Album Review: Jay-Z and Kanye West, Watch The Throne

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Jay-Z and Kanye West
Watch The Throne
2011

Watch The Throne? Really? It’s been called “a new form of opulence” in music. Kanye West and Jay-Z are on a higher plane with no one to compete with except U2’s Bono according to Pusha T (one half of The Clips and new member of G.O.O.D Music Records). The album is laced with ridiculously expensive samples, over produced dizzying production, a shout out to O (as in President Obama), references to hip-hop’s Golden Era and luxurious material that none of us can afford or heard of. I didn’t know what a Maybach was before their “Otis” video? They acting like they got Oprah-money. Hip-hop album covers went from dudes wearing fat gold chains standing in the projects to straight up all gold everything. Jay went from jocking Nas to hanging with the President of the United States and becoming an expecting father.

What about (que ballet dancers, bring out the antiquity statue and the gold chain with a scarab hanging off it) Kanye West? The college drop out has been on the nonstop chart-topping glow in the controversy tour for a minute. He’s a 15 year-old stuck in a 30 year-old man’s body; that line was dope though, “Coke on her black skin make a stripe like a zebra / I call that jungle fever” on “No Church In The Wild (ft. Frank Ocean).”  Love to hate him. Hate to love him. Dude has turned the mainstream into a shallow river and himself into a big fish with legs running against it. In the eyes of pop culture his career is a living work of art or life imitating art. To the cats who’ve been listening/making/loving this music for a minute they probably see him as a biter and a male version of Lady Gaga.

What the unknown cause did to the people in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening is what The Throne is doing to starry-eyed rappers trying to chase it. Jay and Kanye are following a dope trend, super groups. Keith Murray and Cannibus, Heltah Skeltah and Pete Rock, Eminem and Royce 5’ 9” have all put out collaborative albums. D-Block and Wu-Tang Clan and Slaughterhouse (Royce 5’ 9”, Joe Budden, Joel Ortiz, Crooked I) are cooking up something too.

With every listen of The Throne the feeling is different. The lyrical references to classic jams like Monie Love’s “Monie In The Middle” or Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones” is suppose to be proof that Kanye knows “real hip-hop.” He’s no Ghostface Killa or MF Doom by a long shot, but he keeps you wondering what random thing he’s going to say next. Jay is a gifted writer who’s out grown the typical smooth hustler role. The chemistry between him and Ye pushes Jay to a point where he sounds hungry. Producers include Swizz Beats, 88 Keys, Q-Tip, Pete Rock and other chefs in the kitchen, but it all gets processed through the Ye machine.

They sample Otis Redding (Masta Killah “D.T.D” ft. Raekwon, Ghostface Killah off No Said Date), Curtis Mayfield, Syl Johnson and most notably they auto-tune Nina Simone on “New Day (Produced by Rza).” Wow. It’s a true invasion like the envious crew taking over the block after the reigning king got shot up. It’s hip-hop? It’s hip-hop. Can’t knock the hustle. Favorite jams, “No Church In The Wild,” “Niggas In Paris,” and “Why I Love You” to name a few. It’s not about the human condition or originality it’s “only entertainment” as Jay would say and a celebration of this music finally getting viewed as multi-dimensional, even if the means to do it aren’t agreed upon.

The images in the booklet that accompany the album is a nod to the MCs’ detractors. No spoiler alert: They carry around their official Illuminati membership cards and pay dues by dropping lines about the devil/holy cats. Kanye is a woman hating gay fish. Jay-Z treats him like a winning coin dropped in a slot machine that’s already been paying out in big numbers.

The Throne is not a-press-play-and-leave-it-alone album, but the skips become jams when you forget what they sound like. With the gazillion layers of drums, samples and classic clubby house techno breaks and transitions it becomes a musical kaleidoscope. After you forget that Nina Simone’s voice is auto-tuned may be you want to hear about Kanye’s unborn son becoming Republican to prove that he loves white people.

 

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