Over the past few weeks, I have listen to Jay-z and Kanye’s Watch the Throne countless times. Just today I listened to the album four times, just trying to make up my mind of it. Many people have praised this album while others, like myself, have been very cynical. Well, after countless spins I think I’m finally able to make up an opinion.
Watch the Throne is an enjoyable, though deeply flawed, ride. As expected, it has great production by an all-star team (the Neptunes, Mike Dean, and the RZA just to name a few) and features many great lines by two of the most influential artists today. At the same time, Watch the Throne lacks any lasting meaning.
The problems start at the very beginning with the album’s indecision in picking an intro. The first two tracks, “No Church in the Wild (feat. Frank Ocean)” and “Lift Off (feat. Beyonce)” do not fit right next to one another. Both may serve an intro song for any album, but we’re not talking about any album. We’re talking about a Jay-z and Kanye West album. “No Church in the Wild” features a fairly mediocre beat, while “Lift Off” is a mismatch between Beyonce’s chorus and Kanye’s unnecessary singing. Remember “The Ruler’s Back” on Jay-z’s Blueprint or more recently “Dark Fantasy” on Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy? The intro welcomed the listener and made everyone know that this is a Jay-z/Kanye album. This is suppose to be an experience unlike any other rap album.
Which brings up the next song, “Niggas in Paris”. The southern influenced beat is deceptively simple but incredibly addicting. Jay-z and Kanye laces the beat with fun typical lyrics about how great they are. 3/4th of the way through, the beat switches. The bass fills up the atmosphere. A choir breaks out, and Kanye speaks, “You are now watching the throne. Don’t let me get in my zone.” Maybe this should have been the intro song, and maybe this should have been an EP as originally planned.
“Otis”, “Gotta Have It”, and “New Day”; although features samples from Otis Redding, James Brown, Nina Simone; lacks any soul whatsoever. The songs are mostly about the two boasting again. That’s not to say that they aren’t enjoyable. I initially did not like “Otis” until I saw the music video and noticed how Jay-z and Kanye were simply enjoying themselves. “Gotta Have It” is a track that should have been left on the cutting room floor, while “New Day” features uninspiring lyrics about their unborn children.
Probably the strongest parts of the album are in the second half when Jay-z takes up most of the spotlight and Kanye West plays back up. The unnecessary Swizz Beatz chorused “Welcome to the Jungle” has Jay-z spitting about his past and its influences his present self.
I’m losing myself, I’m stuck in the moment
I look in the mirror, my only opponent
Where the fuck is the press? Where the fuck is the Pres?
Either they know or don’t care I’m fucking depressed
No crying in public, just lying to judges
Risking my life, I’m already dying, so fuck it
It’s not until “Who Gon Stop Me” that the two go in full assault with a crazy beat influenced by the UK dance scene. Kanye and Jay-z finally make something that feels like a true collaboration, but maybe it’s too little too late as there are only three tracks left. “Murder to Excellence” is my personal favorite and is a plead to end violence among black people.
And I’m from the murder capital where they murder for capital
Heard about at least three killings this afternoon
Looking at the news like “damn! I was just with him after school”
No shop class but half the school got a tool
And “I could die any day”-type attitude
Plus his little brother got shot repping his avenue
It’s time for us to stop and redefine black power
41 souls murdered in fifty hours”
It’s not a song that is totally depressing as halfway through, the beat switches to a celebration to “black excellence”. At the same time that the two are celebrating, they are observant at how few black men have achieved the same status that they.
Yeah it’s all messed up when it’s nowhere to go
So we won’t take the time out ‘til we reach the T-O-P
From paroles to hold G’s, sold keys, low keys
We like the promised land of the OG’s
In the past if you picture events like a black tie
What the last thing you expect to see, black guys?
Watch the Throne is enjoyable. It’s only sad for me to see that the two could not make a fully conceptual album. It’s obvious that the two can collaborate into making something great. They’ve done so many times in the past. And there are a few standout tracks on Watch the Throne that are just exceptional. My recommendation is to not dismiss the album on first listen. It gets better. Something that you might miss will pop up that will make the songs more enjoyable.