Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne [Review]

15 number one albums. 27 Grammy wins. Countless trends started. Major festivals headlined. Millions of albums sold. Hip-Hop’s two biggest stars, Kanye West & Jay-Z, connected together not only set out to make Watch The Throne a great album but a great event.

No early leaks. Epic anticipation. Countless debates and predictions. The album is finally here.

Now exhale. Let’s get into the review.

1. No Church In The Wild
Featuring Frank Ocean; Produced by Kanye West, & 88-Keys
As soon as the beat starts I see opening credits and an well edited montage; this feels like a movie. Frank Ocean delivers a nice chorus that goes well with Jay-Z’s “drug dealer chic” & Kanye’s lines about sniffing cocaine lines off a chick’s black skin. Both rappers sound great over the bass heavy beat (A good look for 88-Keys) and besides foreseeing the illuminati conspiracy theorists having a field day with the lyrics, “No Church In the Wild” is a appropriate opener. I was gonna diss the fact that Yeezy pulled out the Auto-Tunes for the bridge so earlier in the album, but it actually fits the songs (Plus, it’s actually The-Dream singing that part).

2. Lift Off
Featuring Beyoncé; Produced by Kanye West, Jeff Bhasker, Mike Dean, Q-Tip, & Don Jazzy
Whoa, this is a drastic change in feeling from the previous track. But then again, if they was looking for a radio worthy single, this is it. The track has a pop feel but it’s still well produced (Though towards the end, it has a break down that not poppy at all).

The actual rap verses are surprisingly short here; about 8 bars. I really didn’t like the flow of either Ye & Jay on this song. They weren’t bad verses in terms of lyrics though, just the way they were rapped.

To be honest, the real star here is probably Beyonce as she got the most screen time. Thank god Bruno Mars wasn’t included on this track as previously rumored (Besides, he was already on another album this year by a high-profile Hip-Hop duo).

3. Niggas In Paris
Produced by Hit-Boy, Kanye West, Mike Dean, & Anthony Kilhoffer
After a Will Ferrell snippet from Blades Of Glory, we are introduce to an energetic bouncy track. And I can’t stop bouncing in my chair. “That shit cray” (Get used to that term for the next few weeks).

Be clear: Between Jigga bragging about being okay with The Nets going 0-82 and Kanye telling a broad the get on her knees in the bathroom stall, this track is a perfect example of “sophisticate ignorance” Kanye spoke off on “Otis”. You know that cousin you have that only listens to Waka Flocka Flame, this is gonna be his favorite track off Watch The Throne. But the funny thing is, it’s so infectious, you’ll like it too.

4. Otis
Featuring Otis Redding; Produced by Kanye West
You’ve heard this track by now. On the back of an Otis Redding sample, “Otis” was the re-announcing of Watch The Throne. We had already heard “H*A*M” & “That’s My Bitch”, but this was the one that made everybody know that the album was really coming.

While most people’s feelings were split on this track, I thought the simple loop with Jay & Yeezy going back forth did what it was suppose to. Plus, hearing it beside all the rest of the tracks on the album makes you understand how well it fits. Most will probably skip it though since the instrumental has been molested by a million rappers at this points, but it’s still a nice track.

5. Gotta Have It
Produced by The Neptunes & Kanye West
It’s songs like these that show that Kanye & Jay-Z recorded these songs in person. The back and forth between Janye here sounds effortless:

~Kanye West (Jay-Z)~
Hello, hello, hello, white America, assassinate my character
Money matrimony, yeah they tryna break the marriage up
Who gon’ act phony, or who gone try to embarrass ya
I’mma need a day off, I think I call Ferris up
(Bueller had a Muller but I switched it for a Miele
Cause I’m richer and prior to this shit was moving free base)
Had a conference with the DJs, Puerto Rico three days
(Poli with the PD’s now they got our shit on replay)
Sorry I’m in pajamas but I just got off the P.J
And last party we had, they shut down Prive
(Ain’t that where the Heat play? Niggas hate ballas these days)
Ain’t that like Lebron James? (Ain’t that just like D. Wade? Wait)

And I the only one that caught that LeBron James/D. Wade comparison? The media loves Jay-Z but still hates Kanye?

The track is the shortest off WTT but it still fits. With the James Brown samples and the synths, the Neptunes/Kanye produced track I imagined sounds just like this.

6. New Day
Produced by The RZA, Kanye West, Mike Dean, & Ken Lewis
In the reports from the WTT listening session, this one was called the “letter to their unborn sons” song. Appropriately so. In terms of lyrics, “New Day” is the most deep and meaningful song on the album. While Jay-Z sounds pretty inspired talking to his future junior, it’s Kanye’s verse that gets the quotable here:

~Kanye West~
And I’ll never let him leave his college girlfriend
And get caught up with the groupies in the whirlwind
And I’ll never let him ever hit the telethon
I mean even if people dyin’ and the world ends
See, I just want him to have an easy life
Not like Yeezy life, just want him to be someone people like

The production doesn’t slouch here either; the way the sample was used is ridiculous. Any beat that gets Nina Simone and Auto-Tune to work should get a appalause.

Jay-Z & Kanye connected well with The RZA.

7. That’s My Bitch
Produced by Q-Tip, Kanye West, & Jeff Bhasker
And we from “New Day” we go to this? Kind of jarring but okay.

When this initially leaked late last year, I didn’t really care for it. Months later I still don’t. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tolerable. But it’s sounds like something Heavy D would have rapped on in his heyday. But hey, most people I talked to about this song liked it so maybe it’s me. I’m sure it’ll make the club go crazy in London or somewhere like that.

Honestly, this one may grow on me in the future.

8. Welcome To The Jungle
Produced by Swizz Beatz, Mike Dean, & Ken Lewis
Swizzy! Thankfully this isn’t the “Gucci Time” version of Swizz Beatz that produced this beat, but the better “On To The Next One” version (I’m loving his ad-libs here too. “Right”).

Jay-Z takes the driver seat here as he get most of the exposure over Yeezy. Seems like fame & riches may been getting to Hov :

~Jay-Z~
My tears is tatted, my rag in my pocket
I’m just looking for love, I know somebody got it
Champagne for the pain, weed for the low
God damn I’m so high, where the fuck did I go?
I’m losing myself, I’m stuck in the moment
I look in the mirror, my only opponent

This may get looked over by some, but it shouldn’t.

9. Who Gon Stop Me
Produced by Sham “Sak Pase” Joseph, Kanye West, & Mike Dean
I heard that Kanye & Jay-Z tired dubstep for this album. Here where it happens (Also, it seems they brought over Swizz’s ad-libs from the previous track).

The track as a whole is basically a war cry asking the world if they can hold the duo back. The Flux Pavilion sample throughout may get on some nerves, but personally I think it adds to the track. It’s at the end that takes some getting used to; the long verse from Jay sounds a little off but I’m thinking that may have been the aim.

Sidenote: Some people won’t like Kanye’s Holocaust reference at all.

10. Murder To Excellence
Produced by Swizz Beatz & S1
On first listen of this album, this was hands down my favorite. It still is.

First cool thing to note here is that it’s actually two beats bookending each other: Swizz Beatz produced “Murder” with S1 producing “Excellence”. But not only does the sound have a theme but the content as well. The first part of the song deals with the black on black crimes that still plauge the community with the second celebrating Black excellence.

~Kanye West~
And I’m from the murder capital where they murder for capital
Heard about at least three killings this afternoon
Looking at the news like “damn! I was just with him after school”
No shop class but half the school got a tool
And “I could die any day”-type attitude
Plus his little brother got shot repping his avenue

~Jay-Z~
It’s a celebration of black excellence
Black tie, black Maybachs
Black excellence, opulence, decadence
Tuxes next to the president, I’m present
I dress in Dries and other boutique stores in Paris

Didn’t expect Jay & Ye to get social conscious huh? And they sound really good doing it. Dope track.

11. Made In America
Featuring Frank Ocean; Produced by Sham “Sak Pase” Joseph & Mike Dean
I spoke earlier about the weird sequencing on some of these tracks, but “Made In America” paired with the previous one was perfect. Epic sounding stuff right here too.

Frank Ocean returns to lay down the groundwork with a hook mentioning visionaries like Malcolm X to even Jesus (You can start questioning an Odd Future member shouting out Jesus…NOW).

Backed with a dreamy beat, the whole track sounds like a triumph for all those involved celebrating to success and overcoming obstacles to get achieve it. Both rappers give you examples:

~Kanye West~
I told my mama I was on the come up
She said “you going to school I’ll give you a summer”
Then she met NO ID and gave me his number
10 years later she driving a Hummer

~Jay-Z~
No papa, bad Santa
The streets raised me, pardon my bad manners
I got my liberty chopping grams up
Street justice, I pray God understand us
I pledge allegiance to all the scramblers
This is the Star Spangled Banner

12. Why I Love You
Featuring Mr Hudson; Produced by Mike Dean, Kanye West
Remember when I said “Lift Off” was probably the perfect radio sample for this album, “Why I Love You” may be the second one. Relying heavily on the Cassius sample (That Mr Hudson re-sung), the song has a huge feel to it.

Jay-Z is mostly by himself with Kanye throwing in lines here ad there. But one reason for this is so Jay can address a few things:

~Jay-Z (Kanye West)~
Wasn’t I a good king? (Maybe too much of a good thing, huh?)
Didn’t I spoil you? Me or the money, what you loyal to?
(Huh, I gave you my loyalty) Made you royalty and royalties
(Took care of these niggas lawyer fees) And this is how niggas rewardin’ me

Some people may recognized the second verse as the one Jay-Z was laying down on the Watch The Throne Documentary.

Beans gonna feel a type a way about some of these lines.

13. Illest Motherfucker Alive
Produced by Southside, Kanye West, & Mike Dean
Don’t feel bad about the three minutes of silence before the track, it’s like that for everybody  (Maybe it was Illuminati code?). But when the song begins, it’s more of the sophisticated ignorance that Janye does so well. The violins and opera singing make this one even better. Jay-Z compares his 11 #1 consecutive album ato Bill Russell’s championship rings. But it Yeezy drunken rhymes that takes center stage:

~Kanye West~
What you after, actor money?
You in line behind currency, yeah you after money
Bullet proof condom when I’m in these hoes
Got staples on my dick (why) fuckin’ centerfolds

I expected a video for this song…in slow motion…maybe directed by Hype Williams?

14. H*A*M
Produced by Lex Luger, Kanye West, & Mike Dean
When this song dropped, I was skeptical about Jay & Kanye over a Lex Luger beat. But the end results were hard to argue with; this shit goes hard. Plus, I still think Jay-Z killed his here (Maybe one of the year’s best):

~Jay-Z~
Niggas fantasize about the shit that I do daily
Like these rappers rap about all the shit that I do really
I’m like really half a billion nigga, really you got baby money
Keep it real with niggas, niggas ain’t got my lady’s money
Watch the Throne don’t step on our robe
Bad enough we let you step on our globe

Still hard as a motherfucker.

15. Primetime
Produced by No I.D.
No I.D. hooked The Throne up with a crazy piano laced track (The Orange Krush sample is pretty cool too). Jay-Z lets loose a nice verse filled with numbers (“At 42, I’ll be better than 24’s/I carry the 4-5 master 48 laws”) while Yeezy raps about the excess and all it’s advantages (“Damn, Yeezy, it all gotta be dimes?/Well Adam gave up a rib, so mine better be prime”)

Real Hip-Hop shit here but I can understand why it’s relegated to the “Deluxe Version” status.

16. The Joy
Featuring Curtis Mayfield; Produced by Pete Rock, Kanye West, & Mike Dean
The Joy” was originally part of Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music series but it’s welcomed here as well. With all the tracks on this album, it’s good to have a grounded track to give it some balance. The sample is still obvious, but the song is still nice.

BOTTOM LINE:
The night when Watch The Throne was released and the masses got to finally listen to the final product, I got some e-mails and texts with messages like “It’s not a classic” or “It didn’t live up to the hype”. I got some positive ones too but I felt all decisions were too quick.

For the people that walked into listening to this album with an open mind, they were treated to a great big album by Jay-Z & Kanye West. From the interludes that sandwich between some of the tracks to the main production, you can tell each song was thought out and well made. It’s also not as focused on materialism or excess as some would think. For songs like “That’s My Bitch” & “Illest Motherfucker Alive” there’s track like “New Day” or “Murder to Excellence” that balance out the album.

Things that keep this album from getting the highly rare 5 Stars are weird sequencing and not every song being a complete slam dunk. Also, if you dislike the previous last solo outings from Kanye (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) or Jay-Z (Blueprint 3) you may have trouble here as Watch The Throne could be looked as a mash up of two albums.

This album is a celebration of the Black elite, luxury rap, & success. Even if your not into those this, the spectacle that is Watch The Throne is a worthwhile ride. Time and repeated listens will dictate how memorable the ride will be.

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