To those who keep even the slightest watch on the hip-hop community, Kanye West and Jay-Z should be no strangers. One of them, West, has been scrutinized to death thanks to his massive ego and less than flattering behavior, but at the same time has been hailed as one of hip-hop’s most prolific artists. His latest album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was hailed as one of last year’s best albums, and his first album The College Dropout is considered a modern classic. The other, Jay-Z, is one of hip-hop’s biggest moguls (if not the biggest), exemplifying the rags to riches tale through both his classic albums, and his massive recording empire. Together, these two rappers make The Throne, one of hip-hop’s biggest collaborations, and on their debut album, Watch the Throne, they take time out of their busy schedules to let you know just how great they are, as if they hadn’t said it before.
As far as openers go, “No Church In the Wild” is up there with the most mediocre ones. Frank Ocean’s chorus is catchy and quite clever, and Jay-Z’s reference to Plato’s Euthyphro is probably a first in hip-hop, but the slow beat doesn’t add too much, and West’s verse is weak and showcases his flimsy flow.
After this lackluster opening it would seem like the rest of the album might follow suit, but thankfully “Lift Off” doesn’t. Features from artists foreign to hip-hop always make me nervous, and with Beyonce’s name attached, my feeling of uneasiness was quite high, but luckily her performance is soaked with energy and catchy as hell, and she proves to be a major asset to The Throne. Accompanied by a majestic (and probably super expensive) beat, with its horns blaring, it is more than worthy of its inclusion in an album that celebrates the success of two superstars.
After “Lift Off,” the album hits a slump from which it takes a while to recover. “Ni**as in Paris” and “Otis” suffer from weak beats; the former not only has some of the most obnoxious production in recent memory, but also includes a detestable verse from West. It really is a shame that Otis Redding’s voice had to be defamed to such a point where it becomes grating, taking a sample from “Try a Little Tenderness” which is looped at its climax, and turning his voice into something from a nightmare. Did I forget to mention that West and Jay-Z spend this time bragging? Well, it’s a given.
Things finally take a turn for the better in “New Day.” The RZA-produced beat may not be the best ever, but it does its job. The selling point about this track is the humility shown by West and Jay-Z as they rap about the lives that await their hypothetical children. Another surprise in the album is “Welcome to the Jungle,” which begins with a beat that has an uncanny resemblance to 50 Cent’s “I Get Money” but switches to a piano chord that is much more listenable. Once again West and Jay-Z put their egos aside to speak about the dangers of the hood.
The rest of the record goes back and forth between forgettable (“Who Gon Stop Me”) to fantastic (“Murder to Excellence”) to annoying (“Made In America”). Luckily for us, the album ends on probably the highest note, with “Why I Love You.” It’s kind of funny that Beyonce’s and Frank Ocean’s performances in this album were so hyped up, but in the end it is Mr. Hudson’s performance that completely outshines them all. Jay-Z also shows us that he still has some talent left in him, as he delivers his best verse in a long, long time.
Watch the Throne is the equivalent of going to a graduation party in which the graduate goes on and on about how great he is; it can be interesting when he switches up the stories, but it can get really annoying if he keeps telling the same story that, frankly, isn’t that interesting. If you really like Jay-Z and Kanye West then you might enjoy some tracks off of this, but the only way you could ever really love this album is if you’re really interested in how great they are, and let’s face it, we’ve heard that story way too many times.