Jay Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne
To put it simply, Watch the Throne is just two friends having fun. Granted, these friends are two of the most popular and influential musicians of the past decade, which makes it nigh impossible to approach the album objectively. To say expectations were high would be an understatement. That expectation, unfortunately, seems to seep through to many of the tracks on Watch the Throne, a confusing jumble of gross narcissism, bombastic production, and, sometimes, earnest songwriting. You can tell that Jay Z and Kanye West are enjoying themselves here, but this enjoyment somehow doesn’t translate to their audience. They knew what we expected, recorded it, and had fun along the way.
The album begins with “No Church in the Wild.” It’s the first track, but also a good one with which to compare the rest of the album. The moderate pace, smooth synths, and simple-yet-driving bass beat typify many of the other songs on Watch the Throne. It feels a little forced, and a lot uninspired. Much like the many of the other songs on the album, Jay Z and Kanye’s verses are nothing more than adequate, and never a driving force. This trend continues into the second song, “Lift Off.” It features a glorious chorus sung by Beyonce, rapping in 3/4 time, horns, pianos, and everything you’d want in hip-hop. Yet even though all the ingredients are there, it still fails to land, due to the dull presence of Jay Z and Kanye. They’re superstars, but somehow fall short of their own image. We see them as the rulers of hip hop, and, as the title of the album suggests, that’s how they see themselves. It’s this disconnect, this self-absorbed, self-interested mindset that damages not only their accessibility, but their music. We all love a champion, someone that’s larger-than-life, yet when that champion realizes who he is and what he holds, the illusion falls away. What we’re left with is how Jay Z and Kanye West present themselves on most of this album: a couple of mega-rich, important, self-proclaimed kings. The flaws are gone, along with what made their music so exciting in the first place.
That’s not to say that Watch the Throne doesn’t have its gems, though. The album’s lead sing “Otis,” while not a huge step forward, is catchy and unique, capturing the soulful aspect of the respective artists’ previous work. The track works because Jay Z and Kanye West work, spitting out verses one after the other and forcing themselves into the spotlight. The song’s hook threatens to take over, but Jay and Ye never let it do so. Another track that stands out is “New Day.” Like “Otis,” the focus this time is more on rapping, and the lyrical content takes over. It contains some of the most honest verses on the album, with Kanye and Jay Z taking turns telling about how they would treat their future sons. Lyrics like “I just want him to have an easy life, not like Yeezy life/Just want him to be someone people like” show a side of Kanye that we’ve rarely seen before, especially on Watch the Throne. The view inside their minds becomes a lot more interesting than what they choose to show of their lives outside.
The expectation was impossibly high, but instead of rising to meet the challenge, Jay Z and Kanye West shrank back into what was comfortable and what was fun. Many of the tracks are eye-rollingly, head-shakingly self-important, and, frankly, uninspired. As a whole, Watch the Throne doesn’t live up to the hype, but among the mediocre you can find some real moments of hip-hop magic. Watch the Throne is definitely worth listening to, if just for the experience of a Jay Z and Kanye West collaboration, yet in the end seems to fall a little short of what both artists have proven they’re capable of.
For Fans Of: swag, synths, smugness, soul