REVIEW: Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne
It is hard to remember the last time a hip hop record had the hype that Watch The Throne has had up until its release. More than just a collaboration album between rap’s two biggest names – Jay-Z and Kanye West – it represents the possible beginning of a new age in high class hip hop (I wrote a full article on this recently). The entire lack of marketing leading up to its release only furthered the fanbase-developed hype, other than a short documentary clip, low-quality snippets, and a hookless single (“Otis”).
Now we are at the post-hype stage – the record is here.
Opening number “No Church in the Wild”, which features Odd Future‘s Frank Ocean (also featured on the beautiful “Made in America”), is one of the record’s best tracks. It is intimate, sexy, and features Hov and Kanye showing off lyrically. Kanye’s spitting swag doesn’t last much beyond here – this is Jay’s record lyrically, and is his best vocal output since The Blueprint 2. He is clever, energetic and personal on every track, his best verses showing up on “Why I Love You” and “Illest Motherfucker Alive”, two emotionally-driven numbers that rank among the record’s best.
Not only does Jay prove that he is once again the best rapper alive, but makes Kanye’s verses seem insignificant and time-wasting. Fortunately, West’s production is versatile and on point throughout the entire record.
“Lift Off” has future single written all over it; Beyonce comes in to deliver the infectious hook, but is unsupported by the drive that Jay and West show on other tracks. Its follow up is the urban “Niggas in Paris”, a soon-to-be huge club jam that deserves to be heard with the volume cranked up. It sounds like the duo’s answer to any low-brow thug rapper delivering singles today. It also brings along some Blades of Glory samples for the ride (“What does it mean?” “Nobody knows, but it’s provocative”).
The Neptunes-produced “Gotta Have It” is one of the standout tracks from a production standpoint; a vocal sample and grimy synth line pushes it forward. Like “Otis”, Jay and Kanye spit back and forth throughout its two-and-a-half minute runtime, with no chorus to interrupt them. RZA shows up to co-produce “New Day”, a track dedicated to their unborn sons. This is one of the most personal tracks on the record, lyrically composed of promises and regrets (“I want him to have an easy life/not like Yeezy life”, West mutters).
Justin Vernon and La Roux‘s Elly Jackson lend to their voices to “That’s My Bitch”, a mastered version that is slower than its unmastered counterpart that leaked awhile ago and has Jay adding a few bars to his verse. The first of two Swizz Beatz produced joints, “Welcome to the Jungle” is next. It has some standout verses, but at some point, someone needs to tell Swizz to stop playing hypeman all the time. It’s scattered successor, the Flux Pavilion-sampling “Who Gon Stop Me” has right intentions, but its halftime switch and lack of lyrical punch is disappointing.
“Murder to Excellence” is Swizz’s better effort, another top-level output on WTT. A chorus of “the paper read murder/black on black murder” is the centrepiece of the socially-conscious verses. It also starts off the final three tracks (of the regular edition), which also include the anthemic, lighter-toting “Made in America” and self-examining and abrupt closer “Why I Love You”.
The deluxe edition doesn’t end as suddenly, adding four bonus tracks: “Illest Motherfucker Alive”, which competes for the best track crown; the previously released “H.A.M.”, which is unapologetically over-the-top; the subtly brilliant “Primetime” and G.O.O.D. Friday standout “The Joy”, which has Pete Rock on the boards.
With massive hype and expectations, Watch The Throne steps up, due in large part to Jay-Z resurrection as an elite lyricist. There are a few bumps along the way (“Lift Off”, “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Who Gon Stop Me”), but the record’s strong tracks are nearly perfect.
In the future, Watch The Throne may not be recognized as the classic that everyone expected, but that doesn’t stop it from being the best hip hop release of the last few years and a major influence on the genre moving forward.