Monday, April 16, 2012

Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne Album Review


Even if you do not like rap or hip hop, you might find something to like in Watch the Throne, a collaboration of the crown princes of the genre: Jay-Z and Kanye West. This album came out last summer, but I put off listening to it until recently (not for any good reason, really). Its contents are diverse and include a little something for everybody.

Watch the Throne was a long time coming, mostly due to the troubles of trying to get the two busiest guys in the business into the studio. They were not alone in this project either, as they had collaboration on almost every track from heavyweights such as RZA, Swizz Beatz, Q-Tip, Beyoncé, Sak Pace, Elly Jackson and Justin Vernon. Yes, the same Justin Vernon that is in the god awful Bon Iver.

But, the most notable guest artist on this album is Frank Ocean (from Odd Future), who is definitely going to be our next superstar. Mark my words. You will find him setting the hook on “Made in America” and “No Church in the Wild.”

With the backgrounds of everybody involved and the first-call producers for each track, you would expect great things from Watch the Throne, and generally it delivers. This album is slick and chock full of high-profile samples, rich synthesizer parts and the bold lyrics of two clever and egomaniacal artists.

And overall, the sound of this album tips towards the Kanye West side of things, with more instrumental input than you would find on a Jay-Z album. This is not a slam on the Z man – the overall tone is just different than any Jay-Z releases I have heard. But then again, Kanye has not made any albums as edgy as Watch the Throne, so I had better give a point to Jay-Z too.

My favorite track on this album is “Otis”, though the concept sounds kind of corny when I try to describe it. It is one of the more cheerful tracks, and includes vocals from the late (and great) Otis Redding and James Brown. Seriously, it does work…

”No Church in the Wild” is also a great track with darker eternal themes juxtaposed with temporal material obsessions. These guys know all about material goods, with shoutouts for products that are so expensive and out of my realm that I had to use Google to figure out what they were. Watch the Throne has tracks that fall between these two extremes, and listeners can revel in the eccentric lyrics and stylings of two men who are at the top of their game.

But, if there was anything that I didn’t care for it would be the excessive shoutouts to everybody under the sun (Dale Earnhardt?) and the constant parade of product endorsements. These made the lyrics feel shallow, and perhaps highlight the idea that a little more time could have been spent with the pen before they started recording.

There was a great deal of hype before Watch the Throne was released that this would be the ne plus ultra hip hop album (mostly because of who made it) , but there is no way it could ever live up to these high expectations. But, it is still a strong album that all Jay-Z and Kanye West followers can get behind, and even if you are not a fan it is still worth your time.


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