Friday, August 12, 2011
The Throne (JAY Z & Kanye West): Watch the Throne (Digital Release Date: 8-8-2011/Physical Release Date: 8-12-2011)
Even in a genre prone to rampant self-agrandizing, Watch the Throne is pretty damn heavy on self-love. Those who search for humility and humanity can occasionally find it in tracks like New Day and Made In America, but a sturdy majority of the album is spent boasting about power, swagger, and (most especially) wealth. It's enough to make a listener wonder if the Two really had something to say when they set out to make the album, or if they just wanted to brag about how awesome being friends with the pair would be. My guess is the latter, but that, of course, does not make their work void. A good song is a good song, and WTT has a few of them.
Opener No Church in the Wild starts the thing off on a remarkably dark note, a deep, black bass ever-marching in the background, synths picking the beat up for added effect. It's dirty and captivating, made that much better by up-and-comer Frank Ocean's smooth, catchy hook. Ni**as In Paris, hilarious as its name may be, has the type of cold, speedy, badass beat that's impossible to laugh at. Both songs, as well as a slew of others, make big impressions with fantastic West-produced backings, but the MCs themselves manage to slip by without notice. Ironically, it's the semi-disinteresting beat of Otis that gets adorned with the album's best flow. A few gems of lines stick out, a curious number subjected to the ranks of Deluxe Edition bonus tracks, but, taken as a whole, it's an underwhelming lyrical experience.
Instead of a deep character study like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, WTT sees Yeezy take jabs at White America, give shout-outs to Chicago, offer a hugely unsolicited child-rearing perspective, and list brands and bed-mates by the dozen. In other words, he's walking on some heavily trodden ground, and while he's managed to make these subjects enticing and interesting in the past, his Watch the Throne verses often seem to lack ambition. The same could be said for Jay-Z, ever speaking of returning to the streets, his childhood, family values, just how hard he is, and just how fast his finger can reach that trigger. There are a number of verses to which this doesn't apply, but much of the album feels like B-Sides from discs we've already heard.
But here's the thing: It's Jay-Z AND Kanye West!!! There are certain levels of grandeur to which One must submit, and I see this as One of them. Even if the lyrics are often lackluster, I would be a dirty, rotten liar if I told you that it wasn't incredibly fun to blast in your car. So, back to those comparisons: Jay-Z and Kanye think that they are on the level of the Beatles, and that misconception occasionally gets in the way of their work ethic, prompting them to tell too often and show too seldom. The comparison to the Miami Heat duo, however, is spot-on. Both are pairs of men with incredible talent that don't necessarily benefit from having each other around. And, just like the Heat, that awe-inspiring level of ability can carry them an impressive distance, but in the end, calling it Grade-A stuff is a stretch. Watch the Throne is an album packed with stunning beats, stadium-sized aura, and kinda-alright rhymes. I suppose we can't have it all.
Grade (Regular Album): B
Grade (Deluxe Edition): B+