Review : Jay-Z - West Watch the Throne
SputnikmusicRemember a few years ago, when the world hated Kanye West? Where did he get off with his God complex, his unearned pretentions, his crown of thorns on the Rolling Stone cover? When his personality distracted us from the talent he supposedly had? And then remember how he found a way to finally, gloriously bridge the gap between Kanye West the musician and Kanye West the pop-culture punching bag on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy? At long last, he buttressed his braggadocio with grand productions and a cast of superstars, elements that insisted “I’m Kanye Goddamn West. Fuck you.” And it was bloody fantastic.
Now he and adopted grandfather Jay-Z are literally saying that. Watch the Throne? The conceit is exposed in that middle-school title: Look at Us, We’re the Best. Look at us, we who demanded the best beats from the best producers in the world, we who embrace both hip-hop’s odd future and Beyonce every night. And they can demand that we pay attention. They’ve earned it. Kanye’s still the strongest force for good pop music has and Jay’s the Game’s Derek Jeter, a New York darling, past the peak of his impressive career, running victory laps. And as good despots, they deliver: jams, tons of ‘em, well-crafted and produced to the stratosphere. Watch the Throne is in no way a disappointment; in fact, it satisfies expectations perfectly. Kanye and Jay live up to their egos and literally remind us how brilliant they are, which is all we could’ve asked for.
But should that be all we could ask for? I struggle to go nuts over Watch the Throne, because even though it boasts better beats and more progressive structures than Dark Twisted Fantasy, it is messy, mildly underwhelming, and redundant. We already know that these artists are the kings of hip-hop; did they have to make a whole album about it? West, rather than continuing to do the real-person thing, returns to caricature status, while Jay, though nowhere near as out of place as he was on Fantasy’s “Monster” and “So Appalled,” continues to struggle with bringing A-game. Kanye and Jay-Z create with no tangible point other than to sing their own praises, exploiting the post Fantasy high and sacrificing ambition for traditional pop thrills....full text
PrettymuchamazingWelcome to a shot at legacy. A stab at doing something different and, in doing so, rekindling the hunger that can so often be sated by success. Welcome to Watch the Throne, a treaty that the two kings of hip hop hope will strengthen their empire against all comers. “In the mirror, where I see my only enemy,” raps Kanye West on “The Joy,” the Curtis Mayfield-sampling track that closes the deluxe album. “King Hov, I’m exactly what the fuck you think,” spits Jay-Z on “Illest Motherfucker Alive.” These are two men at untouchable points in their careers. These are our tragic heroes.
Watch The Throne is, in many ways, a return home for Jay-Z and Kanye, who first worked together when West produced four standout tracks on Jay’s canonical The Blueprint. As a mini-documentary of Watch The Throne’s recording process highlights, Kanye was merely a fan – he was in the audience for Jay-Z’s Hard Knock Life Tour – until Jay-Z “minted” him, signing him to Roc-A-Fella Records. This time around, though, they take the microphone as near equals. Jay-Z has seven more years and millions more dollars – and he easily outraps Kanye, for the most part – but both have proven (and West most recently) that they are at the top of the hip hop game. The potential of a collaborative album is scintillating.
The result is only slightly less so, surpassing the bleakest estimates by leaps and bounds. This is no Blueprint, nor does it reach the artistry of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but neither is it a phoned-in money grab. The songs alternate between menacing, euphoric, and profound, on top of beats that follow the same patterns. A slew of talented producers steer the album away from the lush interplay of Kanye’s recent work and the pop sheen of The Blueprint III, toward a middle ground that removes both artists from comfort zones without sounding uncomfortable. That Jay-Z and Kanye decided to expand the Throne project from an EP to a full-length album shows that they enjoyed the process and that they had something to say....full text
GuardianYou have to be impressed with Jay-Z's resolve when it comes to the matter of collaborative albums, perhaps the one chequered area in an otherwise triumphant career. A mini-album with nu-metal band Linkin Park was at best a minor addition to his oeuvre, but it looked like a roaring success compared to his collaborations with R Kelly, which spawned two terrible albums – the latter promoted by a tour Jay-Z colourfully described as a "nightmarish odyssey", and which abruptly concluded when Kelly was maced by one of Jay-Z's entourage en route to the stage at Madison Square Gardens.
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Jay-Z later suggested the problem was that Kelly was "absolutely bonkers". Thus, you might imagine he would think long and hard about teaming up with Kanye West, a man who last weekend was once more to be found treating an audience to one of his famous on-stage speeches. Eight minutes long, set to a tinkling piano accompaniment and peppered with random bursts of Auto-Tuned singing, it variously covered the amount of time it had taken him to get to the 2006 MTV Europe Music Awards, the career of Michael Jordan and the work of Helmut Newton, before concluding "people look at me like I'm Hitler" ("the infamous Hitler," one US reporter clarified, for the benefit of anyone who thought he meant Dickie Hitler, the unassuming philanthropist). It was the latest in a series of incidents that have caused some voices to suggest West might be "bonkers" as well. These voices, it has to be said, include one Kanye West: "I never live in fear, I'm too out of my mind," he offers on one track from Watch the Throne, Prime Time.
Either way, West is on an artistic high after 2010's remarkable My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. You get the feeling Jay-Z – nothing if not canny – is prepared to align himself with another loose cannon in exchange for some of West's inspiration. Certainly, Watch the Throne feels more like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy than a Jay-Z album, from the obsession with haute couture – even the sleeve is the work of Givenchy's creative director – to the similar array of guests, including La Roux and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, whose appearance gives listeners the chance to enjoy the improbable sound of the lovelorn author of For Emma, Forever Ago singing the chorus of a song called That's My Bitch. Its flaws seem to stem from the very West-like traits of solipsism – Who Gon Stop Me perhaps unwisely appears to suggest the entire history of African-American oppression is leavened by the success of a certain rapper – and trying a bit too hard. The single Otis boldly samples Otis Redding's Try a Little Tenderness, an idea that veers wildly from inspired – at one point the ballad is manipulated into a propulsive sweaty grunt-a-thon – to a clubfooted mess....full text
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