CD Review: Jay-Z and Kanye West, Watch the Throne

A collaborative effort by Jay-Z and Kanye West, Watch the Throne was originally intended as a five track EP, but the recording evolved into a full studio album under the collective creative gaze of Jay-Z and West. A fantasy pairing for many long time hip-hop fans, Jay-Z and West have appeared on a number of tracks together in the past, but the prospect of a full album from the duo has heaped an immense amount of pressure and expectation upon this release. Lucky for fans then that it mostly lives up to its billing.

Watch the Throne is a leap into the abstract imagination of two of the most innovative minds in music.

The album is a diverse outing, borrowing from many different genres and the back tracks, but still remaining busy and industrious throughout, creating a full and enveloping sound. You would be hard pressed to find any songs that are defined by any one single beat, a nod to the production and calibre of producers involved with such a project.

West remains the king of creating effective and catchy samples and the heavy instrumentals lean the album more into Kanye’s territory, but Jay-Z more than holds his own in somewhat unfamiliar surroundings. After years of being in the game, the days of dropping unbelievable verses every time they open their mouths are behind them, but both retain their signature flow and still occasionally obtain the rare form they are famous for.

The list of collaborators is a star-studded affair with names such as Beyoncé, Kid Cudi, Swizz Beatz and Mr. Hudson all making cameos on the album. Somewhat unexpected, however, were appearances from the lead singer of the indie band Bon Iver, Justin Vernon, and Elly Jackson of the electropop group La Roux.

On contributing artists, Watch the Throne could be a real coming-out party for young singer Frank Ocean who sings the hook on “No Church in the Wild” and “Made in America.” Ocean’s catchy chorus work should be enough to inspire more that few to check out his solo work. His debut-single “Novacane” is highly recommended.

The album’s highlights included “Otis”, an upbeat track featuring the late soul singer Otis Redding and the godfather of soul himself, James Brown. “No Church in the Wild” is a dark and purposely muddled outing that touches on religion and material excess, and features the aforementioned Ocean. Carter’s wife, Beyoncé Knowles, makes a cameo on “Lift Off” and her powerful vocals go a long way towards boosting an already uplifting song.

The album, in truth, is very similar to West’s last effort, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy — abstract and eclectic, albeit with a somewhat edgier tone.

Watch the Throne isn’t perfect, though. There are still moments where West’s eccentricity could be reined in somewhat, and the lyrical content from both can occasionally be somewhat shallow. The album as a whole could stand to be a little more focused, but at the same time, such a move could take away from one of the recording’s greatest strengths, which is the breadth of its scope.

As good as the album is, the question of whether it could have been better given the two men at the helm lingers. Watch the Throne was recorded during the few openings in the very busy schedules of the album’s two leads and one can’t help but wonder what the result could have been if the Carter and West had set aside all of their other obligations to record the album.

Is Watch the Throne hip hop’s defining masterpiece? No. It is, however, a very good album that provides a lot to like for followers of many genres and won’t disappoint fans of either artist. Whether there will ever be a follow-up to this album is uncertain, but one thing is for sure, Watch the Throne is worth a listen.

3 ½ out of 5 stars