Watch The Throne is the story of two black men who are sitting on top of the world. Kanye West and Jay-Z have proved themselves to be more than rappers who can rhyme to a beat – they’ve shown that they can turn their lives into a story that at times comes across as a satirical representation of being rich and black (see: “Otis“), at times an honest representation of what it’s like to be on top of the world (Only spot a few blacks the higher I go/ What up to Will, Shoutout to O/ That ain’t enough, we gon’ need a million more/ Kick in the back door, Biggie flow/ I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go – Jay-Z, “Murder to Excellence”), and at times a mockery of the state of race relations today (I never understood planned parenthood/ Cause I never met nobody plan to be a parent in the hood/ Taking refills of that Plan B pill/ Another shorty that wont make it to the family will – Kanye West, “The Joy”).
There are several tracks on this album that I find incredibly forgettable – namely, “Lift Off,” “That’s My Bitch,” “Illest Motherfucker Alive,” and “H-A-M.” I think the album might even be better off without these songs. That being said, though, I think the remainder of the album is incredibly strong. Bringing Frank Ocean to the table was paramount – as Mike Posner mentioned to me the other day, “Frank Ocean sounds like an angel.” I couldn’t agree more–particularly on “Made In America.” What caught my attention the most, though, throughout the album were the songs that shone light on being rich AND black in today’s world. In “Who Gon Stop Me,” it’s easy to tell that Ye and Jay are proud to be black and rich and that they’re using this song as an opportunity to represent their race. To me, this song shows them taking advantage of the opportunity to say that they beat the odds, and though so many others who started in the same place are suffering, they are doing their best to prove something in the world today. In “Murder to Excellence,” Ye and Jay again took a leap of faith and called out their own people for their sins. At the risk of sounding dogmatic, it took a careful act, but it seems they avoided bigotry in their delivery.
I’m a sucker for socially conscious hip hop, if that wasn’t apparent by what I’ve said thus far. I was able to enjoy the other tracks on the album, which seem to be catching a lot of flak from critics, in which Ye and Jay throw out brand names that I wouldn’t have the slightest clue how to pronounce. But, frankly, I think they deserve to be able to do this. What I become sensitive to is people who haven’t reached this point of success throwing those names around like they’ve got it. To quote many a hip hop artist, “it aint trickin if you got it.” Well, take a look at the “Otis” music video, where Ye and Jay take what might be the greatest symbol of wealth in hip hop, the Maybach, destroy it with a blowtorch, and proceed to have the time of their lives driving it around with models in the back seat. This right here is satire, my friends. It’s a middle finger to the haters and the non-believers.
Kanye and Jay-Z’s honesty about their own economic status gives them fuel to criticize the state of Black America today throughout their album. But what’s best is that they don’t act like they aren’t guilty of sins themselves; it’s not finger pointing. In “New Day,” Ye and Jay both sing a song to their unborn children, both sure to tell them that all that glitters ain’t gold. Kanye wouldn’t raise a son to be who he is known as today: an egotistical man who is criticized for believing that all Republicans hate black people and a man who ended up falling in love with a stripper who broke his heart and left him for another man. Jay-Z apologizes in advance for his son, by nature of being the child of a mega-celebrity, being stalked by the paparazzi from day one.
As one who isn’t much for braggadocious hip hop, I was nervous about the outcome of this album, but Ye and Jay were able to pull it off. Watch The Throne is more than what it sounds at first listen, because there is so much between the lines that begs for interpretation. They were able to talk quite honestly about the state of their lives and what it’s like to have everything at your fingertips, but at the same time talk about what is relatable and understood by common folk, and what is often an untouched area by rappers who fear being tagged as preachy. Ye and Jay approached both topics successfully. At once, this is a fuck you, thank you, and mind you to the world from two men doubted by nature, but who, through their own talents and wits, rose from rags to riches.
Favorite Song: “Made In America”
I don’t like that some critics are blasting this album for all the wrong reasons. They aren’t looking past the fog of the hype and viewing this as a singular entity–one album by two hella rich best friends. They are forgetting that this is fun for Jay and Ye. They want to do this, and it’s their passion for hip-hop that carries the album.
You see, behind Watch The Throne’s gaudy cover is a dynamic late-career effort filled with vintage Jay-Z and Kanye West “I’m this shit” raps. That’s to be expected; don’t criticize that. That’s part of hip-hop, whether you like it or not, and this is the best hip-hop, because the duo also raps about religion and black culture; raps that raise eyebrows and instigate philosophical debates. Fuck the status quo. The production itself could carry the album. I heard sounds on this album that I’ve never heard on any album ever. Jay-Z sets the pace in lyricism; Kanye breaks boundaries with production. That’s how it’s supposed to be. I swear.
It ain’t safe in the city, watch the throne.
Favorite song: “Why I Love You”
Better than your average album. Nowhere near a classic. Watch The Throne shows off the cockiness these two powerhouses have as well as their impact in the industry. This is one of those “fell to the media” kind of cases because of waaaaay too much hype. Did it live up to it? No. Is it still good? Yes. Awesome production throughout as expected since its Ye; however, Hov seems out of place sometimes. Add cockiness + money + fame + religion + MBDTF sounds + crazy instrumentals + Frank Ocean – media hype = Watch The Throne, a decent album. Now excuse me cause I’m planking on a million.
Favorite song: “Gotta Have It”
The Throne, aka the dynamic duo of Kanye West and Jay-Z, almost seems too colossal for its own good. Obviously, this isn’t the first time the two have collaborated; Yeezy and Jigga have been going steady since putting in work together a decade ago on The Blueprint. The chemistry is definitely there on the album, but at times, their two unique styles and personalities clash rather than meld. It makes sense, though. As a producer, Kanye controls a lot of the creative direction just by nature of cooking beats. Watch The Throne will probably take heat for reminding listeners too much of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. But, last time I checked, that album was/is a classic, so any comparisons are a compliment. WTT is epic by definition, and although it might not completely live up to its tremendous hype, it’s still a solid album that pushes hip-hop forward.
Favorite track: “Niggas in Paris” — That shit cray.
For Jay-Z, Watch the Throne marks the transition from a seasoned star to a kingly, relic of old. And for Kanye West, a final ascension to the top, where he drinks from the same cup as Big Brother. Watch the Throne isn’t a reclamation of a lost dominion. It’s a fanged snarl; a warning and a reminder for the young, glittering stars: the elders are still here, and they’re not afraid to look you in the eye and punch you in the face. It took me 4 or 5 listens to appreciate the album. A number of songs didn’t entice me really at all, and a few still leave me wincing and trying to hit skip as fast as I can (H*A*M, Lift Off, Illest…). But when I turned up the speakers and, especially, opened the lyrics, I was embarrassingly humbled by what I found. More brilliance, wit, creativity, and kingliness than could possibly be taken down in a single gulp. I mean really listen to those verses. Some of them just blow me away. This isn’t an album for the club, or even for the small party. It’s risky and dangerous, and I respect that.
Favorite Song: New Day.
D Prep’s Review:
Hype is a gift and a curse. As an artist, it can either inspire you to create something better, and larger, than yourself, or it can slowly deteriorate your artistic creativity as you desperately try to live up to the hype surrounding your next project. “Watch the Throne” – even the name sounds colossal. So when Hov and his protégé turned superstar, Mr. Kanye West, team up to produce and release an album that is seemingly situated to catapult both of them into the next decade as living, and most importantly reigning, kings of the hip-hop game, outrageous amounts of hype were only to be expected. This is an album that did not live up to its hype. It didn’t, and it never could have. That right there is the curse of hype. But don’t disregard it as a disappointment; it’s much more than that.
On Blueprint 3, I felt like I was hearing an out of touch, past his prime rapper trying to find his way in the new era of hip-hop. It was disappointing, and it really killed my confidence in subsequent Hov releases.
On MBDTF, I felt like I was hearing an unbelievable artist at the top of his game, pushing the envelope on every level. Some songs did not live up to his talent, but others, like Devil in a New Dress, sounded like nothing I had ever heard before.
This album to me is just a mesh of those feelings. Songs like “Who Gon Stop Me” literally made me laugh. It sounds like a bootleg freestyle, something they threw together because they were told to maintain further relevancy they would need to rap on a dubstep beat.
Then, there are beats like Otis, which sounds like something Ye would have cooked up for The College Drop Out. To me, as disappointing as it is, Hov is past his prime, but I think it’s due to his own desire to cling onto the newest pop sounds—I don’t think Kanye is at that point in his career, and I hope to never see him get there. He continues to push the envelope in my eyes. If Hov’s sitting on the crown, he better watch out, because Kanye outshines him on this album, and in my minds is hip-hop’s reigning king.
Favorite Song: Niggas in Paris