No Church in the Wild” ring flat. Frank Ocean’s hook on the latter, “what’s God to a non-believer?” Well tread Kanye territory, done before, better, on the very song that guaranteed him salvation.
You can take that 2.5 up there with a grain of salt because I can’t say I hate this album. There are some diamonds in here. “Lift Off” one-ups Fantasy
’s title track with a slightly more amorphous beat and Beyonce’s wonderful ability to make any sentiment, no matter how coarse, sound honest, while “Why I Love You” and its skyscraping hook are cynic proof. And while the album certainly suffers from producer-overload, it truly does
perfect radio-dominating ecstasy in its beats. The music itself isn’t really the issue. It’s the conceit, the fact that even though Kanye and Jay-Z truthfully are nailing what pop can sound like, they use their royal stature not to communicate fresh ideas but pander to their subjects because they fuck