Amidst rumors of infighting and industry backlash from the decision to give release date exclusivity to iTunes, Jay-Z and Kanye West dropped Watch The Throne (WTT). Rap industry politicking aside, the question is whether this album would live up to the mammoth hype?
'No Church in the Wild' certainly suggests so. With its production courtesy of 88- Keys creating a part tribal part military feel. These rap emperors are laying the foundations for new territory here. A key figure in this empire is hotshot Frank Ocean whose distinctive voice laces the chorus with some amateur philosophy: “what's a King to a God” he ponders. This is a solid intro, yet not as piercing as Kanye's 'Dark Fantasy' or Jay-Z's 'Can't Knock the Hustle'. Nevertheless, its majestic aura seeps into 'Lift Off' ft Beyonce. Filled with heavy synths this proves an alternative intro for those looking for something more pronounced. All three artists lounge in their own decadence, with Mrs Jay-Z promising to "take it to the moon".
We are certainly taken somewhere beyond the stratosphere courtesy of 'Gotta Have It' and its hypnotic beat, very similar to those Asian sounding tracks Timbaland once crafted. To catch my drift examine 'The Bounce' from Jay-Z's Gift & The Curse (ft a fresh faced Mr West) . Nearly 10 years on from that, Kanye can now hold his own as they rap shoulder to shoulder, often completing each others lines. Their flows remain punchy, powerful and pithy throughout. At this point WTT is earning its hype. 'New Day' injects WTT with some thematic elements. Both rappers taking a seat on the shrink's sofa to ponder the effect of their public lives on their unborn sons. Jay-Z questions whether his fame has already ruined Jay-Z Jnr's chance of father/son bonding. Kanye pleads for his not to make the same mistakes. Falling in love with a stripper is one he notes.
Hearing the African drums of 'That's My Bitch' ft La Roux's Elly Jackson was a surprise. It leaked months back and was assumed to have been rejected to bonus track status. Nevertheless, this version is slightly crisper. With Jay-Z adding extra lyrics to his internal debate on industry attitudes towards black women. Stretch its meaning and perhaps find a fragment of black feminism dug inside. Or you could just take it on face value, a good filler song. Soon after comes 'Who Gon' Stop Me', a fiery contender for best track. Sampling Drum n Bass song 'I Can't Stop' was a bold move few rappers make--surprising given the electrolysed vibe gets you instantly zoned. Another bold move was Kanye's comparison of black on black violence with the Holocaust. I fear this this may prove too controversial even for him. Neither Jay-Z nor Kanye let the issue slide though. This wasn’t to be simply a nod your head album, as black on black violence and afrocentricity become the central focus of 'Murder to Excellence'. Close examination reveals this track as stitched from halves. 'Murder' has a cold beat to accompany the grim talk of struggles for respect. But when Jay-Z declares this track a “celebration of black excellence” the sample is sped up and beat livened as we're left to bask in achievements of African-Americans.
As the main body of WTT closes we're again blessed with the voice of Frank Ocean on 'Made in America'. As both rappers speak of their rise to fame, it's interesting to compare and contrast Kanye's rhymes on begrudgingly attending University with Hov's anecdotes on manufacturing drugs over his kitchen stove. The final track (minus bonuses) is 'Why I Love You' ft Mr Hudson, another track infused by Drum n Bass. The stand-out element being Jay-Z's fast-paced delivery, as both artists flex their muscle in one last show of rap bravado. This album is far from just showing off however. Watch The Throne is more a display of high art. From two of the world's most talented artists.