Album review: Jay-Z and Kanye West, "Watch The Throne" - Reverb

Album review: Jay-Z and Kanye West, “Watch The Throne”

Jay-Z at Denver's Pepsi Center in 2010. Photo by John Leyba, The Denver Post.

Jay-Z at Denver's Pepsi Center in 2010. Photo by John Leyba, The Denver Post.

Last week, we ran Reverb columnist Colin St. John’s take on “Watch The Throne.” Here’s another persective:

Rap royal Jay-Z has matched his limber-lipped rhyming skills with myriad hot duet partners including hip-rock scruffs Linkin Park, wife Beyonce and head-case lothario R. Kelly. But cool-as-ice Shawn Carter has never dealt with such a flamethrowin’ dance partner as Kanye West.

Upon first listen, it’s easy to think the 34-year-old West is a far bigger presence on “Watch the Throne,” the veritable “Lethal Weapon” of rap albums, than his 41-year-old mentor. But the truth is that West is merely the faster, spazzier MC in this dynamic duo, like a slobbery puppy doing backflips for his master’s approval. Jay-Z is all over this joint, which might be the best-sounding album of both careers. In this buddy project, he’s definitely the wise elder to West’s crazy cop.

Chicago’s Kanye scored his first big break in the early 2000s as a relative unknown producing for Brooklyn’s Jay-Z. So it makes sweet sense that ‘Ye dutifully oversees the production here. He also brings in such beatmakers as the Neptunes, Swizz Beatz and A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip to help create complex canvases for Jay-Z to spit his tales of conquering and corruption into. Then Kanye comes in behind and burns the whole place to the ground.

This could have been a disaster, but it’s smart, refreshing and ferocious. Even though they’re both multimillion-dollar franchises, these guys are too clever to merely make something safe.

Yes, there are typical moments of swagger for swagger’s sake, including the speed-bag punch of “Otis,” which floats on Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness.” (“I invented swag / Poppin’ bottles, puttin’ supermodels in the cab,” brags Jay. “Couture-level flow / It’s never going on sale,” boasts West.) And a few patches of harsh misogyny leave a bitter taste.

But there are also stretches of surprise, most of which work. The Springsteen-esque bootstrap commentary of “Made in America.” Bemoaning black-on-black crime on “Murder to Excellence.”

With a trippy groove provided by the RZA, “New Day” is a daydream in which both men imagine being fathers. Kanye raps: “I might even make ‘em be Republican / So everybody know he love white people / And I’ll never let ‘em leave his college girlfriend / And get caught up with the groupies in the whirlwind.”

Jay-Z’s part is even more heartbreaking: “Sorry junior, I already ruined ya / Cause you ain’t even alive, paparazzi pursuin’ ya / Sins of a father make your life 10 times harder.”

And so it goes, each rapper pushing each other harder, setting the bar higher, whether it’s chasing women, wealth or the American Dream.

At record’s end, on the ferocious “Why I Love You,” a track aimed at detractors performed almost exclusively by Jay-Z, Kanye whips his partner into a speed-rapping frenzy. It’s an unhinged, no-holds- barred moment, two showmen enjoying the view at the top of their game. —Sean Daly, St. Petersburg Times

Follow our news and updates on Twitter, our whereabouts on Foursquare and our relationship status on Facebook. Or send us a telegram.

Share: