A collaboration between Jay-Z and Kanye West seems like a no-brainer. If there’s ever been a guaranteed money-maker album, Watch the Throne is it, which might be part of its problem.
Watch the Throne seems largely motivated by money. Both rappers spit flashy lyrics like “What’s 50 grand to a motherfucka like me?” (Jay-Z in “N****s in Paris”), leading to the term “luxury rap,” lifted from one of Kanye’s verses in “Otis.” Bloggers and reviewers have been quick to point out that the opulence is inappropriate in rough economic times, but hip-hop has always been proudly boastful.
Their gaudy rhymes can be forgiven, but are too easily forgotten. Jay-Z and Kanye’s crime isn’t shoving their wealth down our throats, it’s being so financially motivated to put out their mega-album that it lacks in quality. Both rappers have made it clear how talented they are, but each one falters (albeit usually separately), tripping over weak verses. At times, Kanye sounds completely uninspired, and others, Jay-Z just sounds tired.
The album also falls short musically. Kanye and his cast of producers and writers nail about half of the songs. But after he completely rewrote the rules for hip-hop production with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a lot of the beats sound trite. The production relies far too heavily on vocal samples, cut up to form a rhythm. “Otis” practically butchers Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness.” But it gets even worse, like “Gotta Have It,” built largely around repeated half-words and grunts.
The vocal samples might be an attempt at nostalgia, recalling early hip-hop, but it just sounds incredibly outdated and irritating. Frank Ocean’s two vocal appearances are incredibly good, though. He’s the first voice heard on the album opener, “No Church in the Wild,” which promises more than the album can deliver. After an incredible start with “No Church,” Watch the Throne stays strong with “Lift Off” and “N****s in Paris,” before starting to falter. There are a few highlights later, like the exciting romp of “That’s My Bitch” and “New Day,” the album’s most heartfelt track. Ocean pops up again, late in the tracklist, on “Made in America,” to provide a much-needed boost for the waning album.
Watch the Throne might be an attempt by Kanye to ride the wave of success from his MBDTF album, released a mere nine months prior. But the fairly short span between, paired with Watch the Throne‘s relative hollowness, seems like a ploy for major money, instead of a massive outpouring of creativity. Both Jay-Z and Kanye could’ve used a bit more time to write an album with a little more creativity, instead of trying to force a spark.