Non-Album Review: Jay-Z & Kanye West: “Watch The Throne”

Black excellence, opulence, decadence
Tuxes next to the President…

This is not an album review. This is just my take on a musical moment, much like a cinematic moment that Steven Spielberg or James Cameron masterfully create. Everyone will surely have a unique experience. This is mine.

Music aside, Watch The Throne made us do something we haven’t done in over a decade. We simply had no choice but to wait. For the first time in ages, a release date was relevant again. And it worked. Watch The Throne was already #1 in 23 countries before it hit iTunes on Monday, and before it hit the shelves of your neighborhood Best Buy. Surely a kings’ move in a game we’d been winning without contest.

With a garrishly metallic album cover, it’s no question that Jay-Z and Kanye West were out to create a wordly, opulent experience. The Henry VIII, Marie Antoinette “Let them eat cake” kind. If this is anyone’s reality, it would be these two. But what makes Watch The Throne tangible, is that they are taking us on a journey, and inviting us to hop in.

First they hyped us with “Otis,” a rap relay race that finds Jay on the tippy top of his game, and Kanye reaching all kinds of lyrical heights of his own. And it’s topped with the Otis Redding “Try A Little Tenderness” sample, that gives the track a soulful, old church hymnal vibe.

Beyonce joins for “Lift Off,” lending her pipes to Kanye’s supersonic 808s and “shoes are scraping the sky” lyrics. For someone known for negative attention (both warranted and unwarranted) there’s a sense of wonder in Kanye’s music that’s almost pristine. His childlike wonder is his biggest strength. He’s the grandiose maestro of an even grander orchestra, taking old school hip hop and futuristic 808s to create musical artwork.

Track after track finds Jay-Z lyrically dominating Kanye’s soaring musical score. He’s literally unstoppable on “Who Gon Stop Me,” just running through the beat: “Street smart, And I’m book smart/ Could have been a chemist, Cause I cook smart/ Only thing that can stop me is me, And I’mma stop when the hook start.”

Perhaps Watch The Throne‘s biggest winner is Frank Ocean. The relative newbie is featured on two of the album’s strongest tracks. The standout opener “No Church In The Wild,” sonically sets the tone for the Throne experience. Like “Otis,” the heavy bassline has a visceral church stomping feel. He returns on “We made It In America,” tenderly paying homage to each King and Queen, whose shoulders we all stand on to reach the upper echelon of excellence. Have fun with those royalty checks, Mr. Ocean.

The modern rock stars take on the Beatles-esque “Murder to Excellence.” They are aware that they are living the dream, but acknowledge the odds they defied by simply being alive. Behind the garishness and heavy beats, Jay and Kanye use Watch The Throne to speak to their struggles. This is heard clearly in “New Day,” an open letter to their unborn sons. They want to teach them through their own mistakes: “Look a man dead in his eyes so he know you talk truth/ When you speak it, give your word, keep it/ And if the day comes I only see him on the weekend/ I just pray we was in love on the night that we conceived him/ Promise to never leave him even if his mama tweakin’/ Cause my dad left me and I promise never repeat him.”

After a week of uninterrupted listening, Watch The Throne has been an experience. The uncharted hubris, the opulence, and the sky’s the limit hope for the future has fueled me since I loaded the album onto my iPhone on Monday. But what truly excites me, is the idea that somewhere in the world, there’s a young girl in pigtails with oversized headsets nodding her head and becoming inspired by the message. Inspired by hip hop.

It’ll shape her young life, knowing that she follows the blueprint of Kings.

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