Watching an Empty Throne

Watching an Empty Throne

    
By: Danny Sedlezak           
Jay-Z and Kanye West produce an overhyped record that brings nothing new to the table
Hip Hop, and to some extent popular music, had its past decade defined (primarily) by four artists: Eminem, Lil Wayne, Jay Z, and Kanye West. So, imagine the hysteria when the last two got back together for the first time since 2004 and decided to make an entire album together. I’m sure a car got flipped in a street somewhere.
                My own expectations were soaring. The best producer of his generation, Jay Z, (though only serviceable on the microphone) teams up with Kanye West, one of the all time greatest in the vocal booth. I was hoping that it would turn my toilet into gold at a minimum.
                 So, does the album live up to its unreachable hype? Well, it’s not bad… not by any means. But is it good? Not particularly, though it has its moments. Watch the Throne is just painfully average.  When the production is great, it can’t seem to find great rhymes (“Who Gunna Stop Me” is a perfect example) and when the MC’s are on point, they do so over mediocre beats (“Welcome to the Jungle”).
                Speaking of “Welcome to the Jungle,” that song is one of the few that covers diverse topics. Sure it’s a “lamenting how hard and dangerous the hood is” themed song, which has been recreated more times than the Bible, but at least it’s a well done cliché.  However, the beat is so unfitting it’s hard to take it seriously at times (you can thank the inconsistent wonder Swizz Beats for that).
                In fact, nearly every non-bragging song seems to be clichéd. “Murder to Excellence” has debatably the best beat on the album, due to the expert sampling of children singing, and it tries so hard to have a message. Honestly, though, I couldn’t tell what they were talking about due to their perfectly indirect lyrics. “Why I love You” samples Cassius’s “I love You So” for the beat to create an atmospheric backdrop for the duo’s lyrics lamenting love, though it’s all ruined by Kanye’s singing, which makes nails on a chalkboard sound like chorusing angels.
                The other two songs with diverse topics are actually creative and somewhat original, but not because of Yeezy and Hov. Odd Future newcomer Frank Ocean steals the entire album with his two guest appearances. “No Church in the Wild,” a song about a reckless, dangerous, and senseless land (though Kanye seemly fights off the media…), has one of the smoothest and most cryptic hooks in mainstream music in a long time (thank you, Frankie). Possessing an instrumental with such a percussion heavy bassline, it’s sure to rattle a few windows. “Made in America” has another beautiful Frank Ocean hook about the self explanatory title, and talks about being a self made aristocrat though your journey there may corrupt you. The beat, while somewhat boring, is still smooth enough to keep this song above the average line.
                The rest of the record, in a nutshell, is you being told you are less rich than Kanye and Jay. “Gotta Have it,” “HAM,” and “Primetime” all seem to blend together because none of them have a stand out beat. “Who Gon Stop Me” would be better if Kanye didn’t rap in Pig Latin for two lines and if the technique hadn’t been done to death by these artists before.  “The Joy” takes the spin of “being rich is great” and awkwardly uses the Curtis Mayfield sample it takes. “New Day” is guest produced by production legends (The RZA respectively), the beats are nasty. With a beautiful soul sample, yet I still can’t remember any stand out lyrics. Funny.  The third track has a strange beat (in an unappealing way) with a lyrical theme of “I’m so rich I can do whatever I want, flee to Paris, and no one will ever stop me” (thought it is conveyed somewhat cleverly).
                The lead single, “Otis,” was the perfect choice to introduce the world to this album. The sampled voice of soul legend Otis Redding creates a thundering and howling rhythm, with some of the best bragging rhymes of the record, though Kanye still manages to have some pretty whack lines (“Bumper sticker say ‘what would HOVA do?’”).
                You know what “Lift Off” is going to be like when Beyoncé has the hardest part on a song. The beat is softer than a baby’s skin, and Kanye pulls an 808 and Heartbreaks throwback and auto tune sings his entire verse. How did this make the album? I’ve heard Mariah Carrey songs that go harder than this.
                All in all, Watch the Throne is a letdown. It shows a Jay Z who is clearly losing his lyrical touch as one of the greatest, a Kanye who autopilots the production, and is as whack and goofy as ever spitting (which is incredibly unfitting for an album of this magnitude).  Sure there are some good lines with some actual meaning wandering in the wasteland of endless brags (“Only spot a few blacks the higher I go. What’s up to Will, shout-outs to O”); however, rhyming “scold mottles” with “gold bottles” is not what I want to hear for nearly an entire album. As Jay and Kanye would probably tell you, numbers speak for themselves, so here is Watch the Throne by the numbers:
Songs involving brags about their wealth:  11/16
Songs specifically about how rich and famous they are: 8/16
Songs with Frank Ocean: 2/16
Moments of Silence:  3/46:02 minutes
Minutes I wanted this to be a Frank Ocean LP: 46:02
Song I will actually keep listening to after this review: 3.5: “Otis,” “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Made in America,” and the beat of “Murder to Excellence”