I really don’t like Lebron James.

I think he really took the easy way out. He was scared to risk never winning a title. Didn’t want the responsibility. But let’s be fair – the guy made it to within two games of winning an NBA championship in his first year with his new team, but we act like the Heat went 4-78. But don’t you get the feeling that even if he had won, it wouldn’t have been enough? They would’ve questioned why it took seven games to close them out. Or why didn’t he score more points in the fourth quarter. Or say that it really doesn’t count because he didn’t have to face Kobe. It’s a no-win situation.

Welcome to Watch the Throne.

See, on a sports team, if you take one great player and add him to a team that has another, that equals two great players. Music doesn’t quite work that way. Artists don’t add on to each other, they merge and create an entirely new entity. I feel that many people had the perspective of “well Jay’s albums are great, and Kanye’s albums are great, so this one needs to be twice as good as those”. Michael Jackson couldn’t work with Prince and create an album twice as good as Thriller. Each album is it’s own artistic expression. A painting isn’t twice as good as another painting. Unlike the results in sports, musical greatness isn’t tangible.

*Sidenote: Also, I’ll refrain from the basic track-by-track type review. AllHipHop.com posted one about eight minutes after the album was released, so you can go there or to the hundred other sites that sum up a song with a quick recap, (ie. Yeezy and Hov rap about their unborn sons on the RZA-produced New Day) instead of offering an actual opinion about the album. My feeling is, you’ve already heard the songs by now, most likely, so you don’t need me to tell you what they’re about.

Having said all that, let me say that this is a very difficult album to rate because something like this has never really been done before. Two urban artists still at their peak (Jay maybe not at his lyrical peak, but certainly at the peak of his worldwide popularity), combining to create a single piece of work. Jay has attempted this- twice actually – with R. Kelly, to mixed results.

And that’s where I’ll begin the music portion of this review. The immediate difference between Watch the Throne and Best of Both Worlds is the cohesiveness of the album. While Jay and R were emailing sessions back and forth and completing the music from a distance, Jay and Kanye approached this in an old school fashion – they actually recorded it together.

*Sidenote pt. 2: I’m fully aware that flying to Paris and having studios set up in NYC hotel suites isn’t exactly ‘old school’, but I’m trying to make a point.

And that’s the first thing I noticed while listening to the album. Neither artist sounded out of place. Each had their own moments to shine. They traded back and forth lines a few times throughout the albums, and sometimes started their verse where the other left off, and for the most part stayed on topic. It never felt to me like a Jay-Z album featuring Kanye or a Kanye album featuring Jay-Z – although Kanye’s stamp is going to naturally be on it a bit more since he was also involved in much of the production. It truly felt like a Jay-Z & Kanye West album. It was a new sound, albeit blending familiar styles from each artist. It’s quite an accomplishment, as the album could’ve easily fell into a Blueprint 4 or My Dark Twisted Fantasy 2 type feel. Though I will say that Jay would’ve never have made this album without Kanye’s influence, as Jay enjoys much more straight-forward music. But wasn’t that the point of doing a joint album? Jay convinced Kanye to scale back a bit and Kanye got Jay to experiment.

They also did something that another group of solo artists who came together to create an album couldn’t do – they kept the songs fresh and didn’t fall into a predictable pattern. One of the biggest flaws with the Slaughterhouse self-titled album was the lack of creativity. It was all four rapping on just about every song – four long verses – usually started and ended by the same people, with few exceptions. It was almost as if nobody in the group had the leadership skill to step in and cut somebody’s verse from a song or tell someone they aren’t going to be on a particular track. It was like everybody had to have equal time. Rapping and creating music are completely different skill sets.

Jay and Kanye didn’t fall into this trap, despite being two of the genre’s greatest artists. Egos could’ve easily gotten in the way. They didn’t though. They never felt like they were competing. It felt like music.

By the way – in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I’m a huge fan of both Jay and Kanye. Having said that, if my wife released a wack album next week, believe that I’d be the first one to post a review bashing the shit out of it. I don’t let personal feelings bleed into my journalistic integrity.

There were a lot of clever, tongue-in-cheek lines that can easily go over some listeners’ heads. They have such a nonchalant and flippant delivery that it sometimes seems as if they aren’t saying much at all. I’d actually suggest printing out some of these lyrics from www.ohhla.com and reading along. They’re actually saying some shit. They aren’t Lupe-caliber lyrics, but they aren’t trying for that. This album isn’t for people who study words, it’s for people who enjoy music. Just enough lyrics to keep the heavy hip-hop heads interested, but simple enough that the casual fan can appreciate and enjoy.

For artists who have together created such depth in their records as This Can’t Be Life, there’s a certain disappointment in the fact that they couldn’t expose themselves more. They talked plenty about the pitfalls of being rich and famous, but I often get the feelings that the authors of Hey Mama and Regrets could’ve crafted up a few more conceptual masterpieces if they weren’t so engulfed in taking over the world. There were also no clear cut, monster singles like Empire State of Mind.

The production was definitely a high point for the album. If you listen to the album once and send it to the recycle bin, you’re doing yourself a disservice. These are new sounds, not what you’re used to hearing. Because of that, it’s easy to dismiss it as “weak”. But these are some really incredible backdrops. The precision, the originality – and man, does it sound great in a top notch sound system! Professional (and aspiring non-professional) engineers and producers will really appreciate the level of detail in the beats. The mixing was top-notch, as one would expect. The drums, the bass lines, everything knocked. The beats were very creative and different from the current sound. That’s a good thing in the long term, but will turn some closed-minded people off early. It isn’t there fault – it’s how this generation of hip-hop fans were raised. We’re all about the Rick Ross style of repeating the same things that have worked over and over.

Watch the Throne had a nice variety of topics. Yes, Jay and Ye are rich, and they’re going to talk about being rich. Just as 50 Cent will talk about being gangster, Lupe will talk about being political, Mos Def will talk about being underground, and Rihanna will talk about enjoying candle wax being dripped on her handcuffed, naked body during sex. It’s part of their persona, part of who they are. To ignore it would be straying from their actual lives. But there is a good amount of subject matter as well. By now, you already know they have a song talking about their unborn sons, etc.. There is a lot of humility mixed in with the bravado. There’s also a lot of wittiness.

I have this weird thing about me. See, I actually appreciate when artists take chances and make music that expands beyond their comfort zone. Jay and Kanye could’ve easily made 12 versions of the Pete Rock produced Joy (which is actually one of my favorite records) and called it a day. And guess what? It probably would’ve been a great album. There are a lot of people who would’ve even liked it better than the current iteration. It would’ve been the safe choice. So Appalled works. Who Gon Stop Me takes some imagination.

I felt the same way about 808s & Heartbreaks when it came out. Kanye could’ve built off the success of Graduation and made a similar sounding Graduation 2 and had a smash. Instead, he chose to follow his artistic vision and create something new. Whether you liked 808s or not is an entirely different blog post. Same with Blueprint 2. The easy thing would’ve been to create 12 more soulful, jazzy songs. Instead, BP2 had an entirely different sound. Jay once said “Niggaz want my old shit? Buy my old albums”. And unlike most fans in this cookie-cutter, “do-what-already-works”, scared to take chances, “Maybach Music” era of hip-hop, I actually appreciate artists who take risks.

So overall, how do I feel about Watch the Throne? I think it’s a great album. It isn’t hip-hop’s Thriller. It isn’t Going to cure cancer. Nor will it make everybody else stop rapping. It wasn’t Blueprints 1-3 plus Graduation multiplied by infinity, like some people were unrealistically expecting. If you just judge it as an album and not put it head to head with the Old Testament, you’ll realize it is filled with tremendous songs. New Day and No Church in the Wild were probably my favorite tracks. Welcome to the Jungle, Niggas in Paris, Murder to Excellence, Made in America and Why I Love You were also amazing records. Try to find another album that has this many consistently strong songs. Otis and That’s My Bitch were heard prior to the release and those were also great additions. It’s difficult for me to find much fault with the album. Lyrically? This isn’t Reasonable Doubt. But it’s not supposed to be. This album wasn’t aimed towards the hustlers. It was geared towards a much larger audience. Nas has way too much life experience to ever recreate illmatic, so why hold Jay’s newer projects up against what he did as a fresh-faced kid in the mid-90s?

If you’re looking for strictly lyrics? Try a Skyzoo album (though Sky actually has great production too). Amazing stuff there. If you want just beats? Go with the last Rick Ross album. If you want something fresh and new? Give WTT a good listen.

Speaking of which – how come Rick Ross’ album was considered one of the best hip-hop albums of 2010, despite lame, unrealistic subject matter, copycat hooks and re-used beat ideas, yet Jay and Ye, despite having many different topics and sounds, are being hated on for talking about money on some of their songs. Unlike Ross, they actually have money (and have had for some time), so it’s at least believable.

Also, a huge kudos to Mike Dean and that entire staff for keeping this under wraps. It’s the first album in years that I’ve actually had the pleasure of anticipating and listening front to back, the way it was supposed to be heard. No leaks, no freestyles, no “not-quite-good-enough-for-the-album” throw-aways. I’ve been standing on my soapbox for years screaming against releasing subpar music just for the sake of exposure. This was refreshing. Reminded me of the days I’d wait on line (not online) on Monday night at Tower Records or Virgin Megastores awaiting a new release.

Could it have been better? Of course. What album couldn’t have. I felt the Beyonce assisted “Life Off” was far from special. I have nothing against those types of records, they just didn’t execute it well. With the exception of Crazy in Love, Jay and Bey’s chemistry on records just isn’t great. The sequencing on the album was good overall, with the exception of the aforementioned, which sounded out of place in between the incredible No Church and Niggaz in Paris. Jay didn’t sound quite as comfortable as normal, as Kanye really stepped up and put himself as a definite “1A” to Jay-Z’s “1”. Little Brother is as close to being an equal as he ever was. The only thing he’s lacking now is his own Reasonable Doubt. Not only was Kanye not overmatched lyrically, but he owned some of these records. Though he might’ve had a slightly better performance overall, he definitely did more to add to Jay’s legacy and GOAT claim. This successful collaboration was yet another accomplishment in Jay’s storied career. Kanye is trailing, but not by as much as he was just a few years ago. Though Kanye has more than established his own career, this might be considered a serious “coming out” party (pause if necessary), as he really hung line for line with hip-hop’s greatest living legend.

By the way – Welcome to the Jungle has the potential to be a huge record.

Top to bottom, it’s an extremely solid effort from two of rap’s best. I think they definitely laid the groundwork for a WTT 2. Other artists need to pay attention and learn from what they have created instead of attempting to compete or copy. Also, fans should really show a little respect. Hip-hop is full of copycats. Not to pick on Self-Made, but that’s a great example of the “paint-by-numbers” albums that are often released today. Take a successful formula and copy it 15 times until you have a hit. Jay and ‘Ye didn’t create 15 versions of Power. They took a chance. Whether you like the music or not, you should at least respect the fact that a few artists are still unafraid to delve into uncharted territory.

If I believed in ratings, I’d probably give Watch the Throne somewhere around an 8.75/10. Better than most of what’s out today, but not quite the hip-hop bible that people were hoping for (or rooting against, in many cases).

Favorite tracks: New Day, No Church in the Wild, Welcome to the Jungle, Murder to Excellence

Follow me on twitter if you enjoyed this review: @culturevi

About the author

Wil

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68 Comments

  • You spoke on production but didn’t mention producers, or a favorite instrumental. Being that you’re such a big hip hop head, I expected you to go into more detail about certain tracks.

    • Fair point. I felt the production on every track, honestly. Didn’t have any beats I didn’t like, except maybe Primetime. I don’t have the list in front of me, but I liked Swizz’ joint on Welcome to the Jungle. I think that can be a MONSTER. I liked the dubstep joint. LOVED 88-Keys on No Church. That’s my Bitch was standout to me. New Day was amazing, beatwise. RZA really stepped up. I thought the production on Murder to Excellence was great. I really liked almost all of it.

  • I agree with basically everything in this review. I loved Watch The Throne, but everyone hated on it and I couldn’t figure out why. It makes sense now though, because we’ve all become used to hearing Wayne, Ross and Drake do the same thing over and over again that when we hear something fresh and new, we shut it out and deem it lame and uncool. It’s pretty sad that we look at music that way these days, especially when two of hip hops greatest decide to collab on a whole album.

  • GOOD review of the album. I completely agree that its fresh approach may not fall well with a lot of contemporary listeners, just because it’s so sample heavy. It’s almost a hip-hop symphony, if I were trying to articulate how I felt it sounded beats-wise (and even that, I feel, doesn’t do it justice).

    and yes… Kanye West definitely showed up, on a number of tracks. I’m glad you gave props to “New Day.” I’m not expecting many folk to do that because it doesn’t have that “hit sound,” but people have been clamoring for transparency from S. Carter for years and they’ve got it here. And it’s refreshing to see Kanye West turn away from the “ego” the media knows him for and basically say, “I don’t want my son to have that life. I want him to be someone everybody likes.”

    While I would probably give an 8.5 just because I feel Jay-Z could have rapped a lot harder on some tracks, I lowkey feel this was maybe intended to be a showcase of Kanye. His production runs heavily through it, and I wonder if Jay-Z “stepped back” just so Kanye could step up. Our eyes are on The Throne because these are two of the most well-known and well-lyrically equipped artists in the game. And while some may be disappointed this isn’t hip-hop’s saving grace… it is still a great album, that subliminally tells me to get rich and foresake God. Kidding! I’m kidding.

    • lol na i doubt he was stepping back. jay isn’t the same jay as 15 years ago, but he’s not supposed to be. i thought he did well. it’s not easy to collaborate the way they did. but yea, it was great seeing ye really step up

  • *applauds* I totally agree I think one of the biggest injustices to yourself when listening to this album is to hold it in comparison to previous work, as an artist myself I can’t stress enough how albums should almost be looked at as windows to that artist in that respective time period its stupid to hold WTT to the standards of Reasonable Doubt or College Dropout and I see alot of listeners making that mistake already.

    I was just telling my wife not two hours ago that my biggest problem with hip hop fans is we don’t allow our artist to grow into new people, experience new things and share it with us in their music we pick one point in time where we first heard and liked an them then we lock said artist in a box and ask them re-create that moment over and over funny thing is on the other we complain about hip hop being dead when something that is never allowed to grow is not alive in the words of Jay on BP3 “people always talking bout Hov take it back I’m doing better than before why would I that” , great review for a great album.

    • Yea I agree completely man. When they recreate the same shit, we call them lazy. When they step out of their comfort zone, we complain that they arent giving us what they want. That’s why artists like Ye and Jay are so successful. They realize they can’t win if they listen to us. They just do exactly what they feel.

  • You contradicted yourself sir…you say “It never felt to me like a Jay-Z album featuring Kanye, or a Kanye album featuring Jay-Z ” and then a few paragraphs later you state “Not only was Kanye not overmatched lyrically, but he owned some of these records” =/

    • Na I respectfully disagree. I don’t see that as a contradiction the ALBUM felt very balanced. My point was that Kanye actually owned a few songs, despite being head up with one of the all-time great rappers. Jay also had songs that he owned, like Jungle – but that’s more expected cus, well, he’s Jay-Z. The fact that Kanye owned any was impressive. They both had enough shining moments that the overall project felt balanced.

  • Honestly I was expecting the 2nd coming with this album. I went through WTT once so far and wasnt really impressed with the flow and memorable lyrics I’m used to gettin with J nd Kanye (Though the production is crazy!). I will say reading your review did sort of open my eyes to view this album as its own “work of art” and appreciate them trying to put something new out. That might make WTT more of a complete album for me the 2nd or 3rd time around. Good review. Got a fan to give it another open minded listen.

    • yea listen – this is a new sound, a different type of album. you’ll need to listen a few times to really appreciate it, i feel. it’s new – new things are always difficult to fully “get” right away.

  • Dope review, definitely opened my eyes with your perspective. I was really anticipating this album, but I expected more outrageous lyrics. In my opinion, it was more down to earth than I expected. As an engineer, it was definitely on point. The choir prices fit perfectly! I love sampled production, and I thought Ye would pull some things from the crates, but it wasn’t as dusty as expected. Besides Otis Redding and Curtis Mayfield, I expected another dope British rock sample being as though there are so many out there. Overall, a better album the recycled mess we call rap music. But Wil, you tripping on your opinion of the Primetime beat! The dissonance is crazy fresh. And I feel Why I Love You could be a single, it’s catchy as hell. Peace and respect!

  • Awesome review. I agree with it 100%. I think you said it best when you said, “This album wasn’t aimed towards the hustlers. It was geared towards a much larger audience. Nas has way too much life experience to ever recreate illmatic, so why hold Jay’s newer projects up against what he did as a fresh-faced kid in the mid-90s?”

    This is a point my fiance make all the time when dissecting Jay’s music. He has grown as a person and as an artist, so you can’t expect him to keep spittin about his hustlin days. I like where Jay is at right now, and think he still kills it.

    • Thanks Tay! Yea me too. If Jay rapped how he did 15 years ago, I probably wouldn’t enjoy him. I feel like I’ve watched him grow thru his music. It’s inspiring.

  • That’s My Bitch to me was clearly the best song on the album, all things considered. I’m actually fairly surprised that people like the Swizz joint. The drums on that song are the worst on the album but the song structure was cool. I thought this was very good. I respect the points brought to the table hear.

  • i’m gonna have to read this later. but good job… i’m a little jealous you got on freshlypressed but whatever LOL!!!
    check out my review of the album i’m gonna post later today =)

  • I definitely agree that Ye seemed to command a few more of the songs but not clearly outshine Jay. I only listened to the album 1 and half times and I felt that this isn’t solo Jay-Z & solo Kanye it feels like a different identity, Throne Watchers if you will. Its not the greatness I expected but I think it’ll be the greatness we’ll need later in hip-hop when others catch up to some of the things you put in this post.

  • This is a great review from a hardcore Jay – Ye fan. With that said I expected nothing but 10/10 talk and break down of everything they did right. After listening to the album 6 + times then reading this I have to say this is spot on. Looking at history, collabs are not very successful and with that said they did not flop. The LP is good and as you said it could of been way better. I give it a 6/10 only because them 2 deserve higher expectations then most drops. The mixing is close to the best I have ever heard, money well spent on equipment and time taking for crisp sounding music. Lyrics are good but delivery wasn’t up to standard, Jay sounded winded out after 4 words and Ye tried to spit like Wayne too many times. Sales will be great because of who they are but as for airtime hits, I don’t feel too many coming from this collab. Great Job Culture!!

  • I have to say… a thorough and an excellently thought out and written review. When I first heard of Jay-Z and KAnye collaboration, I was dubious. To me Jay has always been the ore “commercial” one…whereas I have always thought of Kanye to be the electro-hip-hop more “cutting -edge” one …musically speaking. I am so surprised this collaboration actually works in my opinion. They seem to perfectly complement each other. Might be a sign of true professionals. :o)

  • Great post! Thanks for the review, I love both Jay and Kanye so I just assumed they would have a great album. You really give nice insight into how they work together as artist, and it is good to see that they were able to come together and make a quality album.

  • Well, I haven’t heard the album in its’ entirety yet, but being born in the 80’s and raised in the 90’s I can definitely respect real rap music. I mean the real shit, not Lil Wayne, not the Rick Ross’, and definately not that crap from the south that gets played over and over on the radio. I was sold on this album once I heard ‘Otis’, which I felt you did not give enough respect to in your review. Although that song mostly represented Kanye’s exceptional creativity and skills as a producer, just having Jay-Z rap over that beat along with Kanye West makes that song one of the best songs of all time. I know you’ll probably say since I’m an 80’s baby I’m biased, but there are some songs from those artist I named above that I do happen to like.Those rappers would not have survived in the 90’s. During that era you actually had to have skills… BTW check out Wan’s 2 cents @ ku1cornelius.wordpress.com for sports, top stories, and entertainment

  • “the guy made it to within one game of winning an NBA championship in his first year with his new team”

    I coulda swore that the Mavericks won the series 4-2.

  • Wow great review man, probably the best I’ve read for WTT so far. I think I literally agreed with everything you said, and disagreed with none lol. I really enjoyed (but wasn’t completely blown away) by the album the first time I listened to it, but thats what I was expecting. A lot of Kanye’s music lately has become so complex and different that it takes a few listens to begin to fully appreciate it. And as a producer I’m finding myself hearing new sounds and techniques in the production with every listen through. New Day and Murder to Excellence are just amazing.

    Oh, but: “It isn’t there fault – it’s how this generation of hip-hop fans were raised.”
    *their 😉

  • Your review was better than the album.

    Ps. Any idea how Swizz consistently manages to get on albums ahead of clearly more talented and more consistent producer, i am not mentioning any names here but I will Just be Blazing if you dont answer!

  • Nice review, very spot on. I agree it’s quite different and I must admit that I feel much differently after going through it about 4 or 5 times…fav tracks would be niggas in Paris, h.a.m and who gon stop me…I give this album a solid 8/10

  • I have an open mind and loved 808s but i dont love this album as a whole. There are some good tracks but a couple were im just scratching my head. Lift off being one of them. I cant believe bey,jay,and ye all heard the final version of that song and said sonds good lets go with that. Im stunned by that. I agree with a lot of people that the beats and hooks drown out the lyrics. I have and will always appreciate kanyes bravery when approaching his music though. Would of loved a whole pete rock/kanye produced album.

  • Good review. What I’ve found with WTT is that your rewards come after more than one listen. If you are listening to it once and making a decision to like it or not you are really doing yourself a diservice. The production is just amazing! After the 5th listen (beginning to end) I would give it 9/10.

  • This is the first review on WTT that has had me agreeing with every point being made. Too many people were expecting an event equivalent to the second coming of Christ with this album and that immediately weighed against it. But Jay and Ye didn’t release something that tried to be big, brash and audacious – like you said, it’s just fresh.

    I had my own worries that the two might jar on the album as Ye’s production is a cool breath of fresh air, whereas Jay’s beat selection on BP3 seemed quite out of touch (although his features were on point). But the two do sound like brothers on this track (and look like it in the Otis video ha!). You feel them really absorbing and using eachother’s energy on the track and that is refreshing in hip hop nowadays. As easy as it is to call out Jay on his lack of transparency that he otherwise showed on This Can’t Be Life, you have to give him kudos for how vulnerable he sounded on tracks like No Church. For someone of his status in the game, it’s uncomfortable but relieving to hear.

    I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve listened to this album now. Murder to Excellence is probably my favourite but Otis, Why I Love You (I like the playfulness of it) and Niggas in Paris are up there too. I hate myself for saying this, but I can’t stand The Joy. It just drags on and on in my head. Overall, this album gets a 9/10 from me.

    Oh, and whilst Jay might have peaked a while ago lyrically, he does have spurts of true greatness – eg. Jay Electronica – Shiny Suit Theory. I had to rewind Jay’s verse, it hit me by surprise!

  • Look, the pair are good. The understand the music and they’ve produced a good hip-hop record. I just don’t quite get their vision and it doesn’t flow for me. I’ve always preferred Kanye and I hate rap but My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was superb. It just doesn’t seem like you can blend Blueprint 3 with it.

  • agree with most of the review, although i thought welcome to the jungle was actually the worse track on the album. it sounds like a mixtape song or somethin. Who Gon’ Stop Me is that HUGE record on the album. thatll be a track still bumpin in playlists for years to come

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