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Jay-Z & Kanye West- Watch The Throne (Album Review)

August 11, 2011

Some ask what is the purpose of Watch the Throne and why should they bother listening? The full-length debut album from two of hip-hop’s most successful rappers makes a statement in more than one way. The production is as intricate and immaculate as ever, a prototype to the rising progressive hip-hop movement. Jay-Z is a platinum-selling rapper even in his early 40s and Kanye West literally changed the game, as far as taking a more progressive approach to hip-hop. They both sit at the top of the food chain. In hip-hop, they are like royalty so they demand for listeners to Watch the Throne. What makes the duo’s debut album so intriguing is its innovation and experimentation. No one else is making music like this right now; Kanye West has always been on another level with his production. There are of course imitators and copy-cats, but they could never reach the depth of his art. The warmth of his soul samples, as heard on “The Joy,” and the electronic psychedelia and progression, as heard on “Who Gon Stop Me,” are simply missing from the output of other hip-hop producers. Here is a track-by-track breakdown of Watch the Throne:

“No Church in the Wild” (feat. Frank Ocean)

The album opens with a mid-tempo electronic track, reminiscent of early Daft Punk. Auto-tune makes a brief appearance 2 ½ minutes in, despite Jay-Z’s claims on the Blueprint 3. It features production from 88-Keys and Mike Dean, with a style indicating it’s from the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy period. Frank Ocean becomes to Jay and Kanye what Nate Dogg was to Dr. Dre and Snoop, he’s a natural fit. Kanye outshines Jay on this track, particularly with lines like “Coke on her black skin made it stripe like a zebra/I call that Jungle Fever”

“Lift Off” (feat. Beyonce)

If there was ever a wtf moment on all of the album, it would be this song. Beyonce’s singing arrangement sounds forced layered on top of the overproduced cacophony which forms the first part of the song. About three minutes into the song it switches up and counts down into a second segment which greatly outshines the first, making listeners wonder why Kanye didn’t stick to that beat for the entire song It is Watch the Throne’s weakest track, which is truly disappointing since it’s the first time all three artists have officially come together to collaborate on a song (with the exception of “03 Bonnie & Clyde” in which West is only credited as a producer).

“Niggas in Paris”

The album is redeemed by a fan favorite that oddly samples Blades of Glory and a baptizing. Kanye hips the masses to underground urban lingo with his laid back “That shit cray” chant during the chorus. This track also features a dramatic switch-up, exhibiting Kanye’s more progressive and expansive approach towards producing. Additional production was contributed by Hit-Boy, Mike Dean, and Anthony Kilhoffer.

“Otis” (feat. Otis Redding)

The tribute to Mr. Redding samples “Try A Little Tenderness” with Kanye and Jay rhyming like they’re in their prime again, proving to critics once again that they are nowhere near washed-up. The Kanye-produced track effectively channels his eccentricity and his love for soul music. And who can resist lines like “I made ‘Jesus Walks,’ so I’m never going to hell.”

 “Gotta Have It”

The Neptunes-produced track heavily samples James Brown and features back-and-forth line delivery between Jay-Z and Kanye. Bits and pieces of Blueprint-era Jay and College Dropout-era Kanye shine through.

“New Day”

Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA lends his production to one of the album’s more soulful tracks, which samples Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.” Both Kanye and Jay rhyme as hungry as they did when they made the world fall in love with them on their breakout albums. However, Jay-Z outshines Kanye on this track.

“That’s My Bitch”

Co-produced by Q-Tip, the track features guest-vocals by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and La Roux’s Elly Jackson (Vernon also wrote the chorus). The energetic party element of the song is reminiscent of A Tribe Called Quest’s more upbeat jams. After My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Vernon feels as natural a fit as Frank Ocean does on his two guest appearances on the LP. The percussive drum-loop help make the song sound like a throwback, while the synths gives it a futuristic and contemporary edge.

“Welcome to the Jungle”

Swizz Beatz manages to not ruin the song with his adlibs, as Kanye and Jay deliver decent rhymes. Some of the shorter tracks that clock-in under 3-minutes would probably work better extended with more rapping. The track seems to end just as a listener starts getting into it. The production is simple, minimal, and effective.

“Who Gon Stop Me”

The most experimental production on the album is present on this track, produced by Kanye and Shama “Sak Pase” Joseph. The song unexpectedly switches up in the middle and dives into glitchy dubstep-inspired electronica. It’s quite evident that both Kanye and Jay-Z have been heavily influenced by indie music and its growing experimentation. Very rarely in a hip-hop song does it echo Autechre, Daft Punk, and Aphex Twin- and the more avant-garde characteristics of those artists at that.

“Murder in Excellence”

Although Jay-Z has a bad habit of sporadically and subtly bragging about having an armed weapon for protection, he slightly redeems himself by pleading for black unity in the album’s strongest track. It’s a hit for all those critical of Kanye and Jay-Z keeping their music current and moving away from traditional hip-hop production. Kanye is at his best when he’s not bragging about his material possessions and talking about something of substance. It’s evident that the track is very reminiscent of early Kanye and Black Album-era Jay-Z, but also notable is the afrocentrism that has unfortunately been missing from mainstream hip-hop since the mid-‘90s. It’s a plea for antiviolence and hopefully a spark for a 21st century Stop the Violence movement. The first segment titled “Murder” was produced by Swizz Beatz; the second segment “Excellence” was produced by S1.

“Made in America” (feat. Frank Ocean)

Frank Ocean makes his second appearance on the album singing the hook. It is one of the few songs on the album to not feature any production by Kanye West (produced by Shama “Sak Pase” Joseph). Although a bit cheesy, it’s still considerably more bearable than the first segment from “Lift Off.”

“Why I Love You” (feat. Mr. Hudson)

Jay-Z dominates this track taking time to acknowledge old friends and protégées that have turned their backs on him. Kanye appears towards the end of the song, rhyming line-for-line with Jay. Manipulated Mr. Hudson vocals fit snug over bass-heavy synths in the chorus. It perhaps isn’t the best closing song, but doesn’t feel like filler either.

“Illest Motherfucker Alive”

The first bonus track from the deluxe edition of Watch the Throne is best left-off the standard album. The production is mediocre and the rhymes are lazy and uninspiring. However, it still sounds better than most hip-hop played on the radio, and that’s saying a lot.

“H.A.M.”

One of the biggest complaints about “H.A.M.” was it being overproduced, but its grandiose production is what makes it so special and stand apart from other generic boring rap songs. The complaints aren’t to be dismissed though; it’s strength also serves as one of its weaknesses. The second part of the song is interesting to listen to, but unnecessary. It perhaps work better as a bonus track as well.

“Primetime”

“Primetime” should have been included on the standard edition of the album, maybe even replacing one of the less appealing songs. Kanye and Jay spit effortlessly over No I.D.’s hypnotic piano-loop, coming to the table as the raw lyricists that they both are capable of being.

“The Joy” (feat. Curtis Mayfield)

The Pete Rock-produced track samples Curtis Mayfield’s “The Makings of You,” with the chorus left intact. The backing beat is a perfect addition to an already astounding song; so impressive that a complete Pete Rock remix of “The Makings of You” should be made. Jay’s flow is straight out of The Blueprint-era, proving that he hasn’t run out of steam and show no signs of slowing down.

* Deluxe Edition

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