Watch The Throne: Jay-Z and Kanye West
If there’s one thing I love more than music, it’s the unbelievable amount of hype some people put behind music they haven’t heard. Before a couple months ago, I would have said that the ultimate example of this was the first Arctic Monkeys record, which NME voted the fifth greatest British album of all-time the week before it was released (ahead of Revolver??). Thank goodness someone finally had the balls to talk up an album for months on the strength of one horrible single and the promise that two of hip-hops biggest stars would deliver the goods. Really, who else could pull this off but the incomparable Kanye West.
I don’t mean incomparable in a good way, either. The guys whole life is a controversey. He has an ego the size of a space shuttle, and many think the talent to back it up. I am not one of those individuals. In fact, the one thing I’ve learned from listening to Watch The Throne is that, as a rapper, Kanye doesn’t hold a candle to the elite. Jay-Z spends most of the record spittin’ laps around Yeezy, taking long breaks while Ye tries to play verbal catch up and never quite making it. Having said that, West’s production on the record is very good, thus solidifying my stance that he is a far more talented producer than rhymer.
That said, the record isn’t nearly the trainwreck I was hoping for. The opening track, “No Church In The Wild,” features some nice vocals from Odd Future’s Frank Ocean, and the beat is really tight (is 30 too old to say “tight?” I don’t remember). Track two, “Liftoff,” features Mrs. Carter in maybe the most thankless role she’s played since Dreamgirls. This oculd be the worst track on the album, and it probably has something to do with the fact that there are 6 producers credited. Six? Really? When you have Kanye producing, do you also need Q-Tip and Pharell? Chalk it up to too many chefs in the kitchen.
“Niggas In Paris” is a decent enough track, but doesn’t have anything that really stands out. The Otis Redding-sampling track “Otis,” the second song to hit the airwaves before Watch The Throne‘s release, seemed to be very polarizing. For me, it’s blasphemy to use Otis Redding in such a terrible song. I was reading somewhere this morning how impressive it was that Jay and Kanye could effortlessly flow over such a strange sample, and my reaction immediately was, “Well, it sounds fucking awful, so they probably didn’t put any effort into it.”
One thing that surprised me through this first third of the record is that there are 22 writers credited so far. Now, obviously West and Jay are credited on each, so that’s 8 of the 22, but still. Why would they need so many collaborators? To me, it’s reminiscent of the terrible comedies that get released and you see that they had four or five writers. That means it wasn’t good enough so someone else rewrote some of it…no wonder so many of the rhymes feel stale.
Skipping ahead a bit to the track “Welcome To The Jungle,” I feel like this song really kicks off the best part of the album. Swizz Beatz production is top-notch, and Jay-Z puts on display some really great floetry:
My tears is tatted My rag in my pocket
I’m just looking for love, I know somebody got it
Champagne for the pain, Weed for the low
God damn I’m so high, Where the fuck did I go?
I’m losing myself, I’m stuck in the moment
I look in the mirror, My only opponent
Where the f*ck is the press? Where the fuck is the Pres?
Either they know or don’t care I’m fucking depressed
No crying in public, Just lying to judges
Risking my life, I’m already dying, so fuck it well
It should be noted that Yeezy’s part in “Welcome To The Jungle” is super short. It’s basically a Hova song with West doing a little intro (as it should be).
“Who Gon Stop Me” is pretty beat-heavy once again, and it’s a pretty good song. Definitely one of the better ones on the record. It doesn’t have the emotional punch that the previous track does, but it’s not going for that feeling. Kanye has one of the worst repeated lyrics of all-time on the track. He says “This is something like the Holocaust” about ten times. While I get what he’s saying, and why he’s saying it, a line like that doesn’t belong in a rap song. You know that in a couple weeks a bunch of white kids from the ‘burbs are gonna be repeating that line because they think it’s cool (and their understanding of the context won’t be the same as mine or West’s).
He redeems himself on “Murder To Excellence” though. While the first parts of this album were all surface braggadocio and annoying samples, the closer to the end the more socially conscious the songs get. I’m gonna go ahead and just put all of Kanye’s lyrics here, because I think they’re jaw-droppingly brilliant (saying that as a Chicagoan and as a non-Kanye fan):
And I’m from the murder capital, Where they murder for capital
Heard about at least 3 killings this afternoon
Lookin’ at the news like damn I was just with him after school,
No shop class but half the school got a tool,
And I could die any day type attitude
Plus his little brother got shot reppin’ his avenue
It’s time for us to stop and re-define black power
41 souls murdered in 50 hours
Is it genocide?
Cause I can still hear his momma cry, Know the family traumatized
Shots left holes in his face, Bout piranha-size
The old pastor closed the cold casket
And said the church ain’t got enough room for all the tombs
It’s a war going on outside we ain’t safe from
I feel the pain in my city wherever I go
314 soldiers died in Iraq
509 died in Chicago
Yea it’s all messed up when it’s nowhere to go
So we won’t take the time out til we reach the T O P
From paroles to hold G’s, sold keys, low keys
We like the promised land of the OG’s
In the past if you picture events like a black tie
What the last thing you expect to see, black guys
What’s the life expectancy for black guys?
The system’s working effectively, that’s why
I’ll be a real man and take care of your son
Every problem you had before this day is now done
New crib, watch a movie
Cause ain’t nothin on the news but the blues
Hit the mall, pick up some Gucci
Now ain’t nothin new but your shoes
Sunday morning, Praise the Lord
You the girl that Jesus had been saving me for
So let’s savor this moment, And take it to the floor
Black excellence, Truly yours
Beautifully written and sincerely delivered, this song is the golden crown on Watch The Throne. It’s the best thing West has ever done, which explains why Jay took a backseat for the most part.
The next two tracks can’t live up to “Murder,” but they try. “Made In America” thinks it’s more than it actually is, bringing in references to Martin Luther King, jr and Malcolm X. Really it’s just about ‘Ye and Jay trying to be the best men they can be. I think I would have liked it better with a different hook, though it is sung very well, again, by Frank Ocean. “Why I Love You” is a blast against backstabbing friends, but it doesn’t hit as hard as it could. It seems that the two leads are questioning their own motives as much as the motives of others.
The deluxe edition of the album features four extra tracks, including “H.A.M.” and “Illest Motherfucker Alive.” I don’t feel like any of these songs add anything of significance to the rest of the album, so save your money and just buy the regular edition. If you’re a completist like me, I know you’ll toss that advice aside, but you’re only hurting yourself. Really the only reason I would suggest picking up the deluxe is that one track is produced by NO ID, who plays a vital role in Kanye’s life and rap career. So it’s good for that reason.
In all, I can’t say that I hate Watch The Throne, which I really was pulling for. Does it live up to the hype that the media created? No. How could it? As a society we’re no longer happy to just let artists work and release their music, we have to build it into an event. I wish it was different, becuase it puts a lot of pressure on guys like Kanye and Jay to make a record of such high quality that there’s no room for mistakes. Even with it’s flaws, I still say it’s recommended for the second half alone. It may have been a better idea to release an EP, or even 2 EP’s, that to do a whole album. But these guys seem to be all or nothin’ types, so we’ll take what we’re given.