Lavin Rant: Watch the Throne



by Mike Lavin

Review: 6.3/10

Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne [Def-Jam/Roc-A-Fella/Roc Nation; 2011]

Jay-Z and Kanye West’s relationship has spawned for many years now dating back to 2000 when Kanye produced a Jay-Z song “This Can’t Be Life”. Later, Kanye would help produce the critically acclaimed The Blueprint from Jay-Z that would launch Kanye as this go-to producer in the hip-hop community, and this was before Kanye was even a rapper. Jay-Z also plays a part in Kanye’s solo rapping career when he had Kanye rap a verse on his follow-up to Blueprint; The Blueprint 2: The Gift & the Curse. Then the rest is history with Kanye exploding on the scene with The College Dropout and Late Registration. Now it’s 2011 and Kanye and Jay-Z meet up again to combine their hip-hop dynasties into what they call “The Throne” with Watch the Throne.

Everything about Watch the Throne is purely expensive, extravagant, and coated in money; the cover is fancy (and shiny), lyrical themes are centered on wealth and materialism, and the beats are produced with endless amounts of cash in the studio. Attempting to find a more heavily produced album newly made will be impossible when Jay-Z and Kanye are teamed up. Every song has at least two to three producers that worked on it including A Tribe Called Quest mastermind Q-Tip and hip-hop group The Neptunes. Even with its plethora of producers, Watch the Throne still doesn’t create this “KABOOM” that I know Jay-Z and Kanye have the abilities to create.

“No Church In the Wild” is a promising start with OFWGKTA R&B specialist Frank Ocean making an appearance brilliantly, but things hit stale on an obvious rendition of Kanye’s “All of the Lights” from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy “Lift Off,” with the massively produced orchestrations and heavy bass line. From there we get ups and downs, with the “up” being the audacious “Otis” where Kanye heavily samples the legendary Otis Redding’s voice as a kind of beat. The “down” is the poorly put together “Gotta Have It,” with its irritating sample of James Brown that just don’t fit together with the overall mood of the tune.

Undoubtedly, Jay-Z is talented, but Kanye has always been the more creative one (and controversial). Kanye, having the vast producer knowledge that has the knack for pushing boundaries and yet staying easy to listen to uses all of his tools to make the production of Watch the Throne like no other. On the topic of lyricism and flow that is so important to hip-hop, Kanye sounds as fresh as he did on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but Jay-Z just lacks this vigor, and the way he bursts out with “I guess I got my swagger back!” is almost comical. Watch the Throne isn’t one of those legendary underground hip-hop albums where two emcees push each other to new limits and you love it; Kanye easily shines while Jay-Z barely keeps up.

As quickly as Watch the Throne was released, only announced last October from a Kanye interview with MTV, it is what it is: two over-the-top hip-hop giants flexing their musical muscles on an album that will please and disappoint both fans alike. Highlights like “Welcome to the Jungle” and “No Church In the Wild” make Watch the Throne a worthwhile listen, but most of the rest of the album lacks of originality, mostly from Jay-Z. A worthy listen for fans of hip-hop, but don’t expect to find something so expansively impressive like Kanye’s last LP.