Thursday, August 11, 2011
Jay-Z & Kanye West - Watch The Throne (Deluxe Edition Explicit)
01 No Church In The Wild (feat. Frank Ocean)
02 Lift Off (feat. Beyoncé)
03 Ni**as In Paris
04 Otis (feat. Otis Redding)
05 Gotta Have It
06 New Day
07 That's My Bitch
08 Welcome To The Jungle
09 Who Gon Stop Me
10 Murder To Excellence
11 Made In America (feat. Frank Ocean)
12 Why I Love You (feat. Mr Hudson)
13 Illest Motherf**ker Alive
16 The Joy (feat. Curtis Mayfield)
Digital Booklet - Watch The Throne
Watch the Throne features the following things: absurdly expensive samples, a pair of choruses from Odd Future R&B singer Frank Ocean at the exact moment where he's turning the corner and becoming a Thing, another chorus from long-been-a-Thing Beyoncé, a buddy-buddy shoutout to the President of the United States, multiple namechecks of brands so expensive that you've probably never heard of half of them, a murderers' row of producers working on almost every track, and a fleeting moment where Bon Iver's Justin Vernon sounds like the funkiest man alive. And yet for Jay-Z and Kanye West, this could actually be viewed as a relatively minor album. Amazing.
The album comes hot on the heels of career-landmark albums from both artists, but the few months they spent recording it on multiple continents were practically vacations compared to the way they usually work. Kanye's opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, still less than a year old, won across-the-board critical raves for its lush, prog-rap expansiveness; to create it, Kanye sequestered himself in Hawaii and flew in an endless stream of creative-peak collaborators. Jay, meanwhile, is still cruising on the momentum of The Blueprint 3, an artistically flat but commercially massive grab for continued relevance that did everything he wanted it to do. Watch the Throne brings little of Twisted Fantasy's boundary-melting ambition or The Blueprint 3's commercial acumen. It's just two of rap's biggest figures and best friends getting together to make some of the swollen, epic music that comes so naturally to them. Listening to it is sort of like watching George Clooney get all his movie-star friends together for a party at his Italian villa, and, along the way, maybe dream up Ocean's Twelve. (I liked Ocean's Twelve.)
In the past week, Internet sleuths have pointed out that the release of many Jay-Z albums have coincided with some national or international calamity, 9/11 not excluded. Watch the Throne is no exception: its release on the same day as yet another catastrophic stock market downturn has led some critics to conclude that the pair's boasts of obscene wealth is out of step with the times. That's a fair case to make. But one of the striking things about Watch the Throne is how often Jay and Kanye address matters beyond their bank accounts. On "Why I Love You", it's Jay's dismay at past crewmates' betrayals. On "Murder to Excellence", it's black-on-black crime and the scarcity of people of color at society's highest seats. On "Made in America", it's the hardships of youth and coming of age. "New Day" is framed as a letter to the pair's imagined sons, a device that mostly gives them a chance to soul-search and self-criticize. On "Welcome to the Jungle", Jay, never a tortured pop star, actually says, "I'm fuckin' depressed." Despite all the triumphant bravado these two bring to practically everything they do, they work overtime here to bring a sense of empathy to this enterprise. Once in a while, they even sound vaguely humble.
These subtler moments are admirable, but they don't always work. Consider, for example, the song "That's My Bitch", on which Kanye and his collaborators flip the classic "Apache" break into a devastating dance-rap monster with synths zooming off in every direction and Justin Vernon making the aforementioned sweaty soul moves. It's a vicious song, catchy as fuck, but it turns out to be weirdly awkward. Despite the title, Jay's verse is all devotional-prophet; it mostly concerns the way American beauty standards so often work against women of color. The sentiment deserves respect, but his laidback delivery, on a track with production and structure that call for ferocity, drains his ideas of force.
Watch the Throne works best when Jay and Kanye are just talking about how great they are. The single "Otis" is dizzy fun, with Jay and Kanye rapping hard and swapping mics like hungry kids. "Niggas in Paris" rides an impossibly propulsive synth riff and gigantic drums and gives Jay a chance to display the technical rap wizardry he still has in him. (It also features this great Kanye moment, "Doctors say I'm the illest because I'm suffering from realness/ Got my niggas in Paris, and they going gorillas," followed by a sample of Will Ferrell in Blades of Glory talking about how awesome shit doesn't have to mean anything.) "Gotta Have It" unites Kanye and the Neptunes to crazily chop up James Brown vocal samples and Eastern flute melodies. And "Who Gon Stop Me" finds Kanye cussing in Pig Latin while turning dubstep-rap into a viable subgenre.
If you buy Watch the Throne from iTunes-- the only place you can buy it at the moment-- you'll notice that it's credited to "JAY Z & Kanye West" (capital letters and missing hyphen unexplained). But while Jay might be billed first for seniority's sake, Kanye is this album's obvious guiding force. Throughout, he displays levels of unequaled audacity. On "Otis" and "Gotta Have It", he reduces Otis Redding and James Brown to simple grunts, then builds rhythm tracks out of them. On "New Day", over a beat co-produced by RZA, he actually runs Nina Simone through Auto-Tune. On "No Church in the Wild", he authoritatively vows, "You will not control the threesome." The musical scope of Watch the Throne is a tribute to his distinctive taste and sense of style. The whole thing sounds huge, and even the sillier moments ("Made in America", especially, reminds me of the inspirational ballads of late-period Michael Jackson) succeed on pure orchestral excess. Jay and Kanye debuted the album in a private listening session at a New York planetarium, a setting which made perfect sense: even if it never approaches the grandeur or character-study complexity of Twisted Fantasy, this is still exploding-star music.
So: two long-reigning titans make a relatively quick album which, despite their best efforts, still winds up being a monument to their own grandiosity. Should we care? Well, yeah. Kanye doesn't have a cruise-control switch, and when he's around, neither does Jay. On Watch the Throne, they push each other and have fun doing it, and the result is a stadium-sized event-rap spectacle that still sounds like two insanely talented guys' idiosyncratic vision. That's worth celebrating...www.pitchfork.com