The praise towards Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne has confused me for some time. The party line seems to read as “if you were put off by My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, this is for you”. Question: who the fuck does that describe? MBDTF is one of the best albums of the decade so far, if not the best album of this young decade, and to reject it could only involve a distaste for the hip-hop genre. If that’s the case, though, why would you pick up this album?
Jay-Z has spent most of his career rapping about being rich, being poor, and being awesome. Kanye West has spent most of his career rapping about being rich, being somewhat remorseful for not spending his time better (orgies, etc.), and detailing how awesome he is through various shades of irony. Certain aspects of both artists would need to be muted, or at least diminished, in order for a collaborative album between the two to work out. In theory, though, this seems like a can’t-miss prospect. Kanye had put out his magnum opus the year prior, and Jay-Z’s last album, The Blueprint 3, sucked (for the uninitiated, Jay-Z’s albums have reliably alternated in quality for some time: The Blueprint was good, The Blueprint 2 sucked, The Black Album was good, Kingdom Come sucked, and so on), so it stood to reason that Watch the Throne would be one for the ages. The end result, of course, is much like chocolate peanut butter—nice in theory, but once you have a taste, you wonder why you ever thought it was a good idea.
This isn’t a collaborative album so much as it is a Jay-Z album with Kanye’s name in the credits. It celebrates all sorts of debauchery without the self-aware windfall that comes with a Kanye album. It feels structured like a Jay-Z album, too, in that it moves from potential single to potential single without a care for any sort of emotional connectivity, something that even 808s had going for it. These aren’t marks against the album per se—you could describe The Blueprint using many of the same terms—but it feels like a missed opportunity and Kanye ends up sounding like a featured artist here, even when he has a larger role in a song than Jay-Z.
To make matters worse, Watch the Throne’s two duds come early and work to sink the album before it gets off the ground. “Niggas in Paris” features a beat that sounds so incompetent and annoying that I had to triple-check that Rick Rubin and Dr. Dre had nothing to do with it, and it is made worse by Jay-Z riding the beat rather than disregarding it and doing his own thing, which he has been known to do with inferior beats in the past. “Otis”, meanwhile, makes poor use of its Otis by making him sound like he is coughing up a hairball for most of the song, and that Masta Killa’s “D.T.D.” featured a better way to ride “Try a Little Tenderness” is kind of sad.
Watch the Throne falls into the frustrating category of “albums that are good but don’t encourage analysis”, as well as the “albums with shitty tracks worth singling out but the rest is pretty good” category. It’s an okay, vapid hip-hop album put out by two artists who sound like they are having fun. That’s not really worth too much praise, but it is still a long ways off from receiving the axe. I had hoped to have more to say about it, but since I don’t, here’s a picture of my cockapoo, Buddy:
I’m still taking requests. Put them in the comment box.
Read past editions of Own It or Disown It