The Throne – Watch The Throne
While it may not be quite as dead as the naysayers might have you believe, hip-hop certainly feels like a genre in flux at the moment. At one end of the spectrum there’s the new blood like Odd Future ripping up the rule book looking to establish a new order. Then there’s the old masters like Jay-Z and Kanye sticking to the bluster, hyperbole and slick production that hip-hop was built on. Known in their collective guise of The Throne, Kanye and Jay-Z prove there is no-one better at bluster, hyperbole and slick production.
Out of all the talent on show on Watch The Throne, though, it’s Kanye’s (and his various collaborators’) slick production that steals the show. Jay-Z’s delivery and timing is as good as ever, but this still comes across as a Kanye West album – following up last years career highlight, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, with another album full of restless creativity and inventive reinterpretations of the well-worn hip-hop blueprint.
Lead single ‘Otis’ is a case in point, with Kanye using a sample of Otis Redding’s ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ as a contemporary hip-hop beat. It’s certainly not the best track on Watch The Throne, but it is one of the more interesting and shows that, though they may be approaching elder statesmen levels, Jay-Z and Kanye still have the capacity to surprise us.
With perhaps an eye on the new hip-hop blood coming through to erm, take their throne, Kanye and Jay-Z cleverly use them to their advantage on Watch The Throne. In fact, it’s Odd Future’s Frank Ocean who we hear first on opening track ‘No Church In The Wild’, setting the weighty tone of the album over one of Kanye’s menacingly groovy beats: “Human beings in a mob / What’s a mob to a king? / What’s a king to a God? / What’s a God to a non-believer / Who don’t believe in anything?”.
Next we quite literally have lift-off, with Beyonce entering the fray in the magnificently bombastic and radio-friendly ‘Lift Off’: “We’re gonna take it to the moon / Take it to the stars / How many people you know can take it this far?” Just to ram home this point, it segues neatly into the incessant hook of ‘Niggas in Paris’, over which Jay-Z really gets into his self-aggrandizing stride: “So I ball so hard muthafuckas wanna fine me / First niggas gotta find me / What’s 50 grand to a muthafucka like me? / Can you please remind me… I’m liable to go Michael / Take your pick: Jackson, Tyson, Jordan…”. It also features Kanye showing off a sense of humour, first of all taking the mick out of the Royal Wedding: “Prince William ain’t do it right if you ask me / Cause if I was him I would have married Kate and Ashley” before taking the mick out of himself by dropping in a quote from Will Ferrel’s ‘Blades Of Glory’ in the middle of his rap: “No-one knows what it means, but it’s provocative!’.
That light-hearted approach doesn’t continue though, as Kanye’s rap contributions soon get overwhelmed by the ‘everyone hates me like Hitler’ complex he seems to have developed. In the Neptunes-produced ‘Gotta Have It’ he opens with ‘Hello, hello, hello white America / Assassinate my character / Money matrimony, yeah they’re tryna break the marriage up”, while in ‘New Day’ (featuring producer RZA doing a great job with Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’) he seems to be lamenting his position in the world while imaging how he will bring up his new son: “I’ll never let my son have an ego / He’ll be nice to everyone, wherever he go / I mean I might even make him be Republican / So everybody know he love white people”. Once again it’s Jay-Z who takes the rapping spoils with a much more heartfelt and thoughtful verse: “Sorry Junior, I already ruined ya / ‘Cos you ain’t even alive, paparrazi pursuing ya.”
The highlights keep on coming throughout Watch The Throne. La Roux pops up on ‘Primtime / That’s My Bitch’ with the albums best chorus, while ‘Who Gon’ Stop Me’ has Kanye dabbling in dubstep by sampling Flux Pavillion’s ‘I Can’t Stop’ – which sounds as huge as you would expect a Kanye West dubstep song to sound. ‘Murder To Excellence’ sees Jay-Z expand upon the black-on-black murder themes he’s been flirting with throughout the album: “Too much enemy fire to catch a friendly / Strays from the same shade nigga, we on the same team.” It packs an emotional punch, and is brilliantly spun into an alternate vision of ‘black excellence’ being propogated by Jay-Z himself: “Black excellence, opulence, decadence / Tuxes next to the President… Success never smelled so sweet / I stink of success, the new black elite.”
The album’s only mis-step comes in the shape of ‘Made In America’, a slightly nauseating ‘hymn’ name-checking ‘Sweet Baby Jesus’, ‘Sweet Brother Malcolm’ et al. It’s not a terrible song, but it does feel a bit unnecessary and will have most reaching for the ‘skip’ button pretty quickly. Kanye, though, wastes no time in rectifying this with the excellently put together finale of ‘Why I Love You’, which uses Cassius’ ‘I Love You So’ to great effect and features his protege Mr Hudson on vocal duties. It’s left to Jay-Z to deliver the final line, summing up the albums themes of misguided black youths in need of help: “Please Lord forgive him / For these niggas know not what they do.”