Kanye West and Jay-Z
Watch the Throne
Two kings seldom make a winning hand — unless Jay-Z and Kanye West are running the game.
After seven-plus months of rumours and speculation — but amazingly, no pre-release leaks — the superstar duo dropped their album-length collaboration Watch the Throne digitally on Monday morning (the CD is in stores Aug. 16). To call it one of the most-anticipated releases of the year verges on understatement; the disc has been hyped by some as the album that’s going to rescue rap, save the music biz and cure the common cold (OK, I made that last one up, but you get the drift).
Here’s something a bit more realistic: Watch the Throne might go down as one of the most exciting rap albums of 2011. Even for these two masters of the game, that’s no small feat. After all, superstar duets can pay diminishing returns. And with egos like West and Jay-Z’s in play, Watch the Throne could easily have ended up being a war of words, a battle of wills, a clash of titans. Instead, it’s a meeting of minds, a joining of forces. Kanye supplies his usual provocative audacity and boundary-pushing creativity; Jay brings his calculated swagger and laser-focus intelligence. The rest of the VIP cast — including producers such as RZA, Neptunes, Q-Tip and Swizz Beats, along with guests including Beyonce and Frank Ocean — surround the duo with a diverse sonic landscape. Some songs kick it old-school, sampling classics by James Brown or Otis Redding; others flash forward into of-the-moment fare like dubstep. Somehow, it all works, fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle — and adding up to a crowning achievement for both men.
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Here’s a track-by-track breakdown of the regular 12-song album (there’s also a deluxe edition with four bonus cuts).
1 | No Church in the Wild (feat. Frank Ocean) | 4:32
“What’s a mob to a king? What’s a king to a god?” ponders Kanye over a low-twang melody and thumpy beat. “Preach,” urges Jay, ruminating on faith, philosophy and finance. A stellar opener.
2 | Lift Off (feat. Beyoncé) | 4:26
Jigga’s missus lends her pipes to this midtempo anthem set in waltz time. Some NASA sound effects underscore the whole space theme.
3 | N****s in Paris | 3:39
A staccato melody, a stomping groove, and a snippet of Will Ferrell’s Blades of Glory stack up better than you’d expect. “I’m definitely in my zone,” Jay proclaims. No argument.
4 | Otis (feat. Otis Redding) | 2:58
Pieces of Redding’s Try a Little Tenderness drive this funky southern- fried groover. A little one-dimensional, but a ton of fun.
5 | Gotta Have It | 2:20
From Otis to James. The Neptunes slice and dice some James Brown samples for this short ’n’ sweet slow-burner.
6 | New Day | 4:32
While RZA reworks Nina Simone, J and K compare notes about raising sons. “I might even make him be Republican,” offers Kanye, “so everybody know he love white people.”
7 | That’s My Bitch (feat. Elly Jackson) | 3:22
More James Brown and some Incredible Bongo Band provide the swampy, bouncing backbeat for sexual boasting — while La Roux’s Jackson supplies the big chorus hook.
8 | Welcome to the Jungle | 2:54
Not a GN’R cover, sadly. Instead, a Swizz Beats cut outfitted with a Morse Code synth and some introspective lyrics about loss and struggle.
9 | Who Gon Stop Me | 4:16
Jay and Kanye embrace dubstep, complete with subterranean synth, ping- ponging echo and molasses pacing. It works now, but could sound dated soon.
10 | Murder to Excellence | 5:00
Two cuts in one: Swizz Beats’ woozy Murder finds the rappers lamenting urban homicide rates; S1’s clattery Excellence celebrates success.
11 | Made in America (feat. Frank Ocean) | 4:52
Ocean offers a poignant vocal honouring MLK, Malcolm X, Jesus and more — while West and Jay-Z recall their own struggles.
12 | Why I Love You | 3:21
As layers of lush synths swirl, these two rap kings examine their reign — and wait for their subject to turn assassin and dethrone them.
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.