Ye and Jay work well seperately
Jay-Z and Kanye West
Watch the Throne
Roc-A-Fella, Roc Nation, Def Jam
After weeks of hype and meticulous secrecy, Jay-Z and Kanye West’s much-anticipated and highly promoted collaboration, Watch The Throne, hit iTunes on Monday. Recorded across four continents, produced by the likes of The Neptunes, Q-Tip, Swizz Beatz and RZA, and featuring guest performances by Beyoncé, Mr Hudson and Kid Cudi, expectations were invariably high. The result is unfortunately a muddled, inconsistent mix of both rappers’ stylings. For every moment of brilliance on the album, particularly when Jay-Z and Kanye’s chemistry is at its best, there is an equally cluttered disjointedness that prevents the album from being anything more than just good.
Musically, the album may be one of the most memorable rap releases of recent years. Kanye and Jay-Z, along with their small army of producers, sample unexpected tracks and flow them seamlessly into their beats, experimenting with soul, electro and bass-heavy dubstep. In its shining moments Watch the Throne demonstrates some of the best work either artist has put out in recent years. Hov and Yeezy lay down some of their most well-crafted rhymes, with Kanye markedly stepping up his rap game. Perhaps in an effort to outdo his counterpart, Jay being well-recognized for the depth and density of his rhymes and his lyrical prowess, Kanye spits out lines like “I get it custom / You’s a customer / You ain’t accustomed to going through customs / You ain’t been nowhere hah” with an uncharacteristic smoothness.
Their partnership is showcased in “Gotta Have It”, the only track on Watch The Throne where Jay-Z and Kanye trade verses back and forth, taking turns at the mic in pure tag-team style – a high point on the album. Other highlights include the synth-heavy “Lift Off” featuring Beyoncé (soon to be released as a single for radio play), “That’s My Bitch” with La Roux’s Elly Jackson lending vocals on the hook, the Swizz Beatz produced “Welcome to the Jungle”, and “Why I Love You” with Mr Hudson on the catchy TV on the Radio-esque chorus.
A handful of the other songs on the new record unfortunately sound a little too Kanye-influenced, as though Jay-Z was only featured on the track, weakening the collaborative appeal of the album. Ye’s love affair with warbling autotune surfaces in a number of songs –including the opening track, “No Church in the Wild” – providing a bizarre contradiction to Jay-Z’s assertive stance against it. Death of Autotune? We could have used that moment of silence.
Prior to the official release of the album, “H.A.M.” and “Otis” were leaked online to create some buzz. Ironically, “H.A.M.” also stands out as a weak link on the album. The clever sampling of Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” provides a catchy hook on “Otis”, saving an otherwise vapid, collar-popping song about Benzes, private jets and the high life. “H.A.M.”, on the other hand, is exasperating in its attempt to create a dramatic statement.
Along with an occasionally messy clash of styles, there is also a strange contradiction within the lyrical content. The lyrics shift wildly from candid introspection, black issues, and social awareness to an over-the-top obsession with high-end luxury goods and a flippancy that completely discredits any sense of social consciousness. It is undeniable that Jay-Z and Kanye are passionate about these issues, but they prove themselves to be incredibly far-removed from life in the hood.
Overall, Watch The Throne is an interesting, enthusiastic attempt at collaboration. While the album isn’t phenomenal, there are moments of gold that help keep the record afloat. Hov and Yeezy give listeners a few head-bobbing gems among the cluttered inconsistencies, creating an album that is too good to hate.
– Vinciane de Pape