You Are Reading

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Flares: Kanye West & Jay Z - Watch The Throne

Let's be clear from the outset: Jay-Z and Kanye West are responsible, jointly and independently, for six landmark rap albums, and Watch the Throne isn't as good as any of them. It's not designed as a game-changer, nor does it need to be, since the current rap game is one in which these two play exceedingly well—and one that runs mostly by the rules they created. If you can accept that Watch the Throne isn't a classic by any stretch, you'll almost inevitably end up liking it. It's too big to fail. Michael Jackson and Martin Luther King Jr. are name-checked; James Brown, Otis Redding, and Nina Simone all get sampled (and only Nina Simone gets Auto-Tuned); and all-star Beyoncé and rising star Frank Ocean sing the hell out of the first two tracks.
The duo volleys boasts at each other on "Otis" and do call-and-response riffing on "Gotta Have It," sounding like a pair of hustlers who can't believe how much they've gotten away with. The chemistry between the two friends and self-described sibling rivals is conveyed perfectly on those two tracks, particularly during a Q&A-styled exchange on the latter track that has the two playing off of the annoyingly durable hook from YC's "Racks." Though their favorite topic is by far themselves, Jay-Z and West round that winning pair into a trio with "New Day," where they take turns addressing the sons they expect they'll eventually raise. While not as thematically rangy as you might hope, each of these tracks does show off a different production aesthetic, moving from raw to hi-tech to reflective.
The album's powerhouse production turns out to be, as with some of West's own work, the ultimate ace in the hole. West's unparalleled knack for dramatic, melodically sophisticated tracks is here channeled away from the Olympian scale of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and toward the more commercial vein of Jay-Z's recent work—a fact which might owe to West splitting production duties with frequent Jay collaborators like the Neptunes, Swizz Beatz, and Q-Tip. Even so, this is easily the most adventurous record Jay-Z has released to date, as virtually every track eschews the standard verse-hook-repeat format in favor of more dynamic material.
The submerged bassline on "No Church in the Wild" is wickedly cool, as is the midpoint of the song where it drops out and allows Ocean to do some Auto-Tune-assisted runs. "Lift Off" is a study in stylized blockbuster excess, with West's best fanfare since "Encore" eventually being drowned out by a simulated rocket launch that will sound awesome in your car stereo provided it doesn't cause your subwoofers to bust your windows. Of course, there's a difference between avoiding the expected and doing the inspired, but even if Watch the Throne's leftward shifts occasionally read as willful, the end results remain a full tier above the average rap single.
It's only in the last third of the album that Watch the Throne truly derails, the apparent cause being Jay-Z and West's aggressive bid for a knockout finale. Having declared themselves men of the people while tallying the assets that make them anything but, the two end the album with attempts at something neither have ever been especially gifted at: social commentary. To say that "Who Gon Stop Me" is only as bad as the worst Mos Def joints in its ham-fisted rabble-rousing is generous (West yells, by way of introduction, "This is something like the Holocaust!/Millions of our people lost!"), though it doesn't sink quite to the level of "Made in America." There, Ocean coos to "sweet baby Jesus" while Jay-Z and West get all teary-eyed about a panoply of figures from the Bible and the cvil rights movement, all of them satisfied, I suppose, that blacks have "made it in America" because these two particular black guys have amassed an audacious amount of wealth and power between them. I entertain the hypothesis that the song is actually an arch parody of the music of the civil rights era, written to underscore the huge gap between the fondness with which men like MLK are spoken of and the ultimate ambivalence of most Americans toward the realization of their ideals in the present. Even "Murder to Excellence," the best of the album's "conscious" offerings isn't much better than what you'd find on the last Lupe Fiasco album.
It's easy to come down on rappers like Jay-Z and West for dedicating too much of their flow to the eternal rap triumvirate of bling, bitches, and braggadocio, but what do you do when that's obviously the lyrical matter they work with most convincingly? The truth is, Jay-Z sounds more honest and human talking about his million-dollar wardrobe and rehashing his rags-to-riches story than straining for profound sentiments, while West's most endearing works have always been self-portraits. There's some transfer between the two here: Jay-Z's multiple forays into confessional rap—increasingly common since his candid guest verse on Drake's "Light Up," but still rare from the always-collected rap don—show West's influence, while West's willingness to loosen his grip on, if not entirely drop, the tortured artist shtick makes it clear just how much he enjoys being around his mentor.
That, and the fact that two notoriously egocentric MCs suddenly turn into street preachers when they're put in the studio together, suggests the two don't just bring out the best in each other, they make each other want to be better. Their run of terrific collaborations, from The Blueprint on, shows that their not-uncontentious relationship has often enabled them to do just that, and while Watch the Throne is ultimately a minor entry in their canons, it's still a terrific snapshot of the friendship that has ended up defining mainstream rap.

Based on Critics - 38/50
Based on Public - 50/50
Based on Hype - 38/50
Based on Pop Flares - 34/50


Post a Comment


30 Seconds To Mars (1) 3Oh3 (2) A Rocket To The Moon (1) Adam Lambert (13) Adele (10) Aiden Grimshaw (1) Alanis Morissette (2) Album Cover (126) Album Releases (218) Album Reviews (105) Album Sampler (26) Alicia Keys (2) All Time Low (1) Amanda Palmer (1) Andy Grammer (1) Anna Calvi (2) Announcement (7) Arcade Fire (1) Artist Of The Month (34) Ashanti (1) Ashlyne Huff (1) Avril Lavigne (25) Ayo (1) Azealia Banks (1) B.o.B. (7) Bad Meets Evil (1) Bat For Lashes (1) Behind The Scenes (48) Beyonce (32) Birdy (5) Björk (9) Blog News (17) Bon Iver (1) Boys Like Girls (1) Brandi Carlile (2) Breanne Düren (1) Bridget Mendler (1) Bridgit Mendler (1) Britney Spears (36) Bruno Mars (13) Calvin Harris (7) Carly Rae Jepsen (4) Carrie Mac (1) Carrie Underwood (13) Cascada (1) Cee Lo Green (5) Charice (2) Charli XCX (1) Charlie XCX (2) Charts (4) Cher Lloyd (1) Cheryl Cole (10) Chris Brown (20) Christina Aguilera (1) Christina Perri (11) Ciara (2) Cimorelli (1) Clare Maguire (2) Cobra Starship (10) Colbie Caillat (8) Coldplay (16) Colette Carr (1) Conor Maynard (2) Corina (1) Crystal Bowersox (2) Darin (1) Daughtry (1) David Archuleta (1) David Cook (5) David Guetta (11) Death Cab For Cutie (3) Delta Goodrem (1) Demi Lovato (24) Dev (9) Dia Frampton (2) Diddy-Dirty Money (2) Dim (41) Dr. Dre (1) Dragonette (5) Drake (4) Drake Bell (1) Duffy (2) Ed Sheeran (1) Edens Edge (3) Ellie Goulding (9) Elton John (1) Emily Osment (3) Eminem (2) Enrique Iglesias (5) Erasure (3) Esperanza Spalding (1) Estelle (5) Evanescence (10) Exampl (1) Example (1) Extinguish (10) Extra Flares (43) Far East Movement (7) Feist (2) Fiona Apple (3) First Review (1) Flares (53) Flares of 2010 (5) Flares of 2011 (8) Flares of 2012 (1) flash (1) Flashback (6) Flo Rida (5) Florence And The Machine (18) Florrie (2) Foster The People (5) Frank + Derol (1) Frank Ocean (1) Frankmusik (5) Fun. (10) Garbage (3) Gavin DeGraw (1) George Barnett (2) Glee (26) Gloriana (4) Goldfrapp (3) Gorillaz (1) Gotye (1) Grace Potter And The Nocturnals (4) Grammy (9) Green Day (8) Greyson Chance (2) Grimes (2) Gym Class Heroes (2) Haley Reinhart (10) Holy Ghost (1) Hot Chelle Rae (1) iamamiwhoami (9) Icona Pop (2) Imagine Dragons (1) Imogen Heap (7) Ingrid Michaelson (5) Interviews (5) iTunes Giftcard (1) iTunes Plus (100) Jack White (3) Jackie Evancho (3) James Blunt (2) James Durbin (1) James Morrison (3) Jamie Foxx (2) Jamie Woon (1) Jason Derulo (11) Jason Mraz (8) Jay Sean (1) Jay Z (10) Jennifer Hudson (8) Jennifer Lopez (18) Jesse McCartney (2) Jessica Simpson (2) Jessie And The Toy Boys (3) Jessie J (17) Jessie Ware (1) Joe Jonas (16) Joe McElderry (1) John Mayer (9) JoJo (7) Jordin Sparks (1) Joss Stone (3) Joy Valencia (1) Justin Bieber (41) Justin Timberlake (1) Kanye West (20) Karmin (3) Kate Voegele (3) Katherine Jenkins (1) Katy Perry (34) Keane (10) Keith Urban (1) Kelis (1) Kelly Clarkson (15) Kelly Rowland (8) Kenna (1) Keri Hilson (7) Kesha (16) Keyshia Cole (1) Kid Cudi (1) Kid Rock (1) Kimbra (2) Kings Of Leon (1) Know Your Artist (2) KONGOS (1) Kris Allen (7) Kylie Minogue (4) Lady Antebellum (14) Lady GaGa (82) Ladyhawke (5) Lana Del Rey (15) Lauren Alaina (2) Lawson (1) Leann Rimes (3) Lee DeWyze (2) Lelia Broussard (1) Leona Lewis (8) LIGHTS (8) Lil Wayne (7) Linkin Park (7) Little Big Town (1) Little Boots (3) Little Flares (2) Little Mix (1) Live Performances (19) LMFAO (4) Lorde (1) Loreen (2) Lucy Schwartz (1) Lupe Fiasco (4) Lykke Li (9) M.I.A. (1) Madonna (28) Mara Carlyle (1) Maria Mena (1) Mariah Carey (3) Marina And The Diamonds (19) Maroon 5 (15) Matchbox Twenty (2) Meg And Dia (1) Melanie Fiona (2) Michael Buble (1) Michael Jackson (6) Michelle Branch (4) Miguel (1) Mika (2) Miley Cyrus (5) Miranda Cosgrove (3) Miranda Lambert (5) Mitchel Musso (2) MNDR (1) Morgan Page (1) Muse (2) Music News (65) My Chemical Romance (3) Nadine Coyle (1) Natalia Kills (10) Natasha Bedingfield (5) Ne-Yo (1) Nelly (3) Nelly Furtado (13) Neon Hitch (1) Nerina Pallot (2) News (3) Nicki Minaj (27) Nicola Roberts (14) Nicole Atkins (1) Nicole Scherzinger (10) Niki And The Dove (6) No Doubt (7) Norah Jones (5) Of Monsters And Men (1) Oh Land (5) One Direction (8) OneRepublic (2) Outasight (1) Owl City (11) Paloma Faith (8) Panic At The Disco (9) Paramore (12) Patrick Stump (3) Philip Philips (1) Phillip Phillips (1) Pia Toscano (4) Pink (16) Pistol Annies (5) Pitbull (6) Pixie Lott (12) Plain White T's (1) Rachel Crow (1) Rascal Flatts (3) Reba McEntire (1) Rebecca And Fiona (1) Rebecca Black (2) Rebecca Ferguson (1) Recommended (7) Red Hot Chili Peppers (3) Regina Spektor (7) Release (3) Rihanna (47) Rita Ora (3) Ro Danishei (1) Robyn (2) Rock Mafia (1) Rumor (2) Sabi (3) Santigold (4) Sara Bareilles (4) Scissor Sisters (7) Scotty McCreery (6) Selena Gomez And The Scene (28) September (1) Shakira (4) Shayne Ward (2) Shontelle (2) Sia (2) Sick Puppies (1) Simple Plan (5) Single Cover (102) Single Review (2) Sky Ferreira (6) Skylar Grey (9) Sleigh Bells (3) Sneak Peek (99) Solange Knowles (1) Song Releases (228) Special (4) Steve Aoki (2) Sugababes (1) Susan Boyle (5) Susanne Sundfør (2) T.I. (2) Taio Cruz (1) Take That (2) Taylor Swift (22) Tegan and Sara (1) The All-American Rejects (3) The Band Perry (4) The Black Eyed Peas (10) The Cataracs (1) The Civil Wars (1) The Decemberists (1) The Head And The Heart (2) The Killers (4) The Pretty Reckless (5) The Saturdays (5) The Script (2) The Ting Tings (3) The Vaccines (1) The Veronicas (2) The Wanted (5) The xx (1) Tim Halperin (1) Timbaland (2) Track Listing (74) Train (4) Trey Songz (1) Two Door Cinema Club (1) Usher (10) Vanessa Carlton (8) Video Premiere (456) Vincent Did It (1) War of Words (1) WATCH OUT (27) Westlife (2) Whitney Houston (1) (2) Willow Smith (1) Wiz Khalifa (6) Wolf Gang (1) Wynter Gordon (9) Yeah Yeah Yeahs (1) Yellowcard (4) Young The Giant (2) Zac Brown Band (3) Zee Avi (1) Zowie (9)


Copyright 2010 Pop Flares
( )