Kanye West and Jay-Z. Two of the best rappers in the game. No one can match Jay’s flow – his voice was just made for hip hop and the beats he produces and sings over are always hard hitting and provocative. Kayne, alternatively, has developed into a hilarious and brilliant lyricist, perfectly toeing the line between self aggrandizing and self deprecating. His songs, likewise, have become grand productions, with his producer skills having skyrocketed in the last few years, as he manages the perfect balance between too much and not enough.
On their first full album collaboration, their styles mesh perfectly, and they play off one another, switching off between tongue in cheek lyrics and personal ones, and half-jokingly worrying that they’ve lost their positions at the top of the rap world.
The album opens with No Church In The Wild, a hard but artful beat that has both artists’ stamp on it. Kanye’s voice opens the album as he sings “Human beings in a mob. What’s a mob to a king. What’s a king to a god. What’s a god to a non-believer.” And as will become evident later in the track, Kanye seems to be referring to the album title – “Watch The Throne.” This is not just the throne of kings, but of deities. The ego has landed, and it’s time for Kanye and Jay to prove that they’re worthy of our worship. As Jay takes the first verse, it’s clear that these two are well on their way. Synths are added to the beat which accentuates the rolling flow even more. Following a bit of autotune, Kanye takes verse two: “We formed a new religion. No sins as long ad there’s permission.” It seems that these two artists see themselves as kings in their own genre venturing out to pursue the status of a god, but there’s “No church in the wild,” and anyway “what’s a god to a non-believer?” So what throne are we watching? Are they deposed despots? Are they gods without followers? Or maybe just the best of the best, who are still at the top of their games, despite the new blood in the game.
Shifting gears to Top-40 pop, Beyonce is featured heavily on Lift Off, a song on which Kanye (sadly) tries to sing on. I said it before when MBDTF came out – Kanye only goes wrong when he tries to sing. All the autotune in the world won’t make him sound good. Sadly, this is what makes this song only ok, because Beyonce sounds fantastic, and Jay’s short verse is great.
Ni**as in Paris takes an awesome beat, lays the two best rappers in the business on top of it and mocks the ridiculousness of hip hop lyrics. “Ball so hard motherfu**er gonna find me,” is the nonsensical refrain in this one, but it doesn’t seem to matter, as long as the beat is good and the lyrics flow. But where the song shines is at the end when Kanye takes over. The early Hit Boy produced beat finishes up and we’re treated to one of the epic soudscapes that Mr. West is known for. “You are now watching the throne. Don’t let me get in my zone.” It’s as if the rest of the track was just a baseline to let us know what the rest of the rap world can do, followed up by the grandeur that these guys can pull off.
From here we go right into Otis, a song dominated by a sample of Otis Redding’s Try A Little Tenderness, which sounds like it was played through an AM radio. The song itself is shared by the two stars as the flow back and forth over Otis’ soulful vocals. Here we see the contrast between the two rappers: Jay’s perfect flow, right next to Kanye’s lyrical excellence. (“Sophisticated rap, I write my curses in cursive.”) But instead of highlighting each rapper’s shortcoming, it shows off how each of their skills makes them the best in the business in different ways.
Gotta Have It follows with an awesome sample of James Brown, and Kanye and The Neptunes trading verses back and forth. New Day is comprised of letters to Kanye and Jay’s unborn sons, lamenting the fact that they will be “ruined” before they’re even born. “Sorry Junior, I’ve already ruined you. You aren’t even alive, papparazzi already pursuing ya. Sins of a father make your life ten times harder,” raps Jay as he lets us know what he’s feeling personally – a rare event for this high profile, yet private rapper. That’s My Bitch is a lament of the ideal of beauty in our country, featuring Justin Vernon on vocals. Welcome To The Jungle opens Jay up even more, as he spits about his painful life and losing those he’s loved. “I’m a tortured soul, I live in disguise.” Maybe it’s hanging out with Kanye that’s made him a bit more emotional, but it only makes his raps more evocative. Who Gon Stop Me is the dubstep track on the album, with a truly danceable beat that has Kanye written all over it.
Murder To Excellence is one of the best songs that Jay has rapped on in years. A 5 minute track about the tragedy of inner city murder, the song has a Jay beat with a Kanye refrain that flows quite well together. “314 souls died in Iraq. 509 died in Chicago,” sings Kanye before switching gears and focusing on the greatness of black culture and how far he’s come. “It’s a celebration of black excellence,” says Jay, as he contrasts the too few blacks at the top with the too many being murdered in the rest of the world.
Frank Ocean sounds great on Made In America, but all I could think of was Ricky Bobby in “Talladega Nights” praying to Baby Jesus, every time Frank croons “sweet baby Jesus.” Besides that, it’s a great R&B songt. The album finishes up with Why I Love You, featuring Mr. Hudson, and Jay is at the top of his game, rapping fast and sharply.
So this isn’t “The Blueprint.” And it’s not “My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy.” But those aren’t fair comparisons, because nothing will be either of those albums. And while this album doesn’t have a uniting theme, it definitely proves that these guys do not really need to watch the throne, it’s rightfully theirs already. New blood or not, Jay and Kanye played around in a studio for a few months and came out with this: an album that most hip hoppers would give their entire careers to make. For them, it’s just peanuts, but for anyone else this would be a career maker. Which is what makes the album great, and what ensures that Jay-Z and Kanye West will be seated atop that throne for quite some time.