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Album Review
Watch The Throne

Watch The Throne
by Jay Z and Kanye West


Review Date
13th September 2011
Reviewed by
Jennifer Kirby

On the inside of the cover in the album booklet for Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch The Throne, you find an image of a faded and slightly worn looking but still triumphant American flag. This is an album about America itself. It is made up of equal parts patriotic pride, fuelled by the stratospheric success that these two talented rappers have enjoyed and their admiration for American musical history, and disgust at the violence and injustice still present in a country troubled by its past and present mistakes. This paradox make the latter parts of the album as lyrically compelling and musically captivating as you would expect from two such distinguished and consistently challenging artists. It is somewhat of a shame, however, that the album takes roughly seven tracks to get into its real thematic content. Watch The Throne is an album divided down the middle between a first half that is slick and well-produced but essentially meaningless, concentrating almost exclusively on boasting about their wealth, talent and number of sexual conquests, and a truly provocative and powerful second act.

There are considerable merits to every track on Watch The Throne in terms of production and some clever wordplay. For example, “Lift Off”, with its overload of keyboards and synths, its flashy count-down to the launch of a space ship and Beyonce in fine form on vocals, somehow manages to avoid sounding over-produced proving that no one does the bombastic quite like Kanye. Meanwhile, the track that follows it, “Ni**as In Paris” has a more clean and simple, but still extremely effective, drumbeat showing off the well-known lyrical skills of Jay Z and Kanye West’s ability to turn a witty phrase. There is also a certain pleasure to be had in hearing these superstars of today sample Otis Redding and James Brown on “Otis”. Lyrically, however, these tracks seem to lack direction and often come off as offputtingly arrogant. Even “Otis” seems more concerned with Kanye’s own estimation of himself than with paying tribute to the man whose name gives it its title.

The album only becomes something special when style and substance begin to complement each other on the latter tracks. The first indications of the change in direction can be found in Jay Z’s honest and explosive rapping on “Welcome To The Jungle” and “Who Gon Stop Me” on which the force of his delivery (you can practically feel the spit from his mouth) perfectly mirrors the violence described and the rawness of the anger at the racism and inequality that continues to plague America. On one track Kanye West compares the loss of Black lives to a ‘Holocaust’ and the intensity of the rap performances on these tracks echo the seriousness of such a statement. Yet on tracks such as “Murder To Excellence” and “Made In America”, the horrors of street violence, drugs and poverty are juxtaposed with expressions of pride in the achievements of African-Americans, hinting at West and Carter’s ambivalent feelings towards their country, and suggesting that final track “Why I Love You” could in fact be addressing the very nation itself. Although the boasting remains constant throughout these later songs, it is in a more nuanced context which serves to show up the superficiality of other tracks.

With an admittedly well-made but a little predictable and anti-climactic opening, this highly anticipated collaboration is not a perfect album nor is it the best work of either Kanye or Jay. Nevertheless parts of it are simply so fascinating that Watch The Throne is undoubtedly one of the albums of the year and is an absolute must for serious music fans.


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