People have forgotten how to listen to a hip-hop album. In 2011, hip-hop fans have become accustomed to gauging a new album’s worth based more on the span between announcement of the project and actual release and, in this age of free music, whether or not it’s worth a buy. Regarding the latter, an album has to basically move mountains to be worthy of a purchase, what with it being as effortless as a bodily function to acquire said album. It’s also the era of the a la carte album…buy what you want, leave the rest. That being said, there are a number of factors that will cloud most people’s perceptions of Watch The Throne, the product of an epic collaboration between Jay-Z and Kanye West. I decided to listen to the whole thing front to back as opposed to
Watch The Throne can best be described as an event. Jay and Ye succeeded in building just the right amount of anticipation for what turned out to be a pretty solid album, yet an album plagued by the hype machine that inspires fans to expect the gates of heaven to open as soon as they hit play.
“No Church In The Wild” features Frank Ocean and succeeds in setting a sort of tone for the album, but unfortunately that energy falters once you hit “Lift-Off”, which is an accomplishment in terms of production, but Beyonce’s over-the-top vocals add a cheesy, Bond film theme song element to the track. I almost expect a Kidz Bop rendition of this song to come out in a few months. Luckily, “Niggas In Paris” and “Gotta Have It” make up for that misstep, giving you a little more of what you might have wanted/expected out of the project.
As explained throughout the song, RZA joins the team on “New Day”, a mellow joint that attempts to strike some of the same chords as Jay’s “Beach Chair”, but doesn’t quite reach far enough. Nevertheless, comparisons aside, as it should be, this is a dope song. “That’s My Bitch” is almost purely disposable in my opinion, but may suit the palates of some. Like all of the songs on the album, even for tracks you don’t like you still have no choice but to respect the talent behind the boards. I’d even go so far as to say that an instrumental version of the album needs to be released ASAP. The replay value would increase exponentially.
I almost turned to the next track as soon as I heard Swizz Beatz’ voice on “Welcome To The Jungle”. Like how and why are people allowing his tired vocal contributions into the recording booth? He represents a personal pet peeve of mine, but for the sake of giving the album a fair listen for review’s sake, it’s actually a decent track. I suppose “Murder to Excellence” and “Made In America” constitute the socially conscious portion of the album, but came across as skip material to me, particularly with Frank Ocean’s unnecessarily sugary vocals on “Made”. I grew to like “Why I Love You” after a couple of listens (I give everything a full 3 listens before reviewing it), but “Primetime” and “Illest Motherfucker Alive” (bonus tracks) could have easily replaced “Lift-Off” or “That’s My Bitch” as regular tracks.
There are a few fumbles here and there, but I don’t think it does the listener any good to sit there and pick an album apart for what it isn’t as opposed to appreciating it for what it is. This project from these two artists doesn’t surprise me, but this level of artistry from any artist should be refreshing. In an era of stale LPs and stellar mixtapes, West and Jay dropped an album that can be described as dope…buyable if people still really bought albums like they used to. Perfect? By no means…but how many albums can really be played straight through with no missteps or tracks that don’t appeal to you specifically as a listener? And if you can think of two, how common does that make such an occurrence? Quite simply, if you didn’t like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Kanye, then you won’t like Watch the Throne Kanye. If you haven’t cared for Jay-Z’s creative direction over the past few projects, then don’t expect Blueprint or Reasonable Doubt Jay to appear here. However, there’s no pandering for new audiences or conforming to sell units in my opinion…just two artists trying to expand the artform based on what was palatable to their seasoned ears. As usual in their respective solo careers, Jay and Ye set the trend and at the same time make it impossible for others to successfully follow behind. Whether you can get into it or not, this is the kind of different that’s good. Some will make it out to be more than what it is, while some will unfairly deem it trash, whatever the motive may be for such a judgment.
Personally, I’m grateful. Not dumbfounded by the excellence of it or by any reinvention of the wheel (this was not that), just grateful for something to add to the collection.