Jay-Z & Kanye West Jay-Z & Kanye WestWatch The Throne
They just make it too easy for the haterz: an entertaining record (a priori nothing more than an anecdote, recorded in chunks with the odd disregarded track from the ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ sessions thrown in). It is crammed with references to success, glory, stardom and a reign with no limits or apparent expiration date. Even in its title, though unsubtle an unpoetic, sounds more vigorous, exciting and defiant than 75% of this season's hip-hop productions. It will get lukewarm reviews, scornful comments and there will be attempts to play down its contents, but ‘Watch The Throne’ shows that even when he's taking a break or being a bit condescending, Kanye West has talent by the truckload. Talent, spark, inspiration and irresistible methodology, the same that allows him to be the leader of a two-headed project that favours his personality more than Jay-Z's.
They both took on this record as a fun way to pass the time, which might be interpreted by some as a frivolity by two millionaires who want to show us their great financial shape and status. But yours truly was surprised to find that, apart from all that, the album comes reinforced with a sociological deepness that goes beyond celebration and egocentric high-handedness. If you only wish to see two stars passing each other the mic in a pissing contest, you miss out on the great rhymes, rich in content and perspective. ‘Murder To Excellence’ is a magnificent analysis of the role black people play in North American high society, it has quite a bit of nastiness; on ‘Made In America’, the contrast between the happiness following success and the melancholy of day to day life linked to loss and death subtly hovers over the track. On the impressive ‘New Day’, probably the best track of the lot, we find a multi-dimensional RZA beat where Jigga and 'Ye fantasise about the kids they haven't got yet, in a autobiographical parable that could belong to Nas.
Obviously, both rappers let themselves go at times and boast about the thickness of their wallets and about who's the last one to leave the exclusive clubs, but even then, they do it better than many a new cat drunk on fame. They've come up with better rhymes in the past, and with better lyrics, this is no highlight, nor does it want to be, but it should be stressed that it's not all bling on ‘Watch The Throne’. Know that there's definitely something there. And while the lyrics are a lot better than what could be expected after ‘H.A.M.’, the weakest track on the album by far, the music definitely exceeds all expectations.
This is a great album that takes a big dump on the conventions of the mainstream and freely rearranges the settings for commercial hip-hop in 2011. The fact that the most awaited, most talked about and most promoted album of the year comes with beats by RZA, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, 88-Keys and Mike Dean is already worthy of reverence. But the fact that both opted for a sound halfway between ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ and ‘Graduation’, a sound that is epic and intimate at the same time, ambitious but also austere, capable of fusing soulful resources with neon lights, as credible and efficient on the pop side as it is on the hip-hop side, bursting with cameos (Frank Ocean and Beyoncé are in great shape), takes away any prejudice. The album invites us to embrace it and ask ourselves obsessively where we have to sign for every commercial hip-hop album to sound like this. They're on that throne alright.
“No Church In The Wild (feat. Frank Ocean)”