Watch the Throne
Roc-A-Fella Records, itunes.apple.com/au
The snarling, Kasabian-style grooves that fuel tracks like No Church in the Wild.
The constant luxury brand name-checking. We get it fellas, you can afford very nice things.
After countless rumours, a few sneaky internet leaks and a good half dozen release date delays, the collaborative effort between two of the world’s most notorious rappers has finally landed.
The most striking thing about the album is how terribly serious it is. The unremarkable, made-for-radio single Lift Off is a rare fluffy moment among what is overall a hard, dark and aggressive trip.
While there is the odd bit of shallow rubbish (That’s My Bitch is pretty much what you’d expect it to be), lyrically this is a thoughtful album that arguably reveals more about its authors than they’ve ever shown us before. New Day sees Jay-Z go introspective on the pending arrival of his first child, while both artists get sentimental about their upbringing in Made in America.
Being Kanye West and Jay-Z, there is of course still a fair bit of gloating on the excessiveness and frivolity of their own existence (West casually raps about his ‘other other Benz’, while Jay-Z reminds us that he has two ‘big-faced Rollies’) and self-comparison to religious and regal figures.
But underneath the brash confidence lurk subtle tones of regret and uncertainly which sneak in to suggest an uncomfortable grappling with the reality of being so successful and living so indulgently in modern America. This underlying internal conflict makes for a thoroughly more interesting listen than the average rap release.
One can imagine that no expense or expertise was spared on the production side, so its no surprise that the album is sonically flawless. The beats and instrumentation are as polished and biting as would be expected from the kings of this genre, and guest performers/producers such as RZA and Mr Hudson add some imposing dynamism to the mix. The better tracks, like commanding opener No Church in the Wild and Otis Reading tribute Otis, could stand up against just about anything on their respective solo masterworks, West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Jay-Z’s Black Album. The anthemic choruses of tracks like Why I Love You seemingly come easy to these two, while the rapping, particularly from West, sets the standard that their contemporaries should strive for.
So although it threatens to disappear up its own arse at various points, Watch the Throne is an intriguing and authoritative piece of work. Here’s hoping they win a Grammy for it, and Taylor Swift crash tackles the pair of them mid-acceptance speech.