To me, big budget albums have always been hampered by the very people trying to make it successful. With rare exceptions, anything on Top 40 radio these days is a horrible sonic Frankenstein: over-produced to the point of baring little resemblance to organic music. This especially affects rap and hip-hop music – a genre that has morphed to the point of being a comical farce.
And that’s fine if you’re into that type of thing. But somehow I think decades from now, we’ll place more emphasis on and value music that didn’t pander to trends.
Thankfully, none of these notions apply to Watch the Throne, the mega-release from perennial rap superstars Kanye West and Jay-Z. At the onset of this project, I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to talk about such enormous, impactful releases. Watch the Throne was toured in sold-out arenas and stadiums the whole country over. To date, it’s sold 1.5 million-plus copies.
So instead of talking about the tracks I appreciate, I’m just going to say this:
∆ Illuminati ∆
(alt-j, copy/paste to infinity)
All kidding aside (but I’m not really, because that junk is real), Watch the Throne will probably come as some surprise to many listeners. The only characteristic reminiscent of the rap popularized by radio airplay and… I don’t know, I’m guessing Lil’ Wayne and Drake? – is the emphasis placed on a decadent lifestyle. Money, drugs, loose ladies, et al. That’s just rap culture in general, and this review (of sorts) is not the proper venue or forum for an essay* on the cyclical destruction nature the pedestrian, radio-friendly version of the genre implies.
WTT is sample-heavy, which makes it appear as though it’s a rich tapestry of genres. In actuality, Jay/Kanye and company are just really freakin’ good at extracting the hard work of others, then flipping it on its head for personal gain. I can respect that. Sampling a song is the ultimate way of paying homage to the original work.
To me, this album is the cream of the crop for both Jay and Kanye. While Jay has managed to avoid the tired cliché of skits, Kanye fell victim on both The College Dropout and Late Registration. Rap interludes drive me nuts and I don’t feel like they serve any purpose. Thankfully, none of those are present on WTT.
What is present though, are a selection of songs like “Murder to Excellence” and “Gotta Have It” that do what any good, redeeming movie manages to do: takes you out of your element and places you in a different environment. “Gotta Have It” opens with what I assume is the background music for any dojo scene ever, and “Murder to Excellence” sounds like kids on a playground in 1970’s Harlem. These cultural extremes are wild, and offset by tracks like “Why I Love You” that play to the strengths of 2000’s-era rap and hip-hop: bassy with modulated voices, a recurring trait of Kanye’s albums.
Watch the Throne is a must-listen not just because it’s the combo album by arguably the two most popular rap artists of the last decade.
Also notable WTT info: there may be a sequel, the aptly-titled Watch the Throne 2. I’ll be on the look-out for it.
Here’s “New Day” from Watch the Throne, a reflective, down-tempo track that may repair or change your opinion about either artist. It’s an eye-opener for sure –
*essay to come later, and there expect a quiz; scantrons will be provided, bring no. 2 pencils.
Standout tracks: “Who Gon’ Stop Me?” and “Why I Love You” – extra tracks “Primetime” and “The Joy” are also clutch.
Weakest track: If I had to pick, “Welcome to the Jungle” – even though at the end it has a neat little horn diddy that reminds me a lot of those (intentionally) awkward-sounding musical transitions in Dexter.
RIYL: Rap, hip-hop. Darcelle Jones of Team Jaguar.