After months of speculation from both fans and fellow musicians, the duet album (“Watch the Throne”) from Jay-Z and Kanye West finally dropped on Monday. The 12-track album (16-track deluxe version) was produced by some top names in hip hop, including the Neptunes, Q-Tip and RZA.
I decided to take a listen and see what the hype was all about. After my first run-through, my initial reaction was one of slight disappointment. I didn’t really get what I had just listened to.
Both rap legends put together innovative beats from producers like 88 keys and RZA, and combined it with a style and lyricism that would put most recent rap albums to shame. Maybe that’s just the problem, comparing it to ‘recent’ rap albums.
On the surface, some tracks like “Otis” and “The Joy” are instant attention grabbers, using collaborations to wow the audience. The tracks rely on an array of vocalists like Beyonce to supply hooks. The first vocal heard on the album is not from one of the two stars, but Frank Ocean, who provides the intro to “No Church in the Wild.”
The album doesn’t reach the potential that I thought it would. As Hua Hsu notes in his excellent Grantland essay about Watch the Throne, the two stars in this album seemingly present themselves as a solution to a history of issues. It comes off a bit disturbing. The primary concept of the album seems to be that Jay and Kanye want the world to know how awesome and rich they are. Jay mentions that he is “planking on a million” and asks, “what’s 50 grand to a motherf***er like me, can you please remind me?” Especially in today’s economic situation, great message fellas.
Production could have been much better. It’s unfortunate because these are some of the best lyrics that Jay Z and Kanye have written in the past years, but did it over some sub-par instrumentation. Rather, it’s not that the producers aren’t making good music, but the seamless mesh of music with lyrics was not found. At least by me. If the production seems to be more of West’s saying, we can note that the lyrics probably belong to Jay then.
Despite the star-studded cast, the album seems to be lacking something. Something that Jay and Kanye used to have, a certain awe of the actual music. We won’t find a special edge on this album ala “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” or see multiple hits such as “The Blueprint 3”, but it does deliver something. Two symbols of the industry made a quick album, which despite their efforts, winds up being just another trophy on a wall of accomplishments. Big deal? In a way, yes. Kanye and Jay-Z push each other on the album, seem to have lots of fun doing it, all of which results in a high level of hype surrounding the release. To strive and try to make something historic, that’s worth applauding.
In the end, Watch the Throne is a respectable attempt at unity, but its inconsistency ultimately harms the project, resulting in a certain uneven-ness that stops it from being great.