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.
CLICK NEXT PAGE TO SEE REACTIONS FROM EGO TRIP, THE SMOKING SECTION, AND COMPLEX'S NOAH CALLAHAN-BEVER
PANELIST: ego trip, egotrip
REACTION: WTF: Watch The Future/10 Predictions For the World Post-WTT
1. “No Church In the Wild” will become euphemism for fucking without condoms. (Particularly popular amongst Catholic clergy.)
2. “Lift Off” trailblazes new hip-hop subgenre: Spielberg Rap.
3. “That shit cray” will become hugely popular catchphrase despite (or possibly due to) sounding just like, “That shit gay.”
4. Metrosexuality in rap will become bigger than ever. “Mixing fabrics, trying to find the magic” replaces “stunting” as most swag act on earth.
5. Inevitable metrosexuality backlash ensues. “No metro” replaces “No homo” as the streets’ most rampant disclaimer. (i.e. “Yo, fam, not for nothin’ but I’m countin’ calories like a muthafucka. No metro.”)
6. John Legend will go H.A.M. Tonya Harding-style on Frank Ocean.
7. Unprecedented white flight from Paris.
8. High fashion hails WTT manimal artwork as "hot breath of exotica."
9. As WTT chatter finally begins fading, widespread instances of PPWTTD (Postpartum Watch The Throne Depression) reported amongst rap bloggers and compulsive tweeters... God, what a lonely place....
10. Album historically regarded as unbearably self-important, at times surprisingly ambitious and impressive, pretentious and overproduced, but still generally amusing in a Maybach wreck of colliding/competing super-egos kind of way. A luxury douche-hop game changer.
PANELIST: Confusion, Pigeons & Planes
REACTION: Kanye West makes grandiose, boundary-pushing albums held together by underlying themes and a sonic cohesiveness. Jay's focus has always seemed a little more narrow in scope to me, as if he's channeling his way with words onto one hand-picked beat at a time. Watch The Throne falls somewhere in between both of these styles. As a full album, it doesn't have that single artery running through the center of it, but it's got a larger-than-life feel to it and a handful of songs that came out perfectly. If any fan of hip-hop can't appreciate it, that probably has more to do with expectations than the music itself.
PANELIST: Dallas Penn, DallasPenn
REACTION: I'm calling this album Gattaca Rap. In the new iteration of the classic future dystopian flick we will see Jay-Z reprising the role of Ethan Hawke and Beyonce cast as Uma Thurman. Kanye West of course plays Jude Law since his DNA is all over this record.
Jay-Z is as awkward in this genetically modified world as Ethan Hawke was, but just like Hawke escaped from Earth, so did Jay-Z escape from the Marcy Houses to another world outside of Brooklyn. But maybe it was the planet of Brooklyn where Jay-Z has always belonged? Maybe Jay-Z doesn't need to be circling around Saturn since his vehicle of choice is a Maybach anyhoo? I wanted to hear him craft verses that explained what the rare air of outerspace smelled like, but Jay-Z is still too preoccupied with a mortal imagination. Albeit a wealthy one, still hardly one belonging to a God who can hold a supernova star in his hand.
KanYe West isn't limited by his imagination, although he is burdened by his tragic Midwest upbringing for attempting to put a gilded hood ornament on a rocket ship. It's called doing too much. There are times when his flourishes are truly fantastic (MBDTF) and there are moments in Watch The Throne where I have no idea what he is musically doing to my ears. I'll blame myself for not having the right DNA hexcode to truly understand Kanye. Maybe, just maybe, this album has such a cosmic sound that I got lost in the translation.
Watch The Throne means everything to some people and nothing to others. I'm finding myself exactly in the middle, loving some of the tracks for Jay-Z's honesty and Kanye's musicality and skipping over half of the songs that I just don't get. I wanted this album to be an instant classic for me, but after taking the piss test at Gattaca Aerospace Corporation my genome must have been deemed invalid? It's like I got to the launch site too late to ride on the spaceship, but I still watched the liftoff. Whoever made it onto the spaceship is having a good time I suppose while I'm stuck here on Earth with the other invalids. My only consolation is that the hype machine powering this spaceship will run out of gas before it reaches Mars.
"No Church In The Wild" stays on the loop tho'.
PANELIST: Modi, DCToBC
REACTION: That $#!t cray. Simple as that. More for the concept than the actual content, but the way they got the Internet nuts was...well, nuts. (Shout out to Paul Wall, baybeh.) I swear every trending topic on Monday was dedicated to this damn thing.
Like most albums, I'd rather make an EP of my favorite tracks than enjoy the joint front to back. "N*ggas In Paris" is so ridiculous that my man Jerome played it twice in one night at the craziest party in DC, and the response was wilder the second time around. "Murder to Excellence" made me shed a tear within the first few seconds, and 'Ye kills the hook without the use of auto-tune. Glad to see the Neptunes get co-production credits on a thumper, too. And whoever thought to flip that Flux Pavillion joint for "Who Gon Stop Me" was genius; my dubstep-loving co-worker doesn't even listen to rap, but the first thing he did on Monday was tell me about that song.
Oh, and that "Otis" video? WHAT?! Did you see that whip they were spinning around in?! Cut the top off that bad boy and everything! So simple, so sharp, so damn fun. I was smiling the whole time I was watching it. Which was a little strange, because I was in my room on my macbook all alone. Oh boy. The song grew on me too.
All in all, this project was cool. I can't decide who went harder between the two rappers, but I don't feel the same heart from either of them. Not the same experience I had after jamming that Black Album or Graduation. More reminiscent of a mixtape. But the hype definitely suckered most people into scooping it. That's the thing though: they won regardless. We can give it whatever rating we want here and it won't matter. They already got your bread, whether it be for that regular edition, that deluxe, or that insanely expensive tour. And that's why I respect the project.
I think Kendrick Lamar's Section 80 is a more cohesive, more impressive, and enjoyable project though. So while I congratulate these vets on their success, they need to watch the throne (you know I had to try my hand at that pun!), cuz if anybody can take it, it's that guy.
PANELIST: John Gotty, The Smoking Section
REACTION: The few early listens make WTT a tough album to just slap a rating on and my rating could change a month from now. As with any album these two have their names on, there's always the initial shock and disappointment that Kanye's beats don't part the Red Sea and Jay didn't quite make his words multiply in enough wine and fish for us, their dedicated congregation. For the sake of brevity, I'll say West's production continues along the experimental path initiated on 808's and proves to be the highlight here. Jay will always be Jay so while I don't think he really went outside of himself lyrically even an average outing by the God MC still outpaces anyone else who puts their pants on one leg at a time.
PANELIST: Paul Cantor, PaulJCantor.com
REACTION: Overall I like the album. I think it's a pretty strong LP. There's really only one song I dislike completely, and that's "Who Gon Stop Me," mainly because they took everything that was great about the original record (Flux Pavillion's "I Can't Stop"), particularly the grinding bass and the drums, and made them real tame and "rappish." They basically fucked it up. Should have just rapped on the original song, cause it's so much better. And the beat switch is horrific (though I have a feeling it will play well in a live setting).
But other than that the album has lots of high points. Superfluous embellishments aside, the beats are all well-produced (need that instrumental LP, 'Ye), and they don't sound much like anything that's out right now. There's no obligatory "this is the single"-type songs that fuck up the groove of the LP. And I do think there are singles on here. You'll see when a few of them start hitting the charts ("Ni--as In Paris" I believe began charting yesterday, in fact). They're just singles on Kanye and Jay terms. An artist works their whole career to have the freedom to do whatever the fuck they want. These guys are at that point. I can respect that.
I don't see anything particularly striking about the lyrical content with respect to the opulence everyone in the critical space is railing against. Did you guys just start listening to rap music this week? To somehow cite Watch The Throne for its grandstanding and flashiness would be to somehow act like the past fifteen years of rap music didn't happen or something. Or that the "In My Lifetime" video (and its remix video) didn't find Jay-Z counting cash, popping champagne, and generally living the high life. He's been doing Republican rap since he came in the game. Why do you feel any poorer listening to it now than you did before? And Kanye seemingly hasn't been "of the people" since the Graduation album. Might win some, but we definitely lost one. This dude has been rapping about sex, drugs, and living a rock and roll lifestyle no normal person knows anything about for two LPs now. You just critically fellated him for MBDTF and have problems with it now? Make up your mind. They're just doing what Kanye and Jay do. Let them boys cook.
Is it the greatest album of all-time? Nah. Not even close. But better than 99% of the trash that's out? Absolutely. I'm personally not a huge fan of the under-cooked rap that permeates the rap industry these days. Beats that sound half-finished, rhymes that sound like they were written by a rapper in between sending a status update about how many pounds of weed they just smoked. To see two artists make a real fleshed-out project like this, just feels good. Gives you hope that there's something more to the rap genre than a poorly tuned 808, a little bloopety bloop synth melody, and a "Swag" chant repeated over and over again for four minutes.
PANELIST: Combat Jack, The Source
REACTION: I already wrote a review here, but I love these Consensus thingies, so I giving my opinion again. Watch The Throne was a great album, only because it was the most majorest of events in Hip Hop that happened in 2011. So far. Truthfully though, the album, for the most part, sounded like a Kanye album. There were instances where Jay sounded clumsy. I winced a couple of times. Like where he re-re-re-re-recycled that rhyme about him being all types of Michael…pick one, Jordan, blah blah blah. B, that rhyme was awesome in ’98. When you flipped it in 2001, the shit worked. Now? Not so much. Retire that rap Jay. Really my dude. Also, the rhyme where he talks about rocking a sheepskin, and silencing the lambs (I don’t have the track list in front of me). But specifically where he references the character Clarice Starling from that Silence Of The Lambs flick, I winced yo. Like I felt uncomfortable. I don’t like where my favorite rapper’s raps make me uncomfortable. The album was just right for Kanye, but it sounded like he was holding back, because he didn’t want to murder Jay that much. Jay needs more pedestrian raps. I like when he’s clapping niggas on Pico and Fredico. I like super spazz Kanye, not the “let me hold back from super spazzing so’s cats ain’t mad at me for murdering Hov” ‘Ye. Maybe WTT was a warm up. I wouldn’t mind hearing a WTT 2, where Jay and ‘Ye have worked out their album chemistry thing. Still, props to both of them for getting me caught up in the hype, so much so that I bought the album on iTunes. I haven’t bought a rap record in like two years B. So they came off on the hype factor. But even though I spent money on this, and was super excited like I haven’t been for a record release in like eight years, my favorite album of the summer still remains Self Made by Rick Ross and them MMG niggas.
PANELIST: Noah Callahan-Bever, Complex
REACTION: Music is art, not math. So pairing the day’s greatest rapper with the day’s greatest rappin’ producer is not a simple addition or multiplication equation for greatness. There’s a lot that can subtract and divide when two people with definite, distinct creative visions, out-sized talents, and out-sized egos try to collaborate on a single work (just ask Nas & Dr. Dre about assholes and Firm fiascos). So that the Watch The Throne LP which Jay-Z and Kanye West have crafted together is as truly great as it is, is beyond remarkable—it’s damn near unbelievable. And if your expectations of this record have not been met, it’s likely that you’ve never tried to make something creative in tandem with another person before.
The limber role-playing of the two titans is not only noteworthy, as someone that manages a team of creative people, it’s down right inspiring. Not since Rae and Ghost Shake-N-Baked some marvelous shit to get your mouth watering on Cuban Linx have two alpha MCs managed to share the spotlight so gracefully. Neither voice dominates the project, and the result is an album that feels like both artists have one hand on the wheel. Kanye obviously shoulders the burden of musical architect, culling and polishing a field of beats from a handful of different producers while still presenting a uniformly Kanye’d-out sound-scape (outside of Swizzy’s sore-thumb “Welcome To The Jungle,” which is still good, if different) and provides numerous stand-out moments, lyrically (“Sunglasses and Advil”... “Marry Kate and Ashley”... “Who says some shit like that and doesn’t laugh?”). Still, despite all of Ye’s highlights, it’s Jay-Z who surprises, crafting more subtle, but nonetheless equally clever raps (like “Fuck you squares/The circle got smaller, the castle got bigger and the walls got taller” or “Where the fuck is the press? Where the fuck is the prez?/Either they know or don’t care, I’m fuckin’ depressed”) which are, quite frankly, better than anything Jay’s committed to a Pro Tools file in almost a decade. And Kanye selflessly gives Jay two essentially solo songs, in “Welcome To The Jungle” and “Why I Love You,” to showcase this rekindled lyrical magic. Also indicative of the duo’s effort to share, is their decision to turn their topical attention, which is usually pointed squarely inward, out. Using their common ground of being Black men in America who’ve achieved extraordinary wealth and fame, the two address social issues on songs like “Murder To Excellence,” “Made In America,” and “Who Gon’ Stop Me” in way neither has as pervasively on their solo works.
All in all, WTT stands as impressive work measured against itself or either artists’ canon. And it can, and will, be talked about in the same sentence as any of either’s best albums (even if it’s not unseating The Blueprint, MBDTF, Reasonable Doubt, or Graduation for contention at the top spots). So you math majors can holla back when you finish writing your algorithm that calculates how much better WTT should have been. Me? I’ll be here enjoying the best piece of musical art this year has yielded yet.