It has landed. The album everybody is talking about, the biggest rap release of the year, the one that the internet held it’s breath for and didn’t even leak. Of course the TRU Brain Trust was going to assemble their behemoth reviewing force once again for this one! Grab yourself a tall drink, because we weren’t exactly done in an instant either…
Sketch The Journalist (Houston Chronicle blogger)
With a sound tailored more toward Radiohead than radio, Jay and Ye’s album of regal reconnaissance meets admittedly lofty expectations. And while you may think it’s too weird and exotic after your first listen, give it a day to see how it simmers. If you’re like me, you’ll get a kick out of the wicked excess of the first half and be a little more at home (and impressed) with the rest. That’s when Yeezy and Hov reveal they’re vulnerable souls by confidently crafting songs that ponder premature death, future fatherhood, black-on-black violence, and broken relationships. Sure, the high-fashion flexing is still there (you’ll discover Jay really likes timepieces and that Kanye too often treats “Jesus” like a brand name), but when the boys decide to dig deep, it’s a likable listen.
Skill. Substance. Art. What more can you ask of a rap record from two of the game’s kings?
Fears of this album falling flat on its face become fully manifest during the first two tracks. While the hyperbolic religious imagery in the lyrics of the opener mostly evoke sideways glances the follower featuring Beyonce is a trainwreck that completely buckles under the pressure of wanting to be capital E.P.I.C. Luckily there’s some much needed levity brought into play with “Niggas in Paris” but most of the tracks which follow during the middle part of the album fail to add anything of significance to the legacies of both artists. It isn’t until the third act, when dubstep manages to invigorate Jay, that interesting things start to happen, which reach their zenith on “Murder To Excellence.” Here, two beats mesh as well as concept and execution of the track, and they both prove that being rich beyond relatability doesn’t mean their new viewpoints in life can’t have interesting or even inspiring vistas (“Only spot a few blacks the higher I go/ What up to Will? Shout out to O/That ain’t enough, we gon’ need a million mo’/Kick in the door, Biggie flow/I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go” – Jay-Z). That latter part of the record is great, but unfortunately, by then it’s already too late to really take it to those proverbial stars Beyonce sledgehammered into our eardrums earlier.
Enigmatik (Boo Goo Doo Boom)
Watch The Throne is the party at the club that you’re “invited” to but you have to pay a cover charge to get in and when you get in the people who “invited” you there don’t acknowledge your presence but you get to watch them in VIP as they make it rain dead presidents and pop bottle after bottle. The album was originally supposed to be an EP and they could have kept it as such since half the album inspires me to hit the skip button. Two main tracks that earn “right click, delete” status are “Lift Off” which should have been left off (or placed on Beyonce’s album) and “Made In America” which is just OK, but I’m a non-believer of Frank Ocean’s singing. They literally could have gotten anyone for his two features, but he’s the kid of the moment so he gets to shine. That’s not to say that this album doesn’t have its strong moments as there are some joints that knock in the whip. “N!ggas In Paris”, “New Day”, “Who Gon Stop Me”, “Murder To Excellence”, “Primetime” and “The Joy” are the top tracks from this album. “Gotta Have It” is cool as well. Most heads want to know who outshined who, but I think neither emcee can say they took the crown as they both stayed in their own lane for the most part. Cut the album in half and this would be an end to end banger.
Applaud these two for managing to avoid the leakers, but this project is more business venture than artistic statement. Time will tell if this album will have long lasting replay value as a body of work. It’s better than some of the stuff floating out there, but that’s not enough anymore. In terms of reflecting the era that we’re living in, this album fails that standard but then again these two don’t live in the same conditions that the majority of the world’s citizens live in. They managed to get what seems like the whole world talking about the album when there are much bigger issues going on. One of the main criticisms is that there’s too much flossing on this record and not enough knowledge kicked. It’s as if no one has ever heard these two rap lately. These two have been talking about popping bottles of Cristal, upgrading to Ace of Spades, riding in Maybachs, relaxing in the South of France, having their way with models, owning franchises, designing for luxury clothing lines, and other general ballerific stuff for over 10 years now. They haven’t seen a recession in a very long time. They do manage to descend to earth for a few moments as they express concerns on tracks like “New Day” and “Murder To Excellence”, but for the most part they remain ethereal. People thirst for materialistic rap in spite of their current conditions and these two are here to quench that thirst. If you want to escape from reality and imagine that you own a high rise in Dubai, this is the album for you.
Aaron J. McKrell (The J remains a mystery…)
Those expecting Watch the Throne to be a classic will be disappointed. Personally, I feel that expecting a classic from anyone is unfair and unwise. Overhyping an album is not the artists’ fault; it’s the media’s and the public’s fault. With that out of the way, Watch the Throne is a great album. Kanye makes the most of his extensive musical knowledge to incorporate several killer samples. His taste for soul is still evident, as on the stellar “Otis,” but he also mixes things up with an excellent dubstep sample on “Who Gon Stop Me,” and a sample of an African-sounding Quincy Jones tune on the violence-lamenting “Murder to Excellence.” The latter is the best track on the album. RZA also drops by to provide memorable production on “New Day.”
On the lyrical side, Jay-Z and Kanye complement each other well, trading bars and verses in a smooth, fluent manner. Jay lays down some of the best rhymes he’s spit since his return to the game. He sounds like he cares this time around, meshing braggadocio with deep lyricism, such as on “Murder to Excellence”; “All black everything, n***a, you know my fresh code/My advice to you, don’t increase my stress though.” Lyrics like these, especially on “Welcome to the Jungle,” make Jay sound more vulnerable and human than he has in years.
Kanye, for his part, is not outshone by Jay. His raps are still witty, eccentric, and provocative, and sometimes he’ll drop a line to stop the listeners dead in their tracks. “I asked her where she want to be when she 25/She turned around and looked at me and said alive.”
Jay and ‘Ye cover a lot of ground on this album, making sure the finished product is well-rounded. The fact that some songs don’t always completely hit their marks keeps this album from having classic-potential. Make no mistake, though; this album is exceptional, and the throne is definitely worth watching.
Zillz (ZS Music blog)
“Black excellence, opulence, decadence…” – Jay-Z
Beats were dope. Lyrics were uninspired, full of yawn and meh… These dudes are way too talented for this consistently bland lyrical material. If you are going to align yourself with the greats, produce great music. They don’t need the bread, the stans gonna love whatever they do, so what other reason is there to release mediocre material? Any pride for your legacy fellas? These rappers ARE NOT kings and don’t belong on any throne, people. Dope beats though.
When the world heard that Jay-Z and Kanye West paired together to form a group and put out an album, the general consensus was that their pairing would either be REALLY good or REALLY bad. After 3 days of countless listens, I think that what the listeners and fans got was an album that was somewhat in the middle of that generalization. There are some definitely amazing songs as well as ones that I’ve listened to once and have no desire to ever hear again. The production was stellar. The sequencing of the album threw me off. But, I think my problem is that from these two amazing and legendary artists, I expected more. I expected much better. I expected every single song to literally and figuratively knock my socks off, and I’m disappointed (as a huge Jay-Z fan) that it didn’t happen. So while I anticipated Watch The Throne, I was underwhelmed with the final product, will only play the handful of songs that I love and hope that their concert pairing is much better production and gives me more joy than their album did.
Kanye West and Jay-Z have always worked within an area of rap defined by the goalposts of opulence and introspection. Where Kanye, though, had to prove his mettle before becoming accepted as hip-hop royalty, Jay started right at the fringe of braggart rap before the style infiltrated hip-hop culture at the turn of the century. Watch the Throne betrays the antithetical trajectory of their careers: Kanye, the flourishing star in love with the spoils of success is still adjusting to its hitches; Jay, on the other hand, is discovering new ways to enjoy the show. In fact, he’s having a blast even when there’s no show. “The Nets could go 0-82 for a season and I’d look at you like this sh-t gravy,” he says nonchalantly on “Niggas in Paris.”
Where Kanye proves invaluable, however, is in the fabric of Watch the Throne. The album’s musical direction is all Ye’s. Plush samples, synth showers, and piano chords supply the backdrop for the duo’s chest-thumping. But after the luxury rap comes introspection. They write a letter to their unborn sons on “New Day” and bemoan black violence on the stellar “Murder 2 Excellence.” Heavy, complex, well-built stuff.
Khal (Rock The Dub)
Classic? I wouldn’t say that. Rich nigga rap? Definitely. I’m back and forth on Watch The Throne. I feel like one of the few who fuck with “Otis” (I can’t help but feel the funk of that instrumental), and love the bits on Watch The Throne that play more to that – two niggas who for all intents and purposes are outside of the normal circles Hip-Hop runs in, because of all they’ve achieved. They can’t look anywhere but forward… which isn’t to say they’re always perfect, but they take more risks than a number of mainstream (Rap) artists will. “Who Gon Stop Me” dilutes Flux Pavilion’s original dubstep anthem, but who else is stepping that close to proper THUGSTEP (whattup Nappy)? Frank Ocean is featured on two tracks where the weight of his Odd Future affiliation is heavier than anything he brings to the proceedings vocally. “Niggas In Paris” has that Indian Summer in the club vibe to it… but dancing on floors made of pure gold. “Murder to Excellence” is one of the best things, lyrically, on the entire project – and features the Kanye West I like hearing. I mentioned “Otis” earlier, and have to wonder: why is everyone so mad about how they used Otis Redding, but not speaking on auto-tuning Nina Simone on “New Day”?!? Who made THAT decision? Love the boom-bap Swizz brings on “Welcome To The Jungle”, and feel there’s a bit too much going on in “That’s My Bitch” (including that chorus, which needs to be shot). The only other thing I notice in this whole project is the feeling that it’s not “Kanye West & Jay-Z”, but more “Kanye West featuring Jay-Z” – like Kanye had a vision and Hov is just riding the wave. For good or ill. It is what I expected it to be, and has its moments, but I won’t be bumping over half of this by year’s end.
Without a doubt, this is the most anticipated album of the year, and it didn’t leak! Manufacturing excitement is the new rapping, I suppose. If you were looking for the Grammy award winner for Best Rap Album, look no further. If you were looking for the best rap album, the jury is still out.
With a healthy mix of instrumentation, vocal sample, MPC drum-sampling, synth, sound effects and ridiculous bass, the production is perfect. Sonically, this album is clearly more about the live-performance and worldwide tour than it is about you embarrassing yourself screaming the lyrics at the stoplight. But while we’re on the subject, the lyrics remind me a little of the Obama presidency: I’m not surprised, but I’m guessing most people expected more. Their back and forth gets a B minus and Jay’s lyrics remain at the underwhelming resting point that they have settled into in recent years. If the hip-hop crown is awarded for squeezing the most brand references, celebrity namedrops, and synonyms for currency, then we are now watching the throne.