Jay-Z / Kanye West

Watch the Throne

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AllMusic Review by

An audacious spectacle of vacuous pomposity as well as one of tremendous lyrical depth, Watch the Throne is a densely packed amalgamation of what Jay-Z has termed “ignorant shit” and “thought-provoking shit,” with creative productions that are both top of the line and supremely baffling. Its best moments are among the most vital rap music released in 2011. Its worst moments sound like resuscitated discards from Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The lowest point is “Lift Off,” a bombastic mess; West’s stillborn, sung vocal clashes against a triumphant hook from Beyoncé, while the behind-the-scenes cast, including West, Jeff Bhasker, Mike Dean, Q-Tip, Pharrell, Don Jazzy, and the duo LMFAO, overcook a regal and rugged, yet ultimately muddled, production -- one that also features the voices of Seal and Mr. Hudson. All of the highlight tracks come with caveats. On “New Day,” West and Jay-Z address their unborn sons in equally somber and pointed ways, yet there’s a distracting vocal flutter throughout -- to be specific, Nina Simone's version of “Feeling Good” chucked through Auto-Tune. (So much for "D.O.A.") The anthemic “That’s My Bitch” rides on rampaging drums, using two of the most common breaks to fresh effect, and effectively incorporates the wildly dissimilar voices of La Roux's Elly Jackson and Bon Iver/Justin Vernon (the latter of which is made to sound like that of the Gap Band's Charlie Wilson), but the b-word from the mouth of a 41 year-old is as awkward as a throwback on someone of the same age. Kanye’s autobiographical, rise-to-fame verses in the solemn “Made in America” are among his most riveting to date, yet the effect is nearly squashed when he stoops to reference a cartoon that mocked him in 2009. The album contains piles of quotables and some of the fieriest pro-black content in decades. The latter, particularly concentrated during the album’s back half -- where the word “black” is used almost as often as it is in Euripides Smalls’ “I’m Black, Y’all” -- should not be lost amid the album’s ruthless flaunting of material wealth and carte blanche industry resources.

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