Artists: Jay-Z and Kanye West
Album: Watch the Throne
Label: Roc Nation, Def Jam
Date: August 8, 2011
It’s almost unimaginable that two of rap’s biggest monarchs could sit down and agree on sharing the same throne. Well, not really. Kanye’s and Jay’s egos are broader than the wingspan of an eagle, and with their collaboration album aptly titled Watch the Throne, it’s pretty obvious where Jay and ‘Ye see their competition. For those still going H.A.M. (which luckily became a bonus track), rap kings Yeezy and Jay finally shared a piece of their paradise from the throne.Unfortunately for those with high expectations, this album might come off as a royal slap in the face.
The album begins with the philosophical cut “No Church in the Wild” in which Frank Ocean sings the agnostic question: “What’s a god to a non-believer, who doesn’t believe in anything?” Ironically, there’s nothing unorthodoxly entertaining about this track unless you count Ye’s slightly edgier verse as he delivers religiously abrasive punchlines like “deception is the only felony, so never f*ck nobody wihout telling me.” “Lift Off” follows in the same vein as neither Yeezy nor Hov deliver an aviator flow that’s worth the ascension. Making matters worse, Kanpayne makes an attempt at singing (without Autotune) which does little to improve the song despite Beyonce’s best effort to give a solid hook.
“N*ggas in Paris” is as lyrically anemic as the aforementioned songs. However, this highly infectious (borderline pathogenic), sophisticatedly ignorant banger is too good to ignore. And needless to say, the progenitors of the dubstep genre will have no complaints as ‘Ye and Hov will transform lethargic ears into obsessively compulsive listeners after hearing this international club banging sensation. Next is “Otis” (which by the way doesn’t feature Otis Redding; he’s deceased) which has Hov and Yeezy making their first lyrical attempt to raise the ante. It would be unfair for me to pick who bodied the song to rigamortis so I’ll leave that to the fans, but in general it’s a solid cut from both. Following “Otis” is “Gotta Have It” in which Hov planks on top of his millions while ‘Ye gets his YC (the racks on racks guy) on. Unfortunately, “Gotta Have It” won’t give you the planking on a million feeling that Jay boasts about.
“New Day” and “Watch the Jungle” are rare instances on the album in which you’ll hear vulnerability from the two titans. In “New Day,” the two give hearty conversations to their unborn sons (in the most fictionalized sense), and explain to them the lifestyles they would provide for them if they were born. Those who hate Yeezy’s ostentatiously impulsive behavior will find his verse more than moving as he delivers an introspective and self-reflecting verse to his unborn son with lyrics like “I just want him to have an easy life/not like Yeezy life/ I just want him to be someone who people like/ don’t want him to be hated all the time. Jay delivers with a somewhat irresponsible parenting approach (black bar mitzvahs and alcoholic drinks for his son at 13), but at least his heart’s in the right place as he vowels not to mistake the same mistake as his father. In comparison, “Watch the Jungle” is no “New Day” as Hov resorts to childhood pain to paint the canvas. And as much as you’d love to feel empathetic (despite Hov being a multi-millionaire and all), Swizzy’s turret like adlibs and apathetically bouncy instrumental makes it hard for anyone to feel this supposedly “heartfelt” track.
Next up is “Who Gon’ Stop Me” which is an ode to their Mach 5 lifestyles. Other than a powerful and schizophrenic instrumental, there’s nothing particularly special about this track. “Murder to Excellence” follows suit, and I must say Kanye absolutely dominates this track. Jay starts with a forgettable and ominous verse, but Kanye is the one that drives it home. Although his Iraq to Chicago death toll ratio is nothing short of hyperbole (314 soldiers died in Iraq, 509 died in Chicago), he at least gives listeners a chilling but memorable verse. On his re-entry for “Excellence” Jay gives another unflattering verse that reeks much like his affluent cologne. ‘Ye once again picks up the slack and dominates the remaining portion of the track until the beat fades out. “Made in America” is a familiar roads-to-riches to tale in which each share their “come up story.” Although neither includes details that we’re not already familiar with, it’s a decent track to say the least. Kanye gives us a semi-bitter, half humbling tale of his road to stardom, and Jay tries to be re-inventive by giving a semi-cryptic American dream tale that is riddled with drug related metaphors and double entendres. WTT ends with the finale cut “Why I Love You” which is an ambiguous shot at those throwing molotovs at the throne. Lyrically there’s nothing exceptional about this track as both are drowned out by the powerful rock-centric instrumental, leaving only Mr. Hudson to ride the musical wave.
Overall, WTT sounds much better on paper than it does in reality which is in large part due to the duo’s lack of lyrical cohesion. The album may have sounded ambitious and exciting in theory, but it doesn’t set a collaborative album precedence or challenge the listener to find an album that surpasses it. Other than the fact that two larger than life icons were able to come together to make a collaborative album more highly anticipated than… Hmmm, does Best of Both Worlds count? Okay, never mind. All I’m saying is that WTT will not have you looking back several years from now exclaiming that this was the most monumental collaborative album of all time. Nonetheless, it’s a fairly decent album and if you don’t respect that you’re whole perspective is wack–just kidding. All jokes aside, this album leaves no pigment of grey for you’ll either hate it or love it.
Let’s face it – judging an album on a scale of 1 to 5 mics just won’t cut it — that’s more of a magazine thing. After constant office arguments regarding album ratings, we’ve decided to revise our album review process and fairly judge an artist’s work across multiple avenues. At iHipHop.com, we believe every album deserves an impartial review, taking into account both music and cultural relevance.