12 August, 2011@9:43 am
When Jay-Z released The Dynasty LP in 2000, his team consisted of Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, and Amil. At the time, the LP seemed like it would be an automatic disappointment, as not only did Jay have to share the mic with his crew, but he also didn’t spend any money on production. Who were these guys, Kanye West and Just Blaze, that produced the majority of the LP, we all thought to ourselves. The joke was on us though, as The Dynasty was satisfyingly solid, easily proving the worth of Kanye and Just as producers, leading to their current status as some of the most respected in the game. How times have changed.
But while we went in with low expectations for The Dynasty eleven years ago, expectations couldn’t be higher for Watch The Throne, the first collaborative LP from Jay-Z and Kanye West. It began during the Good Fridays campaign for Ye’s MBDTF, which spawned a gorgeous track called “The Joy”. The track found Jay and Yeezy back-to-back over the mellowest of Curtis Mayfield breaks, produced by none other than Pete Rock. They followed up with “H.A.M.”, an operatic Lex Lugar produced track that didn’t go over quite as well. But they quickly redeemed themselves with “Otis”, which came off similar in fashion to “The Joy”, but utilizing a more abrasive, chopped up Otis Redding sample. The response to this track quickly erased any leftover bacon taste from the previous single, and sent expectations through the roof.
But when the bar is set that high, only greatness will be accepted, which is why Watch The Throne is ultimately a let down.
With no clear direction, the album is a collage of different sounds and styles, some of which will delight, others that will disappoint. The album begins with two better-than-average tracks, the brooding “No Church In The Wild” and the Beyonce firestarter “Lift Off”. But while both are good, they fail to really set the album off. The clinky, paired-down “N***as In Paris” follows, setting a poor tone for the album. Luckily, “Otis” comes in and sets things straight.
The Neptunes produced, James Brown sampled “Gotta Have It” also gets things back on track, but there really isn’t an attention grabbing moment until The RZA helmed “New Day” kicks in. Jay and Kanye introspectively look at the faces of the future sons’, creating an honest, somber look beyond the duo’s stone exteriors. “Murder To Excellence” also is refreshing, examining race in America; a topic not touched upon by these two very often. The dubstep infused, Flux Pavillion produced “Who Gon Stop Me” knocks, but is strange bedfellows next to the album’s rawer, sample based beats. The album’s closer, “Why I Love You” finds Jay firing shots indirectly at past friends, harking back to that Dynasty era.
While the production may be uneven, there are still tons of quotable moments from both Jay and Kanye on this LP. Don’t get us wrong, each of these songs may have their own merits out of context, but have a hard time fitting together as a whole. All in all, Watch The Throne is still a good album. But when dealing with two gentlemen that have such a long-standing reputation for greatness, “good” simply isn’t good enough.
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