Finally liberated at midnight on iTunes last night, I didn’t even bother to give the album that’s projected to sell 400-500K copies a listen. Like any “grower” project, Watch The Throne deserves more attention than a few hours on a Sunday night before bed, and is one whose layers need to be peeled away over time. Unfortunately, the worldwide web and the social media news cycle don’t really allow for that kind of preciousness, so whether anyone is taking an interest in the sea of quick-trigger opinions or not, we’re all lured into engaging in text message/blog post/140-character word-vomit assessments.
All for starting a dialogue on the topic of music, sitting here trying to write a comprehensive critique for this still-warm and super-dense album is challenging, especially since there has been so much hype swirling around it for months. “H.A.M.” dropped too early, release dates got pushed back, exclusive listening sessions were embargoed (but still tweeted about and sprung audio leaks), and Hov learned from his wife’s troubles, never allowing his baby with Kanye to be born premature. Digital files now in hand before friday’s physical release date, is the album all that we wanted it to be?
Not saying it’s a classic, but yes, I think it is. How could it not be? A high percentage of the album’s tracks beckon us to spend more time with them, and they do so in a number of ways. For one thing, there is a lot of coexisting going on, from the two-emcee collaboration that sustains and simultaneously splinters the entire project, to its subject matter and sonic treats that tickle our emotions like an audio feather duster. After attending last week’s Hayden Planetarium listening sessions, a loose familiarity with the genre-busting records that we heard blasting out of other peoples’ headphones on this morning’s commute was already in place. Listening to them up-close-and-personal today though, clear and without audio issues, it became apparent that there’s quite a bit of input to still absorb.
Kanye rode shotgun and let many notable producers to take the wheel on WTT, allowing a wide array of sounds to flow through the regular and deluxe versions’ tracks. We’re partial to the sample and bounce on The Neptunes-supplied “Gotta Have It,” and the quick, repetitive snare paired with the creepy circus melody on “N*ggas in Paris” (a delightful combo of Hit-Boy, ‘Ye and Mike Dean). Rza, No I.D., Q-Tip, Pete Rock, and Swizz Beatz delivered big too, giving songs like “New Day” even more depth, “Primetime” playfulness, “That’s My Bitch” an old school, Apache drums vibe, “The Joy” staccato soul, and “Welcome To The Jungle” the sway and head-bop it needed, respectively. Two huge features from Frank Ocean will surely give the newcomer a bigger platform to stand on while he continues to build his highly anticipated solo career, and I love that Elly Jackson from La Roux surfed all over the wavy hook on Slick Rick flow-jockery “That’s My Bitch.” She’s a stealth-bomber, that one!
Thematically speaking, there’s no lack of pretentious consumerism in these guys’ raps. But after they finish boasting about what they’ve rightfully earned, Jay and ‘Ye delve into their utmost personal matters, touching on their plights with fame, relationships, burnt professional bridges, lost loved-ones, and their very different childhoods. Fans and critics will likely be pinning Hoveezy’s verses against each other over the next few days and weeks. Whose flow was better, whose rhymes were doper, and who had the best delivery are all questions that a good listener knows will take time and multiple album plays to answer. Last week, we made the early claim that Kanye bested Jay lyrically, but now that we have the album’s deluxe tracks to take into account, that snap conclusion might be in question. There are quick-witted jokes and heaps of wordplay to dig through, and while Kanye might have the initial upper hand, Jay’s time-released bars can sometimes become retroactively clear, biting your early opinion in the ass.
Surely many people have already done their high-and-mighty album review write-ups by now, but for this VH1 blogger, time and patience will reveal what’s more important. This album is for your headphones while you’re working out (try “No Church in the Wild” or “Who Gon Stop Me”), for the good speakers at home while you lay on your couch with a cocktail or herbal refreshment (go with “Made in America” or “The Joy”), for people-watching on the street (try “Illest Motherf*cker Alive,” “Murder to Excellence” and “New Day” [me and the Rza, too, connect]), for reactions on the club dancefloor (check for “N*ggas in Paris” and “Welcome to the Jungle”), and for hitting a nice strip of highway in your best friend’s car (word to “Primetime,” “Gotta Have It,” and “Why I Love You”).
Spend some time with it, form a lasting opinion, and then give it a break. Whether you want to pick it up again soon after that will be far more telling than any track-by-track analysis we can provide. But in the meantime, if you find yourself getting sucked into the chaotic sandbox of opinions, try your best to play nice; the only thing we know for certain at this juncture is that Jay and Kanye are inching ever closer to the majestic legacy they seek.