Album review: Watch the Throne, Jay-Z & Kanye West

Posted: August 17, 2011 in Album Reviews

Ever since a young Kanye West supplied Jay-Z with some great beats on his classic 2001 album The Blueprint, the pair have been friends. They’ve each appeared on each other’s albums, while Kanye has continued to provide killer beats for Jay-Z while absolutely taking off in his own right as a solo artist.
Now both established megastars, the two rap titans decided to collaborate on a full album of material, resulting in Watch the Throne. That’s a lot of ego for one album, but that’s what makes it great.
Kanye West is at the top of his game, both as a producer and a rapper, as this album comes hot on the heels of last year’s career-defining triumph My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. And Jay-Z remains one of the best rappers of all time, making this release much anticipated.
It lives up to the hype, thanks to some killer production by West and other guest producers like the RZA, Swizz Beatz and Pete Rock.
Most of the rap content deals with life at the top and the lavish lifestyle that brings. But there are moments of great depth as well, especially on “New Day” where West delivers a message for his son on not making the mistakes he’s made. Jay-Z, who doesn’t have kids yet, speaks to his unborn children and promises not to leave them like his father left him. On “That’s My Bitch,” you get a glimpse of where the two rappers are in their personal lives – Kanye the freewheeling playboy and Jay-Z the happily married husband to Beyonce. Jay-Z ponders why all the sex symbols (such as Marilyn Monroe) are white and that his wife tops them all. Kanye raps about threesomes. So yeah, they’re in different places relationship wise, but the song comes together with a kick-ass beat and good flow.
Another highlight is “Murder to Excellence”, a two-part song dealing with black-on-black murder and then praising black excellence and saluting prominent figures like Barack Obama. The first part of the song has a very dire feel to it, then rightfully perks up when the “Excellence” segment begins.
Lead single “Otis” brilliantly samples Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” while Jay-Z and Kanye West trade verses about “luxury rap.”
My favorite is the last track on the main album (there are four bonus tracks on the deluxe) “Why I Love You.” Soul singer Mr. Hudson delivers a powerful hook, and the song is dominated by Jay-Z, until Kanye joins in at the end in a good back-and-forth segment. The song deals with the many friends and former colleagues who have abandoned Jay-Z and sadly now want him dead. Jay-Z doesn’t offer hate here (hence the name of the song) but isn’t about to give up his spot atop the “throne.”
Overall, the album is a thrilling collection. The 12 tracks on the main album fly by quickly, with most clocking under four minutes and a few under 3. That means there’s no fat that plagues many rap albums on this release. Just the goods are delivered, and it has you going back for more on repeat listens.

Sod rating: **** 1/2

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