jason stives reviews one the most hotly anticipated albums of the year …
In the hip-hop war of the ’90s, Tupac and Biggie Smalls were a hyperactive Beatles and Stones, battling for supremacy of their claimed craftsmanship.
Jay-Z and Kanye West aren’t quite as different. In fact, they are more alike than they lead on. They’re friends both in the press and behind-the-scenes, and people have been clamoring to hear these two giants of the hip-hop world create an organic piece of artistic freedom.
But there is a rub. Anyone following West and his messiah-like way of conducting business can be worried of a tiresome and overproduced content to prove a point more than be expressive.
Thankfully, there is no worry for both these rappers. Watch The Throne lays egotism at the foot of the recording studio and instead emphasizes appreciation and getting the product right rather than releasing something because it’s what the masses want.
Through it all, Shawn Carter and his egocentric cohort craft songs out of the subjects they are touted for challenging head on in their work, and in some cases, their public image. The albums opening track, “Church In The Wild,” plays heavily on proponents of faith when they obey a higher power of fame and fortune. It’s these ideas that balance the old from the new, and while Kanye is undoubtedly the fresher crop on the scene, Jay Z is no outdated craftsman, staying constantly current in his approach and keeping his eye out for the future of a sound and genre he has helped mold over the past 10 years.
The best way to examine Watch The Thrones content is to look at both Jay-Z and West in perspective. With all their respect for one another, we have two entirely different artists in both technique and personalities. West has no doubt made a name for himself by being brash to the press and outlandish for the sake of being so. Jay-Z, on the other end, is riot control with a clear sense of the world he came into and the world he built up around him. That’s how Carter tames the bohemian beast that West so frequently likes to release in his work.
On tracks like “N**gas In Paris” and “That’s My Bitch,” West’s lyrical content is, as it has been in the past two solo releases, messy and not always sensicial with his ability to be highly rhythmic with his beats. Because of this, Jay is West’s Professor Pygmalion, an advisor on how to do it right and to garner respect more than poise and presence in the limelight. Other songs like “Otis” enforce the fantastic sampling skills that West was capable of on earlier releases. There is also this underlying sinister truth to songs like “Who Gon’ Stop Me” and “Murder To Excellence,” where sneers turn into snarls and age old acts of attention become messages of truth.
Through it all, Watch The Throne is something with great substance and undoubtedly a lot of staying power. With two artists at the height of their impressionistic styles, what has been crafted is not an album of bells and whistles, but a true collaborative effort done face to face, mentor to mentor, fan to fan.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10