THE TOPIC: JAY-Z & KANYE WEST'S ALBUM WATCH THE THRONE
THE CONSENSUS PANEL: Chris Coplan (ConsequenceofSound.net), Jake Paine (HipHopDX.com), Confusion (PigeonsAndPlanes.com), Meka (2DopeBoyz), Jay Smooth (IllDoctrine), Dallas Penn (Dallaspenn.com), ego trip (egotripland.com), John Gotty (The Smoking Section), Andrew Barber (FakeShoreDrive.com), Karen Civil (KarenCivil.com), Modi (DCToBC.com), Combat Jack (The Source), Paul "Gooch" Cantor (PaulJCantor.com), Eric Rosenthal (ItsTheReal.com), and Noah Callahan-Bever (Complex).
See mini-reviews from each panel member below...
PANELIST: Jake Paine, HipHopDX
REACTION: Despite assisting roles in many of each others' greatest musical moments, Kanye West and Jay-Z combining for an album does not double the results as many had hoped. Watch The Throne is as polished and catchy as any rap album this year, but coming off of the excellence of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the work lacks the cohesion of substance and sound. In a debt crisis, dominant themes of wealth and power that once inspired, now just fall in disconnect, when not carefully interwoven with strong tangible commentary. The greatest lyricist of the '00s seems to fear offending Oprah or Obama, and his only protege that could possibly eclipse his artistry falls in line. There are some great individual moments from the two mighty monarchs of music, but the kings' backs faced their court this time.
PANELIST: Meka, 2DopeBoyz
REACTION: Citizens of urban entertainment and popular culture: prepare to have Watch The Throne bombarded at you out of every speaker, weblog, radio station, podcast, DJ laptop, television screen, and everything in between from now until the end of the year (and perhaps longer). With rap culture currently perma-stuck in a "Toys R Us" state of mind, it's nice to hear an album that at the very least feels like there was some actual thought put into it, even though the album was ironically curated by two artists rap itself would have cast off as being "too old" a long time ago if they weren't Kanye West or Jay-Z.
I'm not grading this album solely on its actual "music" ("That's My Bitch," "Murder To Excellence" and "The Joy" are instant vintage, however) than I am its "influence." With everybody from Sean Price to Ne-Yo rapping over the "Otis" instrumental a mere hours after the original dropped and the album gaining more notoriety for not leaking weeks before its scheduled drop date, it could be argued that Watch The Throne made more of an impression culturally than it did musically.
Classic? Only time will tell (certain songs haven't grown on me yet). Overhyped? of course; that's all the Internets does these days. But in an era where today's musical generation feature some "acts" that have no right, reason, or purpose for holding a microphone, it's much needed at this point.
PANELIST: Eric Rosenthal, Its The Real
REACTION: With great power comes great responsibility. And the two most powerful figures in hip-hop have taken their responsibility seriously and shifted the landscape. This is Paul Simon going to Africa. It's the Beatles going to India. Watch the Throne moved the goal posts for rap and for popular music.
It's not perfect by any stretch—Swizz Beatz on "Welcome to the Jungle," for example—but isn't that a hallmark of true artistry: the attempt and the subsequent study and deliberation?
I love their full-spectrum depiction of a new America. The darkness of "No Church in the Wild." The pain in "Murder to Excellence." The playfulness of "That's My Bitch." I appreciate the message, the lyrics, the music, and especially the fact that none of this could have happened on one of their solo records.
Jay's guest spot on Kanye's "Never Let Me Down," from Kanye's debut, was an affirmation, legitimizing Kanye's rap existence. Eight years later, they have equal billing on an amazing album, one that deserves to hang in a museum. For critique, for inspiration, forever.
PANELIST: Chris Coplan, Consequence of Sound
REACTION: Can an album be so seemingly perfect it fails? In the case of the normally bulletproof Jay-Z and Kanye West, newly minted as the supergroup, The Throne, their debut album, Watch the Throne, stands in its own way the entire 12 tracks. The album alternates between three settings: the unpleasant sonic patchwork of "Otis" and "Lift Off" (a disappointing cameo from Beyoncé considering how immensely enjoyable 4 was), the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy leftovers of "No Church in the Wild" and "Made in America" (with the role of Kanye West played by Frank Ocean), and the perfect balance between Hov's thug and Ye's artsy tendencies with offerings like "New Day" and "That's My Bitch." What could have been a landmark effort by two of the best in the game is limited by the ill-fated belief of one's own hype and an imbalanced relationship despite the clearly-defined talents of both MCs. However, there is one gem of a lesson to glean from the entire effort: humans are fallible creatures, and failure is always going to happen, even to our biggest and brightest. However, nothing can be accomplished if someone doesn't stand up, and act as the new gold standard. Kanye West and Jay-Z have proven themselves to be, at the very least, kings of just that notion.
PANELIST: Andrew Barber, Fake Shore Drive
REACTION: Watch The Throne is polarizing. Never has a rap album put journalists, writers, and bloggers in such an interesting position. If you like the album you’re labeled a thirsty dickrider, but if you dislike it you’re a hater of the worst kind. Oh word? Well, call me the former (but not to my face!) because I think Watch The Throne is absolutely amazing. In fact, it’s my favorite Kanye album since Graduation and the best Jay-Z project since The Black Album. Why? Well, for starters, it’s not overly ambitious in the vein of MBDTF, and it’s not filled with clunkers like, say, Kingdom Come. It features some of the best and most bangin’ genre-bending beats in a cohesive format that I’ve heard in years. These guys have changed the sound of music a few times on their own, now watch them do it together. They are two of the only rappers whose lines become household phrases overnight; “That Shit Cray”—yep, you’ll be hearing drunken frat guys annoyingly yelling this in bar bathrooms for the next three years. So you think they’re spending too much time rapping about being wealthy? Well let me ask you this: When has Jay-Z not rapped about being wealthy? This is what they do and they do it well. I thought it was a great blend of braggadocious bars and thought-provoking lyrics. Everything from how they marketed the album, to keeping it from leaking was masterful, and will change the business of selling music forever.
So in conclusion, if you think they worship the devil? That’s cool. You believe they’re human-sacrificing members of the Illuminati? Sure you do. You think the album is overproduced? Fine. But I bet you went home and Googled “Margiela.”
PANELIST: Karen Civil, KarenCivil
REACTION: Watch The Throne, for the most part, is an honest, and sometimes uncomfortable, look into the lives of two of pop culture's most storied and successful artists. Realistically, there was no way even Hov and 'Ye could live up to the holy projections fans and critics alike painted it as, but songs in the vein of "Made In America," "New Day," and "Murder For Excellence" showcase that when fully focused and honed in, 'Ye-Z is just as formidable a duo as we all expected them too. There were moments that left more to be desired (i.e. "Lift Off" wasn't bad, but not all that great either), but the overall production is what may ultimately set the bar for this album.
PANELIST: Jay Smooth, IllDoctrine
REACTION: Two years ago Jay pulled a boom-bap bait-and-switch on me with "DOA," and now "Otis" has once again given me false hope for a return to the sample-chopping motherland. But after adjusting my expectations to suit the new-fangled styles you young folks like, I'm not mad. The low points are low, but the highs are damn high, and I'll take a mess made by too many ideas over a neat package with too few. I love how truly collaborative it sounds, the contrast it gives us of their technique as well as their temperament: Jay-Z tantalizes with strategic, measured glimpses of his inner life that never truly let the guard down, while Kanye plays Sonny Corleone to Jay's Michael, blurting out every emotion and wearing all his ego/insecurity/relationship baggage on his sleeve.
Given the news cycle Throne dropped into it's hard to resist scolding them for flossing while Rome burns, but they cover more ground thematically than this angle gives them credit for (the image of "planking on a million" is regrettable, but more for the planking than the million). I'm not sick of Frank Ocean yet, we'll see if that lasts after this boost makes him inescapable.