Kanye West and Jay-Z’s ‘Watch the Throne’: album stream and review

Listen to Watch The Throne here

It’s difficult to make sense of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Watch the Throne.” Arguably the two biggest names in rap music, fusing their talents and overbearing egos into one project? Depending on who you are, this either sounds like the coolest thing ever imagined, or just another Jay-Z CD where he brags about his desperation to accept the fact that he’s old as hell, mixed with just another Kanye West CD where he brags about, well, being Kanye West.

Some of us circled Aug. 9 on our calendars. Some of us angrily shook our heads anticipating more mainstream B.S. Some of us tried to be the first of our friends with the leaked version of the CD (somehow ‘Ye and ‘Z managed to evade leaks). But whether we like the idea of this collaboration or hate it, hip-hop heads across the land can’t deny the significance of these two.

They’ve sold tens of millions of records, and have released some of the most defining music of our generation (for better and for worse). We all did the shoulder bounce to “Big Pimpin,” hailed the release of “The Black Album,” watched some punk with a Louie Vuitton backpack and a bright polo release “College Dropout,” and then vomited when “Love Lockdown” was performed at the 2008  MTV Video Music Awards.

So as “Watch the Throne” blared from my office, I found myself  surprised to hear something that felt … insignificant.  Two of the most prominent musical figures in our generation’s memory made something that will most likely be forgotten by the time the school year starts next month.

WTT starts with “No Church in the Wild,” some sort of inexplicable outpouring of atheist philosophies by Jay-Z followed up by Kanye West talking about the night life. The lyrics aren’t cohesive, the production is meh, and the following tracks are nothing special either (sans an amazing breakdown at the 2:40 mark of “Ni**as In Paris“).

I’ll go as far as to say that if I were to only hear the first couple tracks, I would think that this was the worst project I’ve ever heard. They’re that bad.

The early portion of this CD sounded a lot like Jay-Z’s “Kingdom Come,” where  he spends 14 tracks rapping about how much money he has and how successful he is. I don’t think anyone not in the $250,000 tax bracket can identify with it, and I’m sure that fans will only like these songs because Jiggaman and Yeezy did ’em. But if you listen to those things called “lyrics,” you probably will feel the same way as I did.

After “Otis” (Ye’s lazy attempt at bringing backpackers back to his music), and “Gotta Have It” (boo …), the CD finally starts to get a bit interesting. “New Day” is pretty dope. Hova and Kanye speak about their unborn sons and what they will teach them as the children of celebrities. Ye sarcastically speaks of humility and assimilation, and Jay apologizes for putting him in a position where he will be in the spotlight before he’s even born. Though the two kind of sound like assholes, the song still comes off as genuine and it’s one of the few songs on the CD where you might actually hear a message …

That’s My Bitch” is actually not as offensive as it sounds. Or as stupid as it sounds. It’s actually kind of cool — and ALMOST empowering to women. Kanye is absolutely repulsive and immature on this joint. But Jay-Z comes on and speaks more of how ideal the woman is and he drops this line: “I mean Marilyn Monroe she’s quite nice /  but why all the pretty icons always all white?” He follows through listing off beautiful black women and pretty much salvages the mess that Kanye made. I would’ve really loved to see the two come together and use the title as an ironic attention grabber, but that’s just not how things happened.

Welcome to the Jungle” is pretty decent, the message is pretty dope, but I don’t think anyone will put on repeat, nor do I think it’s anything that will change the game. It’s just another Swizz Beats production, with some pretty nice chords and a semi-catchy hook. But I really did appreciate the shout-out to the struggle. They haven’t done this many tracks about relevant issues on their projects in ages — which is sad.

And after that song comes my favorite track on this CD. And probably of this year. “Murder to Excellence” will blow away hip-hop heads and mainstreamers alike. This is what the entire project should have sounded like. The track breaks itself into two different sections. The first half speaks on the rises in black-on-black crime, and how the system is designed to keep us down, and then the beat transitions into a second half speaking of the rarity of black wellness, and how the further up they go the less blacks they see. For the first time ever, the two use their positions of wealth to analyze the black situation from higher ground, as opposed to simply boasting about how they made it. I think this track shows that if those two really put their minds to it, they still have cultural value.

Made in America” is a nice song, but it’s right back to that whole “look at me I’m rich” stuff that the two have inundated us with for their entire careers. We get it. You used to be poor; now you’re rich. I was inspired the first 30 times I heard you talk about it, but after the 5 millionth time, I’ve pretty much had enough. Also, I found it quite weird that their first track was pretty much a hailing to atheism, and then this song repeats “sweet baby Jesus.”

Kanye West and Jay-Z sure are a confusing pair of Christiatheists.

Their last song is damn epic. The production of “Why I Love You” is fierce and original, and the orchestra and guitar that comes on toward the end really brings the song alive — it’s just too bad that they want to spend this track telling us about how amazing they are and how people shouldn’t hate on them. Their performance of their lyrics is marquee as well. But damn it all, they just had to go off and dip into their butt-hurt egos.

The song has great progression, and it makes sense as a last track, but I don’t think their words offer anything we haven’t heard from every other MC who’s been in the game longer than a year.

Poor millionaires. It’s so sad you have haters.

Overall, I don’t think we will carry much from this CD into our memories (or our iPods, for that matter).  This was one of the biggest releases of the year, and yet only a few songs here really show me just how amazing these two artists are. I felt like they relied on their own names too much, and they didn’t challenge themselves enough, both lyrically and production-wise.

I wanted something that sounded like “College Dropout” meets “The Black Album” — perhaps my expectations were too high.

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Tyree Harris

Tyree Harris