Label: Roc-A-Fella, Roc Nation, Def Jam
Producers: 88-Keys, Jeff Bhasker, Mike Dean, Hit-Boy, Jay Z (exec.), Don Jazzy, Kyambo Joshua (exec.), Sham "Sak Pase" Joseph, Anthony Kilhoffer, Ken Lewis, The Neptunes, Q-Tip, Lex Luger, Gee Roberson (exec.), RZA, Swizz Beatz, S1, Kanye West (also exec.)
Features: Jay Z, Frank Ocean, Beyoncé, Mr. Hudson
It didn't live up. It's only alright. It's a Kanye album featuring Jay Z. These are the false narratives surrounding Watch the Throne, the collab album between twin titans of the present-day rap Mt. Rushmore. Kanye rejuvenated, fresh off the denouement of an unmitigated comeback story, was, as they say now, charged up. He had somehow managed to give his fans, especially the 808s detractors, exactly what they wanted, while still feeding his own desire to take hip-hop, pop—shit, music, to new levels. How do you double down on that? Well, you promise hip-hop a pipe dream. A marquee, blockbuster event between two A-listers. Collabs happen every day, b. But a joint project of this caliber, with rappers of this pedigree and reputation? Fat chance. And even if it does happen, it will inevitably fall short.
Yeezy and Jigga were well aware of the tall order. It's why they dropped a banger like "HAM" and yet still almost fell back because for some reason, a sizable group of fans were turned off hearing them ride rap's current sonic wave. They regrouped. And returned with an album that, nearly five full years later, still holds up as well as the solo Ye classic that preceded it. We have here the culmination of a big-brother relationship from mentor-mentee to competitive peers. Jay, pushing Ye to go harder, Ye pushing Jay to take off the blazer, loosen up the tie and return to the imperial phase he was in when the two first met. The brash genius with the Mary-Kate and Ashley references tempered by the older, colder lyricist who commands a stage unto himself at least three different times on the album.
The album is everything you wanted, stop fronting. Current ("Who Gon Stop Me") next-level ("Niggas in Paris") nostalgic ("Otis," "The Joy") and reflective ("New Day"). We thought this album would be an ego slug-fest, instead it's a reconciliation. Does it sound rich? Sure, Otis Redding samples ain't cheap. It's also the most potent reflection on what it means to be black and ultra-rich in America (from the head-on "Murder to Excellence" to "Put some colored girls in the MoMA" on the ridiculously underrated "That's My Bitch"), a vantage point few other rappers can commiserate on. And confirmation that these two still make magic together. Pull out your hardest speakers and revisit this. And pray these two come together again. Rap's current shooters will tell you they abdicated the throne. But what's a king to a god? —Frazier Tharpe