Jay-Z X Kanye West: Watch The Throne Revisited

When Jay-Z and Kanye West announced in the latter half of 2010 that they were collaborating on a project together, the world temporarily imploded (exploded?). Mark Zuckberberg, in his infinite musings in secret lands on how to fuck up Facebook even more, was forced to temporarily halt his bullshit in an effort to keep maintenance in the face of millions of status updates about the new development. People who had once thought tweeting was only relegated to birds, took to the popular social networking site to voice their excitement, and finally learned what hash-tags were for. In short, the shit was kind of a big deal.

Once a potentially ground-breaking album appears on the scene, many writers scramble to attach stories of epic conflict and internal strife in order to augment the story-behind-the-music drama. Instead of breaking away from this cliché, as good writers tend to do, I will immerse myself in it. Let’s get started.

Through the extinct of his career, Jay-Z has endured some harsh criticisms. In the wake of the Notorious B.I.G.’s death, the proverbial king of New York slot had to be filled by someone, not for issues of government legalities or tax concerns, but to fuel the “barbershop” debates in inner-cities all across the nation. Jay-Z quickly rose to this challenge, releasing a stream of albums every year and dominating the charts. A lesser financially successful emcee however was the main source of these barbershop debates, and that emcee’s name was Nas. The two rappers took subliminal jabs at each other for years, until the beef exploded into an official battle, which, anyone with a shred of respectability, will say Nas won, after he released the infamous “Ether.” Jay has also caught flack for his insistence on stealing, or borrowing, or bigging-up-his-brother in the form of spitting word-for-word lines that came straight from the Notorious B.I.G.’s mouth. And let’s not even get into the Joe Camel comparisons. But aside from the camel/big lips jokes, accusations of artistic thievery, and ‘did-you-really-think-Memphis-Bleek-was-a-good-enough-rapper-to-sign jabs, the most prescient criticism seems to be something that Jay can’t help— his age. Being that hip-hop is relatively new genre, certain guidelines have not properly been established yet, such as how long can a rapper really rap before he is pathetic? Can we really hear about a sixty year old man telling us how many strippers he knows? In the present day, there exists no precedent for this as there is in rock music, with Bruce Springsteen having just approached his hundreth album while simultaneously approaching age 100. These age concerns, coupled with a few universally panned post-Black Album records, (i.e. Kingdom Come, Blueprint 3) had many wondering aloud whether Jay had enough fuel in his tank to complete the monumental task before him.

And shit, where do I begin with Kanye? Ever since his he commenced his rapping career, Kanye has been the subject of press scrutiny, such as many award show temper tantrums his infamous on-air criticism of George W. Bush (who, despite starting three frivolous wars and causing the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, is most upset about Kanye’s comment). Some of this hate is no doubt deserved, like his unforgettable run-in with Taylor Swift, and some of it is based on biased hate…Lowrys. But sonically speaking, Kanye’s brave forays into musical superiority have caused him to leave a few of his early, backpack-rap minded fans behind. There are many who say Kanye has fallen off post-College Dropout, and his recent dabbling in non-traditional hip-hop source material, such as techno, dubstep, and house music, have propelled some people to call him some variation of a “Euro-loving sell-out.”

However aside from a few hay-hay-hatersss, most of the music world was on pins and needles for the release of the project, which was originally planned to be a short EP instead of a feature length album. Every artist that had any ties to hip-hop whatsoever were annoyingly questioned in interviews about the project, which Jay and Kanye somehow managed to wrap in a web of secrecy in these your-business-is-my-business-we-all-stalk-together, papa-paparazzi times. The recording took place in ranging locales, notably Electric Ladyland, a studio founded by the late Jimi Hendrix, and also at Kanye’s familiar stomping ground, the Avex Studi o in Honolulu, where he recorded the bulk of the contemporary classic and contemporary Grammy snub, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. But the recording wasn’t solely relegated to America or the America we sometimes forget, but the collective took their talents across the globe, recording in Paris, England, and even Australia. Taking a similar approach to the methods in which have contributed to his unmatched musical success, Kanye operated the sessions with a sort of orgy of music at all times: “There was music going on in every room,” said Chauncey “Hit Boy” Hollis, who produced the track “Niggas in Paris.” “I had a room where I was cranking out beats, and then I’d go into the main room with Jay and Kanye, and play beats for them. Kanye is really hands-on. I would come in with a beat and he’d be like, ‘Take this out, slow it down.’ It would make it sound 100 times better. Jay would then mumble different flows to the beat.”

Before we get into the album, it’s important to realize how important of an album this was slated to be. This isn’t your grandma’s collaboration album. There was no room for mistakes, and the expectations from the public far exceeded great. Kanye has said in interviews that he wanted the project to have the same level of brilliance as the magnum opus of music, Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. According to Kanye: “I’m on a pursuit of awesomeness. Excellence is the bare minimum.”

But I imagine, the same artist that made “Dirt Off Your Shoulders,” and the artist that made “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” are immune to such pressure to satisfy. In fact, these rappers have maintained such a high level of bravado over the years, that this is naturally the next stage of progression. In the fourth quarter, when the game’s on the line, these are the type of artists who want to take the final shot. “Ain’t that just like Lebron James?” you may ask, wittily albeit, but the answer is hell no.

Of course, when two primarily solo artists of such magnitude come together, there’s bound to be tension. In fact, Jay has already experienced this ego-clashing twice, when he and R&B godfather R.Kelly collaborated on two albums together and proceeded to terminate their friendship and business relationship…twice. People who watched that shitstorm go down were understandably shocked when Jay decided to embark upon another collaborative album with an even bigger egoist. Aside from the wildly false stories speculating about tension behind the scenes of the throne, such as Jay being salty about a Kanye affair with Beyonce, and the two not speaking to each other over a disagreement about tour preparations, Jay has publicly stated in interviews that the two artists often argued in the studio about the creative direction of the album. On the legendary New York radio station, Hot 97, Jay spoke with the lovable Angie Martinez about the verbal battles and the reasons behind them: “We push each other to be greater. Of course there are times when we’re in the studio and we’re yelling but that’s it. I would never disrespect him.” Also in the interview, dispelling rumors about Beyonce feeling on Kanye’s figurative ego, he instead focused on the literal one: “We have a healthy respect for one another and I know exactly where he’s coming from. It’s always about the art and you have to respect that. The fighting, which I say loosely, was more pushing the album to a better place.” On August 8, 2011, the world was able to reap the benefits of their conflict in the form of Watch the Throne.

Although Kanye is a man with many humanistic fascinations, such as a weakness for big breasts, flashy cars, and trillion-dollar wardrobes, he also has many worldly leanings as well. He assigned Ricardo Tisci, a fashion guru for the world-renowned Givenchy brand, with the task of designing the album art. In an interview with Allhiphop.com, Tisci made known his ideas behind his artistic motivation in regards to the project, and how he sought out to capture the “masculinity of two of the most iconic rap figures of our time.” The album’s title is also much more than nifty phrasing. Jay and Kanye aren’t just showcasing their abilities, and inviting lesser talented people to watch them dominate, as it seems upon first glance. They wish for the record to stand as precedent and inspiration for subsequent artists. According to Kanye, “I want to know when I’m gone ten people will come and grab the mic. I want to know that there are warriors now.” The concept of the throne and kingship pervades throughout the album, and somehow never grows stale. By the album’s concluding moments, we understand that the throne is not relegated to America, but is a worldwide dominance that undergoes many transformations and metaphorically assumes the roles of past diplomatic leaders.

And now that all of that is out of that way, let’s discuss the music. During the time that plans for a Jay and Kanye collaboration project hit the rumor mill, the first taste of what was to supposed to become Watch the Throne was the Lexus “Lex” Luger produced, “H.A.M.” Although I, along with several others were big fans of the song, it seemed like the rest of the world donned an indifferent attitude toward it, which was a bizarre blend of hip-hop snare drums with an operatic symphony. The song quickly disappeared from national radio after only a few spins. However, just when hip hop fans began to talk about something else (mainly, where the fuck is Detox, and why do the singles thus far suck so bad? I miss Nate Dogg) the duo reached redemption status once again with the fabulously expensive, “Otis.” As Pitchfork noted upon the song’s release, Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness” is a sample so expensive that only the few artists that have reached the level of success of our subjects can afford it. Conversely, on an album steeped in grandeur, “Otis” fits right in. The song features the same charming wit we are used to from Kanye, and Jay’s propensity to floss his eminence, “I invented swag/Poppin’ bottles putting super models in the cab.” But one of the reasons why the song has been such a hit in the hip hop community is how hip hop the song actually is. It is both refreshing and shocking to hear a rap single in this day and age that doesn’t feature Rihanna on the hook, or doesn’t feature a repetitive hook, or isn’t a long ode to a stripper you met last Tuesday. Don’t get me wrong, all of these tropes have their appropriate place in life, always at the same damn time, at the same damn time (aside from Rihanna hooks, or Rihanna…period), but I fondly remember the days when songs like “Otis” were the norm, aside from the gajillion dollar sample, which was never the norm. It seems that “Otis” has already had a profound impact on hip-hop, with every rapper in the history of existence has freestyled over the beat. Sometimes these remixes have been met with appraisal, such as The Game’s extended “500 Bars.” In other cases, such as Jojo Simmons and Lil Zane (yes, for those of you who were listening to rap in the late 90s, Lil Zane is still alive) the remixes have been less than stellar. At this rate, any day now, the dead corpse of the late, great, Frank White will contribute a verse or two.

In light of all the intelligent decisions the two artists agreed on when recording the album, such as witty lyrics and amazing samples (ranging from Nina Simone, James Brown, and Quincy Jones) the inclusion of Frank Ocean on two songs surpasses them all. In his first appearance of the album, Ocean makes it clear that the Throne should consider making him a full time memberJay wisely reached out to Ocean after he heard his Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape for the first time. “No Church in The Wild” is one of those songs that are instantly likable on first listen. As listeners, we are immediately forced to reckon with all that the “Throne” concept entails. In this case, it’s difficult not to imagine Jay and Kanye as Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Fidel Castro– two men intent on accomplishing their mission regardless of the consequences. With a penetrating bass line, Kanye mixes guitar and synthesizers to create an orgy of sound. The weekly Canadian publication, NOW, had this to say: “uncomfortably visceral opener ‘No Church In The Wild’ – with its filthy Phil Manzanera guitar sample and mournful Frank Ocean chorus – cuts to the heart of Watch The Throne’s power dynamic.” Thematically, the song borders on savagery in all its varied forms. As listeners, we are positioned right in the heart of the ghetto, and the Throne do an excellent job of painting a portrait of pandemonium. Amid references to the cornerstones of tragedy in the Black community (i.e. drugs, violence) we get references to illegitimate preachers and police officials. Although ridiculous claims have arisen over the years that Jay in the midst of all of their business undertakings, and dates with Kim Kardashian, that the two artists are a part of some secret illuminati sect (you can find more about this on Youtube, in the form of videos created by someone with entirely too much time on their hands. If you meet any of those people, direct them to me, and I will show them how to spend their time more productively, by writing lengthy blog articles that no one will read). I like to refrain from perpetuating this ridiculous concept, but it is difficult to ignore the overall sway of the song. It appears, particularly in Jay’s verse, that he, like Leonardo Da Vinci, is a student of humanism. Rather than throw themselves at the mercy of the flawed and dubious religion of the world, the two artists would rather live their lives as divine beings in their own right. After all, “Jesus was a carpenter/Yeezy he laid beats/Hova flow the Holy Ghost/Get the hell up out your seats, preach.” Word.

“Lift Off” is the triumphant next step. For the beat, the Throne enlisted some of the greatest names in the history of hip hop production, Q-Tip and Pharrell. The initial feeling is at once immediate and infectious, and if one listening to the album was previously unaware of how big a moment the project is, they should be by now. I have to admit, in my initial listening of the album, I completely passed this track once I saw the phrase “featuring Beyonce Knowles.” I, like the rest of America, love Beyonce, but to say that I have been less than impressed with Jay-Z and Beyonce collaborations would be a gross overstatement. However, when I finally gathered enough naughts to give the track a listen, I was pleasantly surprised. It seems as though the sexual chemistry between the excessively rich power couple that produced little baby Blue Ivy Carter has finally translated into something of musical importance. It is surprising that this song has not infiltrated Top 40 radio (who am I kidding, top 5 radio on a good day) and sequentially been played at every waking moment of every hour, every day, always. In an article relating his initial reactions to the album, Rolling Stone magazine’s Simon Levinson said itbest: “If “Liftoff” isn’t a chart hit within the next year, I’ll be surprised.” The song is a perfect introduction, because once you hear it, you know you’ve embarked on a legendary musical experience that hopefully you will able to listen to with only two Spotify commercials, tops.

One of the most enduring aspects of these two artists is how well they capture the essence of America, both past and present. Despite efforts to enforce the contrary, our culture is essentially dominated by the desire to amass large amounts of wealth. We tend to tear down those individuals who have reached this rare pantheon of success, and attribute it to a fundamental flaw in their character that causes them to run for president, don weird hairstyles, and create their own reality shows. But in truth, such acts should be applauded most of the time, especially for an artist like Jay-Z, who was born into Marcy-project-housing poverty, and somehow in forty some odd years managed to figuratively take over the world. I’m a registered democrat, but my goal in life is be as wealthy as Newt Gingrich, and casually forget how many homes I own in interviews. “Niggas in Paris,” is not just a mere celebration of wild prosperity, it’s a metaphorical representation of a turning point in America. I’ll stray away from history lessons in this article, because I assume that anyone literate knows the hardships African Americans have had to overcome since they were forced into the nation as slaves years ago. Jay-Z and Kanye represent the pinnacle of what the Black race has accomplished in a relatively short period of time. The term “nigger,” in all its controversy, represents two people whose ancestors weren’t even regarded as human not long ago, and now, are multi-million artists getting faded in the most prestigious city in the world, Paris, France. When Jay cleverly spits, “I’m shocked too/I’m supposed to be locked up too/If you escaped what I escaped/You’d be in Paris getting fucked up too,” he’s not only celebrating his own rise to the top, but celebrating the conquered obstacles that his people have faced in order to obtain these luxuries. Kanye echoed many of these same sentiments in an interview: “I am where art meets commercial. The sweet spot between the hood and Hollywood. Having a conversation with Karl Lagerfeld and Jay-Z within the same hour. When we’re in Paris dressing all crazy at fashion shows, we listening to Jay-Z. Jeezy in Paris, that’s what it is.” Although the entire song reeks of the I’m-rich-and-you’re-not-as-rich-as-me snobbery that the two artists are so famous for, it’s the same paradoxical dichotomy of niggers being in Paris is what makes the song so compelling.

But aside from this hundred dollar jargon, the song is fucking amazing. It just one listen to become addicted to the song, and even in that first listening one can recognize the grandiosity of the track. When Kanye and Jay embarked on the worldwide “Throne” tour, even they had to have been surprised to see the level of insanity concert goers reached when the song was played. This quickly turned into Olympic style encores, with each city the rappers visited, demanding repeated performances, such as eight consecutive times in Chicago. Words cannot do justice to what the song means to fans of the two artists, but if you are curious, go to Youtube and type in “Niggas in Paris” live performance. I defy you to walk up to any knowledgeable person and say “Ball so hard, motherfuckers want to find me,” and leave the conversation before you both have traded off each verse of the song. Rumor has it (what up Adele) that Cornell West is in talks to fund his own Ball So Hard University. Please keep your fingers crossed.
The throne travels to Asia with the ever-catchy, ever-present-radio-presence, “Gotta Have It.” Kanye collabs with the Neptunes (that means Pharell and the Asian dude) on the beat. In the same style that Method Man and Redman used to do so well back in the day, Jay and Kanye trade off raps about the thing we love to hear from them above all else— the advantages of being world renown, filthy-rich pop stars. Here we can also ascertain why the two artists seem to be light years ahead of the rest of the game with their lyricism, and why, in the case of Jay-Z, people like me who decided to embark on their own careers in writing. Although being able to refer to private jets as “PJs” and shut down an entire professional basketball stadium for a party is kind of cool, there is something supremely impressive about lines like “Bueller had a Muller/But I switched it for a Mille/Cause I’m richer” and “I wish I could give you this feeling/I’m planking on a million.” Jay is the one of the main reasons I fell in love with the pen, and started fucking the ink. (Of course, prior to that shit I was moving dry-erase).

“New Day” features a Kanye production credit shared with RZA, the legendary Wu-Tang Clan founder and in house producer. I know I’m repeating myself, but in hopes of helping the younger generation, the tie between RZA and Kanye cannot be broken. RZA invented the style that Kanye was to mimic on College Dropout, and no doubt improve upon in later years— but respects are due. On Kanye’s 2010 masterpiece, MBDTF, teacher and student combined for excellent results, and here they capture that same degree of magic. Honestly, I’m not sure they do. “New Day” is a song that never causes trauma for my ears in the same way that One Direction does, and I actually like the song, but it doesn’t seem to stack up with the rest of the amazing material featured on the album. It’s weird, because the song has all the tangibles, (great beat, great raps) but does not have that standout quality that a song like “Niggas in Paris” or “Who Gon’ Stop Me” does. However, in the insane listening sessions that I underwent in order to complete this article, the song is actually starting to grow on me. One thing I will say, the piano on this one is fucking outstanding, especially around the 1:45 mark.

Probably the most ambitious track on the record is the cleverly titled, “That’s My Bitch.” Since his stellar debut, College Dropout, many fans have criticized Kanye for his ever-changing musical tastes. College Dropout mostly stayed true to the soul-sample style that the legendary Wu-Tang Clan founder and in-house popularized in the 90s, most notably on Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele, an album that Kanye has cited as one of his strongest influences. However, with each subsequent release, Kanye has stretched the bounds of music and explored new territories, such as his rendering of the Daft Punk classic, “Bigger, Faster, Stronger.” Many fans have labeled the new Kanye material as a shameless attempt to appeal to the masses, and embrace “euro-trash.” But anyone who’s anyone in music have become so by shifting with the times, and embracing change. This is the same set of artistic values which were the core of the wildly impressive careers of artists like Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, etc. Within the era that we live in, where one day hardly resembles the past, one must embrace the rapidity of our constantly transformative times (just as how you must come to terms with the fact that your new big screen television will be irrelevant in a week upon purchase). Besides, the shit is dope. La Roux, one of those aforementioned artists of the European beat, adds a unique blend of flavor on the chorus. This is not the first time La Roux and Kanye have collaborated however, as she was featured as one of the many vocalists on his single, “All of the Lights.” Another long-time collaborator adds his vocals to the track, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver (who for some reason, qualify as new artists in the ever-shockingly-fucked-up-view of the Grammy committee). On the beat, Kanye gets a little help from his friend, legendary Tribe Called Quest producer/rapper and recent G.O.O.D music signee, Q-Tip. The beat has the turntable scratching, beat-box harmony of an old school hip hop record mixed with the European, techno styling of La Roux. In regards to Jay’s career, I cannot prevent a shed of tear when I hear this song. This is a man who was single-handedly responsible a new wave of feminism with his 1999 chart-topper, “Big Pimpin’.” I know that it may disquiet some to hear Jay refer to his main lady in such language, but as anyone can attest to, real change is steady, and we should applaud him for his efforts to move in such chivalric and romantic directions. When you hear Jay affectionately say “Get your own dog, ya heard?/That’s my bitch” your first reaction should be congratulatory.

Swizz Beats is responsible for two of the beats on the album, and “Welcome to The Jungle” is the first. Beats has one of the most recognizable production styles in hip-hop, and this one is no different. For some reason, “Welcome to the Jungle,” falls into the same category as “New Day” does for me. Jay gets damn right nasty in his verse, a la his Reasonable Doubt days, and Kanye is in top form, almost breathless as he delivers a few impassioned raps, but this is one of those tracks that doesn’t stack up well to the rest of the competition. I’d much prefer if two tracks that didn’t end up making the final cut took this spot instead, such as “Primetime.”

The following track, however, “Who Gon Stop Me” is an entirely different story. The hype-potential (I apologize for the free manner in which I go about making up words, I listen to too much Skip Bayless) on this one is insane. Let me put this into perspective: I have never listened to the song without afterwards wanting to grab the most blunt object available and start beating the shit out of inanimate things, or even worse, animate things, like dogs or people. The most obvious reason for the violent desires that the song invokes in normally tempered people is the sample, from the English dubstep guru, DJ Flux Pavillion’s “I Can’t Stop.” However, as Spin magazine writer Brandon Soderberg pointed out, there exists a ferocity in the song that can’t readily be explained by those soul-rattling drums alone: “There’s a tangible menace to this beat — the subgenre’s signature, hard-partying drop refashioned to score Kanye’s provocative yelp about inner-city violence and Jay-Z rhyming about his criminal past and current “fuck you” success.” And I have to agree. Although the beat alone can cause seizures in people with no past epileptic history, or cause aspiring journalists to beat pets with wood pipes, it is mainly the lyrics that propel this song over the top. One of the best aspects of the album is how Kanye and Jay seem to alternate sharing the spotlight. On this track, Kanye offers a beautiful alley oop with a venomous verse, which includes an attack on that lovable prick Howard Cosell, but mainly sets the scene for Jay later on, who, excuse my French, takes the track and fucks it, with no Vaseline. This is the type of song critics had been waiting for, ever since Jay tried to embrace the flavor of the digital age minded culture with his most recent solo offering, Blueprint 3 back in 2009, which featured him rapping over techno beats. Here Jay not only gets the formula right, but spits arguably one of his greatest verses of all time. As the drum pattern transforms and the synthesizers sparkle, so does Jay, aggressively attacking critics and defending his decisions as a musician throughout the years. The entire verse could be copied word for word, and reprinted in a book entitled “How to Rap for Dummies.”

Although completely unsurprising, an album chock to the brim with boasts about being married to Beyonce, partying in Paris, and being filthy rich would be very disappointed, even from Jay and Kanye. One of the main criticisms lobbied against Jay for the entirety of his career is his supposed lack of diversity. Don’t get me wrong, a typical Jay album will consist of at least 90 percent of swag rap, but some of his more conscious songs, such as “Meet The Parents” and “This Can’t Be Life” are emphatic statements on the lesser known evils of American culture but don’t seem to be recognized as such, a phenomenon Jay addresses on the classic, “Ignorant Shit.” In the endless Nas vs. Jay debates that a hip-hop fan must go through in their lifetime (I’m clocking in at somewhere between the 200-250 range), this is the slightly unfair argument that always seems to surface. In “Murder to Excellence,” Jay and Kanye rally their fans to stop the violence. Jay commences the Swizz Beats produced track by dedicating the song to Danroy Henry, a 20 year old college student who was murdered by police officers, the story of which has never cleared itself of murky, suspicious details. Towards the concluding moments, Jay makes a reference to Fred Hampton, one of the principle leaders of the Black Panthers who was murdered in his home during a police raid planned by the FBI. As you must know, know by now, murders of this nature are not uncommon in the African American community, but the most eager lines of the song are aimed at Black on Black violence. Despite what you may think of them, Jay and Kanye are two of the most prominent Black Americans in the world today, and they are well aware. In “Murder To Excellence,” the rappers don’t resort to preaching or lecturing, but rather highlight the tragic nature of their subject matter with their grade A wit: Kanye’s “It’s time for us to redefine Black Power/Forty one souls murdered in 50 hours” resonates nicely with Jay’s logical “If you put crabs in a bucket/To ensure your survival/You’re going to end up pulling down niggas/That look just like you.” These are pleas we’ve heard before from our leaders, but hopefully, it may sink in with two of the biggest rappers in the world echoing them.

“Made in America” is probably my favorite track on the album, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Jay and Kanye tone down the arrogance in order to pay proper respects to some of the world’s finest leaders (MLK, Malcolm X, Jesus) and also those in their personal lives who made it possible for their success. Despite the lack of bravado, “Made in America” echoes the same sentiments as “Niggas in Paris,” with the artists humbly viewing their respective success through ultra-nostalgic lenses. Frank Ocean is in premium form once again as he lends his vocals to another one of the album’s standouts. I imagine that when DJs across the world have stopped playing “Niggas in Paris,” (somewhere in the year 2050) this will be a single. At first, it is a little to see Jay and Kanye’s name among the heroes listed in the song, but suddenly it all makes sense. These are our heroes, in all their big pimping, shoulder brushing, and award show tirades, these are the artists who have amassed similar followings to people like Martin Luther King Jr., albeit for different reasons. I’m not sure what The Boondocks’ Huey Freeman would think about what I just said, but I’ll worry about that later.

“Why I Love You” is shining example of the two artists changing tastes, as the Kanye produced beat samples the French house duo, Cassius’s “I ❤ U So.” Many times have we heard Jay complain of the ungrateful bastards he has aided over the years, but this might be the most poignant example of it. One can’t but help to associate Beanie Sigel with the nameless bastard that Jay seems to be so intent on criticizing. For those who don’t already know, Sigel was one of Jay’s most prominent artists on his now defunct Roc-a-fella record label. Despite supporting Sigel through all his many instances of idiocy, such as when he decided it was wise to commit armed robbery, a few years ago Sigel decided to criticize and threaten Jay in interviews and on radio shows. But anyone that has followed Jay’s career will say that the subliminal jabs are aimed at the collective of people he has had similar falling outs with, (Dame Dash, The Diplomats, Jaz-O, and where the fuck is Amil?). Jay’s final shows that he has a fundamental grasp of the it-is-better-to-be-loved-than-feared principles outlined in Machiavelli’s literary classic on diplomatic success, The Prince. It appears that Jay has studied his Shakespeare as well. In the bard’s fictitious portrayal of the Roman ruler, Ceaser is shocked when Brutus, his closest comrade, plots his eventual demise. But the wisdom Jay has learned in retrospective scrutiny allows for no “Et tu, Brut?” to be uttered. His final word to his spoiled detractors refrains from the pathos he uses in the first verse, as he and Kanye rap about the deathly consequences one will face if they were to attempt similar schemes. Of course, Jay is speaking musically, threatening to verbally end their careers. In the Watch the Throne mini documentary, directed by Robert Lopuski, Jay remarks: “The words are just so tough. The meaning behind this shit is tough.”

There is a substantial amount of great material that didn’t make the cut, like “Primetime,” which I didn’t’t know until this day was not a part of the official track listing (the disadvantage of downloading things free off the internet). Also, among this list is “Illest Motherfucker Alive,” and “The Joy,” the latter of which is a superb mishandling of Curtis Mayfield’s “The Makings of You.” I’m delighted that this didn’t make the album, and hopefully, the two artists will go back in the studio someday and rework the track so it doesn’t sound so sonically disorganized.

Watch The Throne has not been met with the same amount of critical praise as Kanye’s MBDTF or Jay’s The Blueprint, critics have mostly rated the album in positive terms. Rolling Stone stated, “what could have been a crash-and-burn anticlimax turned out to be as fun as any record in a dog's age. From the cinematic 'No Church in the Wild' to the Stax-soul update 'Otis,' Throne testifies to Kanye West's genius for beats both iconoclastic and pop-savvy.” Time magazine called the album “beautifully decadent.” And the AV Club had this to say: “Watch The Throne thrives on the bristling tension between Kanye's live-wire energy and rule-breaking abandon, and Jay-Z's innate cautiousness. It’s an album of the moment—a point underlined by the presence of Frank Ocean on two tracks—yet it has the substance to endure.” The album is quickly becoming a staple pop culture, most notably, the hilarious #ThroneProblems trending topic that originated from Parks and Recreation’s Aziz Ansari. But most importantly, plans for a sequel to the album is apparently in works, meaning that sometime soon I will have another 6,000 words to write. As fans of hip-hop will attest to, the reinvigorated nature of Jay is something to look forward to whenever he releases his solo album, which will apparently feature quite a bit of Frank Ocean. Also, I’m sure Kanye will shock the world whenever he releases his follow-up to MBDTF, which will probably come after some controversial, ridiculous shit he does. I can’t wait. Life is good, word to Nasir.


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