"NEWS ON THE MARCH!!!
[trumpet fanfare, reprise]
Here is my track-by-track first impression review of Watch the Throne, an album rap duo The Throne, aka Jay-Z and Kanye West.
#1 - "No Church in the Wild" (feat. Frank Ocean)
I can't help but think of Daft Punk's soundtrack to the 2010 Disney blockbuster TRON: Legacy as Watch the Throne begins. Then Ocean's ethereal voice starts in. There's a word I want to use to describe this track at this point, but I will be scoffed at by my peers (the word is 'epic'). The beat, co-produced by Yeezy and 88-Keys, is the first of many great beats on this album. There's definitely shades of 808s and Heartbreak in this track, as Ocean sings a heavily-vocoded hook in the middle. This is all before Kanye spits his first line, and I don't think what he comes up with as his first thing to say on this album could be any better: "Coke on her black skin make a stripe like a zebra / I call that jungle fever." Yeah, he's still got it.
Let me say right now that I don't like the stupid elevator music that shows up at the end of a bunch of these tracks. It might be a shrouded shout-out to a fantastic classic called Midnight Marauders, but the same thing annoyed me about that album. Moving on...
#2 - Lift Off (feat. Beyonce)
I always expect this song to be "Countdown," from Beyonce's album. The beginning sorta sounds similar to me. This beat was made for 'Yonce to sing on. With the banging chords on the keyboards and synths and the heavy drum tracks, this song could fit right in on 4. The interplay between Beyonce's riffing, Kanye's half-singing/half-rapping, and Jay's characteristic shout really work well here. Mr. and Mrs. Shawn Carter have wonderful chemistry here. I wish they'd do more stuff together. The NASA 'sample' in the middle is unnecessary.
#3 - Niggas In Paris
(If they're allowed to use the n-word as the name of their song, I think I should be allowed to write it on my blog, dammit.)
I'm glad to know Ye and Jay are Will Ferrell fans. Blades of Glory wasn't that great, but w/e, namsayin?
The two go super-crunk on this track. I think the number of syllables they drop is more than the actual number of syllables they rap. The beat is tastefully minimal, but still a bit of Kanye style shines through with that shiny synth. Jay's verse, aggressive and arrogant, is especially excellent on this track, the best I've heard him rap in a long time. In the last year or so, Kanye has rapped a lot of stuff that would sound really stupid if anyone else did it, but somehow he makes it work ("could we git married at da maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawll..." LOL WTF). I think the kids are gonna be saying "dat shit cray" for a while now...
#4 - Otis (feat. Otis Redding)
The death of Otis Redding is one of the more tragic deaths in music history. His biggest hit is the fantastic "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," and the plane crash that led to Otis' death occurred a month before that record sold 4 million copies. I was thrilled when Kanye, the quintessential soul-beat producer, released this track, the second (I guess) single, which pays tribute to one of soul music's greatest and most talented figures.
I had to get used to the beat, it didn't exactly work for me before, but now I adore its beautiful simplicity and quirkiness. Although their verses are quite brief, both Jay and Ye are great on this song. The impeccable flow both rappers displayed on some of their earlier albums (The Blueprint and The College Dropout come to mind for me here) make appearances here, and that makes this one thoroughly enjoyable for me. I just wish it were longer.
#5 - Gotta Have It
I love the Neptunes so much. I'm worried I'm going to do some permanent damage to my neck from head-bobbing to this awesome beat. The buzzy synth, reminiscent of N.E.R.D songs like "Things Are Getting Better," hang back in this song, but what I love about this is that Kanye adds his own trademark in -- that sped-up sample. In an album where the production is incredible, this beat somehow stands far above the rest for me. I'm gonna be honest; I love it so much, I haven't even listened to the raps yet.
#6 - New Day
This song is immediately the most intriguing to me. It's both tragic and hopeful, as both rappers recount the mistakes they've made in their lives, but that both their future sons will not make those same mistakes. They are both really fantastic here. Like Otis, I digs the flows for real. It reminds me of the more introspective songs Kanye used to do, like "Family Business," and "Roses." I can't help but be annoyed by Yeezy's hypocrisy especially, but I'll probably forget about that in time. Another awesome beat. The Nina Simone sample is fantastic and fits right in, I didn't figure out what it actually was until a few minutes ago.
#7 - That's My Bitch (feat. Elly Jackson and Justin Vernon)
(If they're allowed to use the b-word as the name of their song, I think I should be allowed to write it on my blog, dammit.)
I like the way this one starts out a lot. Totally old school. Go figure that Q-Tip would produce something like this. This one is actually constructed like a pop song, with definitive verses, choruses (by Elly Jackson of La Roux), breaks, and a bridge (by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver). Since it's one of the catchiest, it will probably be one I end up listening to the most. But it's really good, too. Both the rappers are on their A-plus game, as they are for the entire album. This is definitely a stand-out cut for me.
#8 - Welcome to the Jungle (feat. Swizz Beatz)
My favorite part of this song is Swizz Beatz yelling. Both rappers seem to be pretty angry here. Not really sure why. Jay calls himself the black Axl Rose. I'm confused by this one. The beat is still cool, though... Whatever.
#9 - Who Gon Stop Me
This song is comparable to "Hell of a Life" for me. Kanye uses the same voice effect he does on that song, and he says "haaaaaah" a lot. Jay says "black" a lot. The beat would have gotten boring to me after a while, but it changes midway through to a cool prog rock kind of thing, with a bunch of synthy things, a la Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. The thing about the last two songs is that the cool interplay between the two rappers disappears. This song is mostly Jay, as is the one before. I like him, but I like Kanye more, and I like them together even more. Still, the beat is cool.
#10 - Murder to Excellence
I always love the sound of Jay-Z attempting to sing. The jangly guitar riff that composes the beat at the beginning fits right in when Swizz Beatz has distorted it. This is probably one of his best beats. It's simple enough, but still has the kind of POWER that Kanye demands (pun intended, plz). Incidentally, the sample definitely reminds me of "POWER." After the semi-low point of the last two tracks, the great interplay is back. Jay and Ye definitely seem to be having fun on this one. As the beat changes (to Excellence, prod. by S1) Jay says "black" a bunch again. Even though the two parts of this song have different producers, they fit very well together with their sped-up samples. This is another stand-out. Excellence, indeed.
#11 - Made In America (feat. Frank Ocean)
Frank Ocean has the Midas touch. Pretty much everything he's a part of is pretty brilliant. His beautiful voice makes this track as he croons "sweet baby Jesus." I can honestly say I've never heard a beat like this one, and I've certainly never heard Jay-Z or Kanye rap over one like it. I love the chord progression. It really works with the sounds used on the synths. This is the resolution, the happy ending. Our heroes (Jay, Ye, and Frank) have discovered that everything is okay. It's a welcome change after most of the album, which has been set in a minor key. I picture a sweeping airplane movie shot of Manhattan in the morning, shrouded by fog, which is pierced by the light of the sunrise. That might be a stretch, but it's uplifting, okay?!
#12 - Why I Love You (feat. Mr Hudson)
This track, punctuated by the aggressive vocals of British pop artist Mr Hudson, is definitely a fitting end to an awesome album. I love how the producers distorted the vocals and sped them up, it really sounds cool. The interplay between the two rappers is almost (ALMOST) excessive here, as they trade lines, and sometimes individual words. Once again this is an incredible beat. I love the strings towards the end. Watch the Throne really ends on a high point with this track, another stand-out for me.
What I wanted from this album is the return of the Jay-Z from the days of The Blueprint after the mediocre Blueprint 3. He was really fantastic back then. I'm not sure this quite lives up to what I wanted, but the rapping Jay does on this album is certainly the best he's done in a while.
I Tweeted it, and I stand by it. This is the most well-produced hip-hop album I've ever heard. Every beat is absolutely fantastic. Maybe it's just because my three favorite producers -- Kanye, the Neptunes, and Q-Tip -- all make appearances on this album, but I really think this is something special. In a time when most rap artists are woefully overdoing it production-wise (Lupe, Wiz, etc), Kanye knows how to layer beats excessively but tastefully, and it yields a brand of hip-hop unlike any other before. Keep doin what you're doin, Ye.
9.0, for p4k Patty.