We live in a world addicted to a dangerous combination of amnesia and exaggeration. Everything is the biggest ever, the greatest of all-time, the event after which nothing else will ever be the same. That kind of hyperbole is of course never true….except for this one time when Jay-Z and Kanye West released an album together. I know we’ve all been blinded by the hype surrounding Watch the Throne, had our retinas singed by WTT’s atomic bomb of a marketing campaign, and so our natural inclination is to turn away, but as music lovers it’d …
DJBooth Album Review
Now that we’re done with all that appreciation for music history bullsh**t we can get down to ripping Watch the Throne apart. That was a joke, but it does speak to very real concerns. We’ve already heard Jay mail in a superstar collaborative album for a paycheck (I’m looking at you Best of Both Worlds) so your suspicion is justified, and we have every right to demand greatness from those who demand to be called great. Ye and Hova get no credit simply for showing up and being famous. Those points needed to be made to try to counteract all of the hype, but now that our critical eye is firmly in place and we’ve vowed not to drink the Kool-Aid, I have to say it: Watch the Throne is actually really good. How good? So good that I’m going to have to bust out an F bomb. Really f**king good.
Above all else one thing struck me about Watch the Throne the first time I heard it: Damn, this feels like a Kanye album with a lot of Jay verses. In large part that’s because WTT sonically sounds like an extension of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; the densely layered, darkly haunting No Church in the Wild in particular bears all the hallmarks of Ye’s work on MBDTF. While Kanye didn’t entirely produce the album, he did have a hand in crafting nearly every beat, so it’s only natural that his fingerprints are all over this album in a way that Jay’s aren’t. But even on a purely microphone level West often leaves the track’s lasting vocal impression. Let’s go back to the aforementioned No Church in the Wild. While Jay’s verse is technically superior (someone send me a Decoder ring), it’s Kanye’s lushly decaying lines that ring louder, and of course we can’t hear the auto-tuned bridge without thinking “808s!” The two are most evenly matched on the not-as-good-as-I-wish Otis, likely because they trade bars throughout, but from the Beyonce-assisted stadium anthem Lift Off to the slowly pacing New Day, the stage is just slightly more Ye’s. Before I start getting hate mail from rap heads let me be clear – I’m not saying Kanye’s a “better” rapper than Jay, that’s a debate far too large to even touch here. But Watch the Throne does confirm that Ye’s now the bigger star in hip-hop. His personality, his charisma, his….god I don’t want to say it…..swag has grown so astronomically large that he commands the spotlight on every track, even with the almighty Hova sitting next to him.
Besides my “Kanye’s now officially the bigger star” revelation, Watch the Throne sparked one other minor epiphany – I think I prefer my YeHova ignorant, relatively speaking (as Kanye would put it, curses in cursive). Made in America is a genre-bending ode to how far Black people in America have come, and how far they have to go, and we needs more music like Murder to Excellence. I’d like to say that these were the tracks I placed on repeat but honestly? On the real? Really real? It’s Ni**as in Paris and Gotta Have It that I’ve got on repeat. That probably says more about me than Mr. Carter and Mr. West, but I love hip-hop and hip-hop’s always been about the “oh sh*t, he said what?!?” moment that leaves you lunging for the rewind button. To use a metaphor that YeHova would approve of, the Heat may be a better team when they play fundamentally sound, smart basketball, but that’s not why I watch the Heat. I watch the Heat to see Wade throw a full court alley-oop to Lebron that makes me jump off my couch and yell…wait for it…“oh sh*t!” I mean, N**gas in Paris samples Blades of Glory! Who else would have the cojones to sample an obscure Will Ferrell figure skating movie on the biggest collaborative album ever? Oh sh*t.
I could write a small novel breaking down the twists and turns of Watch the Throne, but I know this review is running long even for DJBooth Nation, who are one of the few groups left that actually enjoy reading and thinking, so I’ll wrap things up. If, like Chicago Tribune writer Greg Kot, you’re criticism is that YeHova spend too much time rapping about how amazing they are, the name of the goddamn album is Watch the Throne! What did you expect, humility? And if you find yourself feeling disappointed for reasons you can’t quite articulate, it’s because you’re comparing it to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. (See above. Consciously or not, our first instinct is to compare Watch the Throne to Kanye’s albums, not Jay’s.) The truth is that while far from perfect, I’ll never understand why Kanye insists on putting Swizz Beatz on hooks, this is a more complex and well executed album than the vast majority of anything we’ll get this year. Or put more simply, who’s really challenging Kanye West and Jay-Z for hip-hop’s throne. Seriously. Who?
DJBooth Rating - 4.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 08/9/11
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