Even before Jay-Z and Kanye West announced plans to undertake a collaborative project, the notion always seemed like a realistic possibility considering their active past that dates back to 2000’s “This Can’t Be Life” off of The Dynasty: Roc La Familia. Each artist has evolved from that time in their respective careers, however their chemistry of creating music together has become a significant component within Hip Hop. Watch The Throne continues this tradition as the duo stake their claim for Rap supremacy.
Despite the slightly contemporary style early singles “H•A•M” and “Otis” depicted, the album-opening “No Church In The Wild” takes a sharp left as Frank Ocean’s voice emerges over haunting, pulsating synth and brooding drums. Asking, “What’s a king to a god? What’s a god to a non-believer”, Jay-Z and Kanye West lay out confessional rhymes, each pausing during their deliveries for added effect. “Murder To Excellence” also takes the experimental route as separate beats provided by Swizz Beatz and S1 chronicle two contrasting sides of the African American narrative.
With a title like Watch The Throne, hearing Hov and ‘Ye revel in their prosperity is a necessary avocation as the two trade bars about their wealth via “Gotta Have It,” while “Niggas In Paris” has them stuntin’ on a hundred thousand trillion. Add a cold Otis Redding Soul sample and neck-breaking drums to the aforementioned “Otis” and it’s evident that the two emcees have a knack for the braggadocio. In each instance, Jay-Z (“I’m planking on a million”) and Kanye (“I made ‘Jesus Walks’ I’m never goin’ to Hell / Couture-level flow it’s never going on sale”) provide quotable lines, although Kanye’s phrase “that shit cray” may be one that you can already expect to be overused this year.
In all its glory and jubilation production-wise, “Lift Off” feels hollow as Beyonce takes center stage with an otherwise forgettable chorus. Jay and Kanye follow suit with shortened, impassive verses. Similarly, “Welcome To The Jungle” lacks the type of execution and creativity found on the rest of the album with Swizz Beatz’ familiarly sharp, bouncing production falling to the wayside. Not much can be said about “That’s My Bitch,” other than that it sounded better as a My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy leftover than an add-on here.
The most compelling aspect of Watch The Throne, and it’s one that we’ve come to appreciate, is the lyrical dynamic between Jay-Z and Kanye West. Whereas Jay’s methodically complex rhymes over the flourishing double-time dubstep “Who Gon Stop Me” makes us hit rewind, Kanye’s lyrics exhibit an individual perpetually wearing his heart on his sleeve. His verse on “New Day” best exemplifies this, where in a self-reflective moment of clarity ‘Ye mulls over disheartening events in his life with hopes that his future son will learn from his mistakes.
Today’s Hip Hop scene has a rotating cast of notable stars, yet Watch The Throne simply wouldn’t have felt the same had it been two different rappers converging for something this monumental. Truth be told, each emcee has produced better solo material, but that doesn’t take away from the quality found on Watch The Throne, nor does it change the fact that crowns rest assuredly on their heads.