Simply put, Watch the Throne is the logical next step for Kanye West. Anyone who has paid any kind of attention to his career could have seen this coming. Throne is what would have happened if My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy had been a collaboration. He plays it safe, albeit Kanye-level safe, and often times this album tends to sound like a compromise between him and “big brother” Jay.
Throne has Kanye’s fingerprints all over it, but Jay’s lyrics are still what they always were. The beats on this album work nicely for both artists, but not great for either: a compromise. If you were introducing someone to Jay-Z, don’t start with this album (or end with it). It would be unfair to say say Kanye outshines Jay, but when you have two of the top three biggest hip-hop acts on one album, someone is going to be louder than the other.
It would be interesting to see what this album would have looked like if both Ye and Jay were in the same place in their career.
At the end of the day, I don’t think either artist will be defined by this album.
No Church in the Wild
What you will remember from this song when you’re not listening to it is that Frank Ocean is on it, and Kanye creates a sick beat. It reminds me of “Hell of a Life,” with its dark, ominous beat and anarchistic message. Literally, there’s no Church in the wild, who do we answer to? Does Kanye’s architectural skills making a beat give him permission to “form [his] own religion?”
The track deals with power, and both artists rhyme about control and their relative importance, which is underscored by Frank Ocean’s hook. In a way this song sets the mood for the rest of the album, which is as self-reflexive as it is self-loving.
Best line: “Sunglasses and advil/ last night was mad real.”
Remember what I said about being self-reflexive and self-loving? With the help of Beyonce, Kanye calls himself out while doing exactly what he is calling himself out for. “I’m such a showoff, huh?” Kanye’s attempt to show acknowledgment for his conceited demeanor may be good idea on paper, but ultimately I think this line will be taken the wrong way by critics.
Beyonce sing’s “How many people you know that can take it this far?” which is really what the song is all about. I think a McCartney/Beiber collab could, but that’s it.
Best line: “Earth is boring to ‘im, shit is makin’ my dick soft”
Niggas in Paris
The album begins to speed up here, and when Jay spits his first verse we finally forget for a second that this is a Kanye West production. This track is exactly what you thought you were going to hear when you heard about Watch the throne. It’s boisterous, fast, gritty and fun. You knew Ye and Jay were going to showoff on this album, and this song completely meets your expectations.
The track ends with a darker “Don’t let me get into my zone” rant, and the whole time, you’re telling Ye that you actually do want him to get in his zone (I think he’s talking to other rappers), and then we learn that he is actually in his zone, which comes as no surprise to anyone with ears.
Best line: The Nets could go 0-82 and I look at you like this shit gravy
Following the up-tempo lead, Otis, the albums single features Jay and Ye trading 8 and 9 bar verses, seemingly at each other (but we know its actually to us). The message of this track, which is similar to that of Niggas in Paris, is that their success is international. “You ain’t ‘customed to going through Customs, you ain’t been nowhere, huh?”
Otis, however is an example of Kanye’s dominance on Throne. His flows work better in this song, compared to Jay’s choppy, forced lyrics. You can tell immediately that Kanye is going to shine on this song when he comes in, “Damn Yeezy and Hov where the hell you been?” It’s weird to listen to an “awkward” sounding Jay (even weirder is typing that phrase) and it reminds me of the only other time where he sounded out of place, which was on Kanye’s Monster.
Best line: “Sophisticated ignorance, write my curses in cursive”
Gotta Have It
The lyric play the seems at an imbalance on Otis is corrected on Gotta Have It. Kanye and Jay take on the world on this track and end out on top. It’s a message critics, skeptics and anyone trying to “assassinate [Ye’s] character.” The wordplay on this track, in which the two finish each others sentences, and interrupt each other mid-rhyme would make you think both rappers had previously been Beastie Boy members. Really superb stuff.
The message is summed up by the reference to Wade and LeBron. Basically, you hate us because we are the best, and look I just made a hit song about it.
Best line: “I wish I could give you this feelin’, I’m planking on a million”
Neither artist has a child, but on this Track Jay and Kanye take turns speaking hypothetically about their sons, explaining how younger Jay and Ye will have it different, both in terms of their celebrity status, and lessons that will be taught by their fathers. We’re reminded on New Day that these men are great rappers because of their story telling abilities. The album moves back to its self-reflexive theme, and in their message to their kin, Jay and Kanye open up in their own way, as their take on children sheds light on the way stardom, accomplishment and criticism has shaped their own world views.
Best line: “I might even make ‘em be Republican/ so everybody know he love white people”
That’s My Bitch
The only similarities between Kanye’s and Jay’s verse on this track are that they about women. I’m sort of surprised that the rappers would go down this path (boys will be boys) since their current marital situations are so radically different. Compare Kanye’s “I paid for them titties get your own” to Jay’s “Picasso was alive he woulda made her.” Still, its interesting to see the contrasting viewpoints on women, I’m sure a younger Jay would have written a different verse (he still the dude that wrote the line “You know I thug ’em, fuck ’em, love ’em, leave ’em/ Cause I don’t fuckin’ need ’em”).
The beat on this track was made by Q-Tip the early 90’s influence is pretty obvious, but wouldn’t necessarily fit on the album if Kanye didn’t add his own little tweaks.
Best line: “Twisted love story, true romance/ Mary Magdalene from a pole dance”
Welcome to the Jungle
Jay shines on this track. His lyrics hit hard, and the Swizz Beatz guitar riff comes in perfectly every few bars. Here is an example of a vulnerable Jay, laying out his deep-seeded emotions. “No crying in public” he tells himself trying to remain the rapper that wrote Hard Knock Life, a song that pays homage, if not glorifies the projects. Welcome to the Jungle looks back less nostalgically at Jay-Z’s rough background and family life. The song sticks to this violent and morbid theme, and at the albums darkest point Jay rhymes, “I died in my sleep, I’m still Big Pimpin /I ball at the mall, Beginning of the ending/ Where the f*ck is the sun?/ It’s been a while, Momma, look at ya son.”
Best line: “Work pots and pans just to cop me some airs”
Who Gon Stop Me
Not quite sure what I think about the Flux Pavilion sample, but who’s going to stop Kanye and Jay from rapping over whatever the hell they want? And that’s really the vibe of the entire track. It’s a challenge, a dare: who gon stop me, huh? Probably no one. Towards the end of this track Jay really goes off and its all over after that. No one is going to stop him. Kanye repeats a line about the Holocaust which will probably get him in some trouble.
Best Line: “2 seats in the 911, No limit on the black card/ Told yall I was gonna go HAM, To the ocean in my backyard”
Murder to Excellence
Kanye sounds great with an acoustic guitar, and I sort of wonder if this is what 808 and Heartbreak would sound like if Ye did a stripped down unplugged set. That’d be tight, right? On this track both Kanye and Jay rap anecdotally about homicide and violence, while Kanye’s voice comes in singing “black on black murder”, and I think he’s on pitch. This wasn’t the sort of song I was expecting on the album but I like it none the less. Although it may not be Kanye or Jay’s place, they recognize the influence they have, and the two moguls reflect on a major issue in black culture.
Best line: “No shop class, but half the school got a tool.”
Made in America
Frank Ocean returns for this gospel-themed track. At first I was really distracted by Ocean and the “Sweet Baby Jesus” line in particular, partially because it reminds me of Talladega Nights. This is another Kanye track that talks about his rise, comparing his new life to his past (think “Last Call” with less detail).
You can’t help but feel happy for Kanye on this song. He’s living his dream, literally making a full length album with one of his heroes. On the leaked mini-documentary for Watch the Throne Kanye talks about being in the crowd watching Jay at the Hard Knock Life tour. I really love this side of Kanye.
Why I Love You
At this point you may be wondering what the term, watch the throne is referring to you. Is that a request a la “Hey can you watch this throne for me while I’m out?” Are we supposed to watch it and be impressed, “Hey check out this throne, bro.”
On “Why I love You” we learn its more advice than anything. Jay’s telling us, when you’re on top you need to watch your back. Even your closest friends will try to steal the throne. Although this seems like one of the most popular songs on the album, lyrically its distant and lacks creative spirit. Although the message may have inspired the entire album, this track doesn’t carry the same weight as some of the other more thought out tracks on Watch the Throne.
Best line: “Caesar didn’t see it so he ceased to exist/ So the nigga that killed him had keys to his shit/ Am I my brother’s keeper?”