When rap moguls Jay-Z and Kanye West announced that they were going to collaborate on a new record, you could feel the Earth rumble. The music community had every reason to jump for joy: Jay-Z had major success creating some of rap’s most memorable albums of the past decade, and Kanye West had been on a continual high since the release of his most recent critically acclaimed LP, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Perhaps the two biggest names in rap were about to join forces (as artists, not just as producers) and those of us who appreciated their works separately were now going to have their minds explode. But enough with how we felt before “The Throne” got together (that’s what they’re collectively called). What matters is that their release, Watch The Throne, is now available for us to see which one raps better, right?
Just to set the record straight, there is no question of who raps better here. While each track gives breathing room for each rapper to lay down a verse, this is not really a sparring event. That’s something left for fans to do when they play their albums side-by-side. If anything, Watch The Throne lets friends and partners try to find a unified vision, because really, what do these guys have to prove to one another? They’re arguably the hottest commodities of the rap community and the music community in general, and it should be worth celebrating…right?
Well, maybe it would be more accurate to find out who is really celebrating: the music community or Jay-Z and West themselves. The finished result of what took months of teasing and featuring guests is a rocky one, containing tracks that shine like its album art and obscure like its questionable gimmickry – by that I mean, is there really a reason why these two are making music together? There are many moments on here when you feel their collaboration is for the purposes of self-indulgence, referring to the idea that these two rappers really are royalty and then throwing it upon the listener. I’m not quite sure that actually makes for great rap itself, a genre that hits hard when it plays hard and intricately applies lyrics to topics with some more humanistic significance. Here it’s just lyrically unimpressive, which is probably the biggest letdown, considering how well these guys do on their own turf.
However, for what it’s worth, Watch The Throne is more or less an admirable experiment, bouncing between musically superb examples of the craft and not-so-great tunes that some might consider even besting some of today’s Top 40. Those superb tracks mentioned, such as “Gotta Have It,” “New Day” and “Murder to Excellence” really shoot for inspired beats that sound very much in Jay-Z and West’s ballpark, bringing the best of their abilities together into a formative mold. That isn’t to say the rest of the album doesn’t do the same justice, but they come off more as the glaze than the mold itself. In fact, tracks featuring guests like up-and-comer Frank Ocean, Jay-Z’s beau Beyoncé and Mr. Hudson are the most overcooked tracks on here, providing so much excess that it ends up leaving little to desire.
By the end of the album, you leave with more questions than answers about this supposed dynamic duo, which doesn’t exactly make this the most impressive rap record of the year as most of us probably assumed it was going to be. Maybe questions are more important when it comes to an experiment like Watch The Throne, which can still pull off the few great songs mentioned, making this an admirable effort from artists who do know what they’re doing given the right ingredients. Having said that, however, the intention of giving power to “The Throne” as a sense for lyricism and marketability is lazy and most disappointing, but some tracks really do bring interesting beats to the table. If you have to have your fill of Jay-Z and/or Kanye West, then there is plenty here to put on your plate, but as someone expecting “two heads are better than one,” I don’t think the tracks not mentioned here are worth having seconds.
Tell us what you think of the album in the comments below and check out Watch The Throne, available now on iTunes and everywhere else on August 12th from Roc-A-Fella Records. (A “Deluxe Edition” is also available through iTunes, featuring four additional tracks including “H.A.M.” and “The Joy” feat. Curtis Mayfield)