Release Date: Aug 12, 2011
Record label: Def Jam
Watching the throne may be harmful to your eyes. The long-awaited, wildly hyped joint effort by Jay-Z and Kanye West has arrived at last, and it gives off a gilded glare – both from the actual cover (the deluxe CD edition, designed by Givenchy Creative Director Riccardo Tisci, comes wrapped in embossed gold Mylar) and from Jay and Kanye's lyrics: an onslaught of Rollses and Maybachs and Gulfstream jets, five-star hotels and Audemars Piguet watches. As Kanye puts it in the surging "Otis," this is "luxury rap.
Watch the Throne features the following things: absurdly expensive samples, a pair of choruses from Odd Future R&B singer Frank Ocean at the exact moment where he's turning the corner and becoming a Thing, another chorus from long-been-a-Thing Beyoncé, a buddy-buddy shoutout to the President of the United States, multiple namechecks of brands so expensive that you've probably never heard of half of them, a murderers' row of producers working on almost every track, and a fleeting moment where Bon Iver's Justin Vernon sounds like the funkiest man alive. And yet for Jay-Z and Kanye West, this could actually be viewed as a relatively minor album. Amazing.
Rappers are obsessed with power. The 48 Laws of Power, an infamous manual by Robert Greene, has long been required reading for hip-hoppers of a certain stature, from 50 Cent on down. One day Jay-Z might get around to reading Foucault and Bourdieu. For now, hip-hop remains concerned with imperial might, with royalty and Rome.
Misery loves company, so it was perhaps inevitable that Kanye West would follow his woe-is-me set of 2010, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, with a collaborative affair that welcomes not only co-headliner Jay-Z but also Beyoncé, Odd Future affiliate Frank Ocean, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, The-Dream, Mr Hudson (remember him?), La Roux’s Elly Jackson, Kid Cudi, Swizz Beatz, the RZA and Q-Tip across production and performance roles. And that’s just scratching the surface of the personnel involved – also along for a most enjoyable ride are the ghosts of Otis Redding, Nina Simone and Curtis Mayfield via samples, and several tracks borrow elements from James Brown numbers. Clearly classics within the pair’s record collections were freshly raided – some change from the King Crimson and Aphex Twin lifts on Kanye’s last LP.
In 2001, Jay-Z teamed up with Kanye West and Just Blaze to create one of the past decade’s most influential, evocative hip-hop soundscapes. The Blueprint proved to be as aptly titled as any hip-hop LP ever has been, and over the following three years, all three artists experienced great success on the strength of that album’s ubiquity. But by 2004, Jay had tired of life as the king of the castle and Kanye was increasingly bored playing second, even third, fiddle to his labelmates.
You have to be impressed with Jay-Z's resolve when it comes to the matter of collaborative albums, perhaps the one chequered area in an otherwise triumphant career. A mini-album with nu-metal band Linkin Park was at best a minor addition to his oeuvre, but it looked like a roaring success compared to his collaborations with R Kelly, which spawned two terrible albums – the latter promoted by a tour Jay-Z colourfully described as a "nightmarish odyssey", and which abruptly concluded when Kelly was maced by one of Jay-Z's entourage en route to the stage at Madison Square Gardens. Jay-Z later suggested the problem was that Kelly was "absolutely bonkers".
When Jay-Z and Kanye West announced plans to record a joint album, they promised to bring back that old-fashioned collaborative spirit at a time when hip-hop can feel devoid of spontaneity thanks to an MC's ability to email in a verse. These two have a history of bringing out the best in each other, and Watch The Throne is no exception. It's a grandiose showcase of each man's ability to craft metaphor and narratives full of hyperbole, humility, politics and punchlines.
Even before Jay-Z and Kanye West announced plans to undertake a collaborative project, the notion always seemed like a realistic possibility considering their active past that dates back to 2000’s “This Can’t Be Life” off of The Dynasty: Roc La Familia. Each artist has evolved from that time in their respective careers, however their chemistry of creating music together has become a significant component within Hip Hop. Watch The Throne continues this tradition as the duo stake their claim for Rap supremacy.
An audacious spectacle of vacuous pomposity as well as one of tremendous lyrical depth, Watch the Throne is a densely packed amalgamation of what Jay-Z has termed “ignorant shit” and “thought-provoking shit,” with creative productions that are both top of the line and supremely baffling. Its best moments are among the most vital rap music released in 2011. Its worst moments sound like resuscitated discards from Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
The most fascinating moment of Watch the Throne occurs on “Gotta Have It,” when the world’s wealthiest and most successful living rappers salute their obvious analogues. “Niggas hate ballas these days,” Jay laments; as evidence, Kanye suggests, “Ain’t that like LeBron James?” Hov’s rhetorical reply registers no surprise, and the exchange feels premeditated, as though the allusion were an early Throne imperative: “Ain’t that just like D. Wade?” “Gotta Have It” is an unstoppable track, James Brown grunts and buzzy synths propelling some first-order shit-talking that requires serious net worth just to fully comprehend at first blush, and the parallels with the Miami Heat’s mercenary superstars are tantalizing.
Let's be clear from the outset: Jay-Z and Kanye West are responsible, jointly and independently, for six landmark rap albums, and Watch the Throne isn't as good as any of them. It's not designed as a game-changer, nor does it need to be, since the current rap game is one in which these two play exceedingly well—and one that runs mostly by the rules they created. If you can accept that Watch the Throne isn't a classic by any stretch, you'll almost inevitably end up liking it.
Review Summary: What Watch the Throne needs is not a grander purpose, but any purpose.Indecisiveness has plagued Watch the Throne since its inception. First it was a five-song EP; now, it is a full blown album with bonus tracks. They finished the album in March; in April, Mike Dean announced that they restarted the entire mixing process. "H.A.M." was the first single, a supposed indicator of things to come; now, it hardly fits the album and is a bonus track more out of necessity than anything else.
Jay-Z & Kanye West :: Watch the ThroneDef JamAuthor: Jesal 'Jay Soul' PadaniaIt's here. "Watch the Throne" has caught your attention: the anticipation, fuelled by no advance copies or leaks. It's a welcome throwback to the "old school" days of album releases. It's also a rare coming together of two of the biggest rappers (and artists) on the planet on the same team.
Strange that, for an album built around what might be the most star-studded duo collab in hip hop history, the first voice you hear on the highly anticipated Watch The Throne is neither Jay-Z’s nor Kanye West’s, but that of Odd Future soul freak Frank Ocean. “What’s a God to a non-believer?” he croons over a four-to-the-floor pulse and strangled metal guitar riff. Kanye answers: “We formed our own religion; no sin as long as there’s permission.” When it comes to hip hop, these two certainly have created a religion—worshipped by critics and fans alike, they’ve forever altered its history (Kanye with his lyrical soul bearing and genre-blurring production; Jay-Z with his simply untouchable flow).
Review Summary: Two former MVPs suit up for an exhibition. Remember a few years ago, when the world hated Kanye West? Where did he get off with his God complex, his unearned pretentions, his crown of thorns on the Rolling Stone cover? When his personality distracted us from the talent he supposedly had? And then remember how he found a way to finally, gloriously bridge the gap between Kanye West the musician and Kanye West the pop-culture punching bag on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy? At long last, he buttressed his braggadocio with grand productions and a cast of superstars, elements that insisted “I’m Kanye Goddamn West. Fuck you.
If you’re one of those people who doesn’t know about Watch the Throne, I’d also like to catch you up on anything else you might have missed: The Earth revolves around the sun, washing your hands can help reduce the spread of bacteria, and the Union won the Civil War. Yes, after a long history of successful collaborations, Kanye West and Jay-Z formed the supergroup The Throne, tapped the likes of Frank Ocean and Beyoncé to collaborate, and recorded a 12-track effort that, upon its release this past Monday, whipped the Internet into a frenzy. Beyond the hype and the gobs of media attention, Watch the Throne turns out to be a success, even if it isn’t the landscape-altering LP the world had hoped for like a new bike from Santa Claus (oh, he’s not real either, FYI).
Ever the wordsmith, and master of the double entendre, Jay-Z knew just exactly what he was doing when he and Kanye West named their collaborative effort, Watch the Throne. Grandiosity is a given with stars of their ilk, especially on bonus cuts like “Illest Motherfucker Alive” and “H*A*M.” But a closer listen to most of the tracks here reveal a different type of grandeur. The duo aren’t ballin’ to break the bank, as much as they’re aiming to shatter a caste system that keeps too many black, brown and yellow faces from joining their party.
Jay-Z and Kanye West Watch The Throne Def Jam Rating: What do we want from our biggest artists? The ones who are established beyond belief? How about some Audacity, with a capital ‘A’? It’s right there in your face before you even open the packaging, with just the album’s name: Watch The Throne. But we’re not just dealing with royalty here; let’s shoot for something a little more. “What’s a king to a god? What’s a god to a non-believer?” Frank Ocean sings on “No Church in the Wild,” the album’s menacing opening track.
EVENTS in hip-hop feel smaller than they used to. This is the age of the regional hit, the no-budget viral video, the Twitter star. Hip-hop, so long the most vibrant force in pop music, could always be counted on for big spending, a boon to producers, directors, fashion stylists, car dealers and so on, to say nothing of the marketing specialists, brand synergists and secondary industries it fueled.
Twin megastars deliver regal hip hop with pop fizz. Marcus J. Moore 2011 At this point in their respective careers, Kanye West and Jay-Z don’t have anything else to prove. They’re already iconic megastars of the highest order, with an endless array of classics that rekindle an interest in Annie and Ray Charles, blurring the lines between rap’s underground affinities and pop music’s robust stadium sound.
Like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, Kanye West and Jay-Z understand the advantages of titans teaming together. The difference here is that hip-hop knows no salary cap, leaving rap's most successful artist and foremost pop icon free to stack Watch the Throne any way they see fit. Enter hooks from Beyoncé ("Lift Off") and Frank Ocean. Enter beats by RZA ("New Day") and the Neptunes ("Gotta Have It").
When Public Enemy penned the now-classic 'Don't Believe the Hype' for their quintessential sophomore effort It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back in 1988, there were no online music communities to speak of. Hype was something passed through word of mouth at local shows and written about by the few music publications willing to give coverage to hip hop. Even in this now antediluvian world, Chuck D was concerned enough about the powerful influence of hype to use his role as rap's hottest lyricist to warn against it.