A Giant Waste of Time: Review of Watch The Throne
Growing up with Jay-Z and a young and hungry Kanye West, both feeding each other as they leapt up the musical ladder of success, one would imagine that a collaboration of this size was inevitable. In late 2010, the platinum recording artists announced the formation of a ‘supergroup’ for the pair, aptly named The Throne. Originally intended to be a five-track EP, their debut Watch The Throne is now a full album with twelve tracks, and features guest vocals by artists like Frank Ocean (Odd Future) and Beyoncé, amidst tracks produced by a variety of stars, including The RZA, Q-Tip and The Neptunes. But should you care?
No, you should not. That sounds harsh, but this album is abolutely nothing spectacular. These are two of the biggest recording hip hop artists ever, and your expectations are probably high. Yet, for all of their stature, money and swagger, they've produced an album that screams bored. Bored with the art, the style, everything that comes with being rappers rotating on every top 40 station in the country. As the example of mainstream, instead of pushing the boundries with something different, The Throne returns to the predictable basics, overcooked by the forgotten artists they climbed over to get where they are today. Before you even play the album, you see visible signs of trouble with the track listing:
1. No Church in the Wild
2. Lift Off
3. Niggas in Paris
5. Gotta Have It
6. New Day
7. That’s My Bitch
8. Welcome to the Jungle
9. Who Gon Stop Me
10. Murder to Excellence
11. Made in America
12. Why I Love You
Song titles like Who Gon Stop Me really makes the listener stop... and wonder what year it is. The lyrics aren’t much better, swirling around their multi-millionaire status, and the fall-back 'I'm rich' mantra (cars, jets, watches) Jay-Z loves and Kanye generally has kept within arms reach, but not as his staple. Snippets like "I mean, I might even make him be Republican, so everybody know he love white people" on the RZA-produced New Day are amusing, but these quips and the Grammy winning producer can’t save an otherwise lackluster (and strange) lyrical ramble dedicated as an ode to their unborn children. Unborn sons, of course; hard to be cool with daughters.
Beyoncé is on here (surprise) and performs well in Lift Off, but feels completely out of place following the opening track, and just in general on this album. By the time you get to the painful, dubstep-infused Who Gon Stop Me you're wondering who signed off on this, and what exactly is wrong with them. Crooner Frank Ocean showcases his goods on No Church in the Wild. Frank, Tyler, the Creator & the rest of Odd Future continue to prove themselves in the game, utilizing their energy, diversity and virility to solidify the collective as this generations Wu-Tang.
Overall, the type of lackadaisical musical effort slagged into Watch The Throne is, to be frank, expected from the likes of Jay-Z, who at 41 has been on the long, ever-increasing slope into rap retirement (wait - didn't he retire?). Hell, the last time anyone heard a completely different approach to rap by Jay-Z was with the concept mashup The Grey Album, which he had little to do with aside from 'donating' the acappella. But Kanye is 34 and has actually grown with age, rare for hip hop. Fans that weren't deterred and actually enthusiastic about his creative, left-of-center releases like 808's & Heartbreak, will listen to this album and be completely thrown off.
As this review is published, I notice other reviews of Watch The Throne online, laughable pats on the back from the media outlets you'd expect them from. A perfect example is USA Today's music critic Steve Jones, who opens his review stating that Jay-Z and Kanye "raise the bar with 'Throne.'" Riiiiiiight. That type of language is usually reserved for amazing new music, but if that's true with this album, the standards have clearly been lowered.