Where to begin ? This album has been on everyone’s lips for so long, and it looks like it was one hell of a journey for Jay-Z and Kanye West to release their first collabo album, Watch The Throne. With an initial release date scheduled for last January, to a delayed tour accompanying the album’s launch supposedly due to a feud between the two artists, to reaching a milestone as being the first hip-hop album to not be leaked on the Internet before its release in several years, there’s no need to say that Watch The Throne has become 2011’s most anticipated album. Well, this morning, at 12:00am precisely, the album released exclusively on the iTunes Store (it actually leaked on ThePirateBay.org 40 minutes before its iTunes launch, but still…).
At midnight, I pressed the “Buy” button on iTunes and started listening to this album that I’ve awaited for so long, since Jay-Z and Kanye West are two of my favorite artists of all-time. At first, Watch The Throne is no different than Kanye’s latest work, in the sense that you don’t know exactly what to think about what you just heard. I was anxious to write this review, but I decided to use what little amount of patience I have to listen to the album several times before publishing this.
We think we now know what to expect from Kanye since the creativity/insanity on my My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Forget it. You don’t know what to expect from WTT. Mr. West produced the majority of the album, and you can easily tell, since it sounds a lot more like his latest musicality than Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3, even though there are shades of Shawn Carter’s influence throughout. One thing is sure, both rappers will make you go through a variety of different emotions that you will not feel on many other albums in the entire music industry, ever.
The album starts off with the deep, powerful track No Church in the Wild, which is sure to give you shivers on the first listen. Not only are the melody and the Frank Ocean-sung chorus bewitching, the lyrics will hit you like a first-round punch from Mike Tyson. Jay-Z and Kanye warn you very early on that they will not hold back on anything, they will say whatever they want to say about religion, drugs, ethics, politics, lifestyles and the list goes on. “Coke on her black skin made a stripe like a zebra, I call that jungle fever” and “When we die, the money we can’t keep, but we prolly spend it all ’cause the pain ain’t cheap” are the opening and closing lines of Kanye’s first verse, leaving the door open for a lot more to come on the 12-track album (16-track if you buy the Deluxe Version).
And just when you think you get the idea of what the album is going to be, The Throne duo switch it up with tracks going from Electro Hip-Hop, to heavy club beats, to super-vintage notes, to melancholic melodies and so on. There was a slight deception for me on the second track, Lift Off featuring Jay-Z’s wife, Beyonce. With these 3 artists on the same track, you expect to have one of the best songs of 2011, and Lift Off barely makes it to the “good song” status. But if you can get through that, the ride keeps getting better and better after.
One of the biggest surprises on the album is clearly the amount of Auto-Tune/Voice distortion that was used. After Jay-Z’s track “Death of Auto-Tune”, you would expect Watch The Throne to be very raw in the singing/rapping aspect of it, but it definitely isn’t. West plays with voices like Jackson Pollock plays with paint, and it really adds another dimension to the album’s production, even for a not-a-fan-of-autotune like me.
Speaking of singing/rapping, Kanye and Jay really mix it up through the album. Going from separate verses on some songs, to exchanging line after line on some other tracks, their lyrical prowesses are astonishing. Jay-Z is in very good shape throughout the album. If we leave aside a couple of fortune-claiming rhymes and crack-selling stories that are getting kind of old, Jay-Z’s flow is so impressive that it sometimes overshadows West’s performance. But Kanye quickly strikes back with raw, honest words and lines that seem more thought-through than Jay’s. Even if we tend to compare the two, the album does not feel like a competition at all, but really more like a symbiosis. KW and Jay-Z complete each other as well, even if not better than Run-DMC or Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg back in the days.
It would be a shame to close this review without spending a few lines about the song New Day. This track, co-produced by the RZA, will go down in history as a classic, if there is still such a thing as a classic in the saturated music industry nowadays. The song is a tribute/message to both Kanye and Jay-Z’s unborn, unconceived sons. While Kanye explains what he will protect his son from, Jay apologizes in advance for the tough stardom-lifestyle that his son will have to live through because of him. The song is incredibly touching and the RZA-Kanye production has a feeling of nostalgia that completes the dialogue perfectly.
The expectations for Watch The Throne were sky-high. Did Jay-Z and Kanye West meet them ? I think this question will never be answered, because a 2007 Kanye West fan or a 2001 Jay-Z fan will definitely not like the album as much as more recent listeners will, but one thing is sure, it is meant to cause discussions, questioning and controversy, and that are usually factors of great music. With the creativity he once again brought to the table with this album, Kanye West just bought a one-way ticket into the contemporary music Hall-of-Fame, while Jay-Z’s already top-name status has just been solidified and confirmed. Hip-hop fan or not, this record is one to listen to again and again and put besides some of the greatest of modern music history.