4:44 PM CDT, August 15, 2011
Watch The Throne?
They might want to re-name the album "Kiss the Rings."
Jay-Z and Kanye West are officially killing the game, re-animating it and then murdering it again. "Watch the Throne" just might break the U.S. iTunes store's one-week sales record, after fans snapped up nearly 290,000 downloads on the site on Aug. 14, according to Billboard. On Wednesday, we'll learn whether the digital and physical sales also kicked sand in the face of other artists, courtesy of Nielsen SoundScan.
Congrats to 'Ye and Jay on their success, as I am a fan of both.
In addition to being one of the best producers in the game, I find West to be the Dave Chappelle of rap (pre-Africa trip, of course) offering up comedic gems at the same time stirring social commentary.
As for Jay...What can I say about Hova? I even loved him during the corny "Hawaiian Sophie" days. The chameleon MC has survived in what most revere a young man's game because he is an excellent storyteller, wry observer of pop culture trends and ain't afraid to flip his style to match the methods of the moment.
So, that said, some RedEye readers have asked what I thought of "Watch the Throne." I did not review it for the paper and really thought I had dodged the bullet of having to publicly judge two of my faves on their joint effort. But then I got called out, on Facebook, no less and found myself with a homework assignment.
Never let it be said that I do not listen to my Kyles Filers.
And now, for my (albeit, late) review of "Game of Thrones." We're going to start with a sum-up of the come-up, and then travel step by step through honest assessments of each track.
Please note: The sentiments below have absolutely nathan to do with my much discussed column about materialsm in rap, as that was by no means an attempt to single out two artists who are part of an industry-wide trend. But their topics are fair game. As a hip-hop fan, I not only listen to how rappers talk about things, I listen to the things they talk about.
So let's go...
My expectations were sky high for a team-up of Jay and 'Ye. I thought they would conjure up a dream team classic. I imagined a joint effort would be like the joining of Raekwon the Chef and Ghostface Killah or Talib Kweli and Mos Def. Though there is a decided generation gap, 'Ye and Jay's drive for quality is unparallelled and the big brother/little brother dynamic could have forced the best out of each other.
The results were not of the aforementioned altitude.
The Throne does, however, deliver in terms of production. The quality of their beats, with the exception of a few throw-aways (see track-by-track descriptions below) puts them light years ahead of their mainstream counterparts.
Lyrically, both men run rings around their radio peers, but that ain't saying much unfortunately. To commend MCs of their ilk for skilled lyricism is to congratulate a high-school valedictorian for being able to tie his shoes.
Additionally, the album lacks cohesion aka purpose, unless you count the connective thread of materialism. While some might argue they are rapping their reality as wealthy music moguls, I have to think that topics of baubles, beautiful models, handbags, fine clothing and ungrateful underlings should give way to something...anything...else.
'Ye proved himself capable of this in "Beautiful Dark, Twisted Fantasy," unleashing emotionally and creatively with "All of the Lights," "Runaway," and "Dark Twisted Fantasy." He's been to even darker places in "808s and Heartbreak." Jay has done the same throughout his career, perhaps most heartwrenchingly with "Song Cry."
This time, they decided to replace emotion with ego-tripping. This Throne project sounds like what happens when two very rich, very bored artists get together. At best, they have a playful chemistry. At worst, it sounds like they worked together just to prove they could.Keep reading, unless you are too enraged at my blasphemy against Jay and 'Ye to continue. If you are infuriated, might I recommend that you take a brief, invigorating walk around your house, office or block and come back to me with a cool head? You have to at least hear me out.
Ready, here goes? Track attack...
"Gotta Have It"
I was taken in by the head-bobbing beat and warbling vocals in the instrumental. The beat makes me move my body like a snake, a la R. Kelly. Lyrically, however, "Gotta Have It" could not hold my attention, though I'm sure both ballers Wade and LeBron James appreciate the anti-hater empathy extended by The Throne. Notable Quotables:Everyone who knows I mortally despise the song "Racks on Racks" will understand why I salute Kanye and Jay for incorporating this irritating cry of materialism into a much more lyrical verse than I anticipated possible. It reminds me of when Andre 3000 resurrected the hot mess that was "Throw Some D's On It." I also want to blow a virtual kiss to Jay-Z for painting the lyrical portrait of him "planking on a million." Sounds like he should use that as a Facebook profile pic.
I know people who hate "H.A.M." and consider it the epitome of arrogance, but this song fires me up. Braggng reaches unparalleled levels as Jay-Z and West verbally assassinate imaginary haters everywhere to a hard-hitting beat interspersed with operatic singing. This is the perfect song to prep you before a performance review, P90X workout, or maybe even a showdown with a cheating spouse. Notable Quotables: This track was run ragged on the radio, so we all know the lines, but my fave is when West says "like Eli, I did it." And that viral video nod folks, is why he is the Dave Chappelle of rap.
"Illest Mother[bleeper] Alive"
If it had not been for my Kyles Filers, I would have listened to this weak beat and boasting once and called it one. I listened three times to provide insight and ultimately found I have nothing constructive to say about it. It's filler. Fluff. In Jay's own words from "Show Me What You Got, "What you want me to do? I'm sorry." Notable Quotables: This is notable, but not in a good way. Did Ye' really say he has staples on his...um...Little Ye' from banging centerfolds? (Rewinding) Oh yes, he sure did. Slow down.
The truly beautiful vocals of Curtis Mayfield makes everything better. I appreciate 'Ye and Jay trying to get all real with us and share the pain of being tabloid targets. No, I'm serious. It's interesting to hear how they handle their enviable, but challenging lifestyles. But this pity party gets boring somewhere mid-way through, though I never wearied of hearing Pete Rock's production. Props to The Creator. Notable Quotables: West keeps serving up the one-liners. I didn't necessarily like, but was struck by the line: "Your life's cursed, well mine's an obscenity."
Whoever titled this track needs to get flogged with an old, cracked 8-track. Because contrary to said title, it doesn't go anywhere lyrically or instrumentally. I found myself chatting with The Throne's members and featured guests. Here are some of my mumblings. To 'Ye, I beg that he abandon that talk-singing co-opted and corrupted by Drake. Beyonce, do not let your husband pressure you into recording vocals if you don't plan to deliver. Jay, you stop singing too. You hate Auto-tune, do you? Well, whatever effect you are using ain't no better. The sad thing is this could have been at least a head-nodder if they'd stuck to the beat they belatedly switch to toward the end. Notable Quotables: I was too distracted by Bey's caterwauling to give an accurate assessment.
“Made in America”
This song was just plain silly to me. I enjoyed the black history shout-outs, but as Frank Ocean belted out such things as "sweet baby Jesus," I damn near giggled. Not sure if that is what they were going for. Notable Quotables. None, in my humble opinion. Second skip of the album.
“Murder to Excellence”
I understand where this song was going and I absolutely adore the beat, but I rolled my eyes like dice at the cliches parading as social commentary. Jay and Kanye don't need to get all Dead Prez on us, but damn, shouting "black on black," "crabs in a barrel," and "take care of your son" is something even Soulja Boy could do. Lupe Fiasco took on the subject of issues ailing the black community much more effectively in "All Black Everything." Notable Quotes: I rather enjoyed when West raps he'd rather watch a movie because "ain’t nothing on the news but the blues." Even as a reporter, I totally identify with that sentiment.
I love the RZA's work, so I was delighted to find that though he didn't go "36 Chambers" on the track, he offered Kanye and Jay-Z a haunting instrumental with an eery "Cold World" chorus threaded into the melody. Though this is a whine-fest of sorts, particularly on Ye's part, it may the the most relateable track on the album. Jay's letter to his unborn son seemed a bit more sincere than 'Ye, who threw some sarcasm into lyrics that talk about him warning his future son to be nice, skip telethons and settle down with his college girlfriend instead of giving in to groupie love.
"(N-words) in Paris"
Okay, the "HAM" lyrical delivery was energizing once. In this instance, it's just damn annoying. The beat was no better. Third skip. Notable Quotables: None to speak of.
“No Church in the Wild”
Frank Ocean goes all nouveau Nate Dogg on our arses. I enjoy the undulating Big and Rich-esque beat, which conveys the recklessness in the track title. This ode to hip-hop hedonism spits in the face of "Jesus Walks," but so what? Personally, I find it interesting to hear passages from the celebrity scrolls. Notable Quotables: West is one slick son of a gun talking about there are "no sins as long as there's permission." Tell that to Charlie Sheen, fella!
I enjoy listening to Otis, if only because I am a fan of the Southern soulman that my mother introduced me to as a little girl. However, I do think my mother tainted my opinion of the song when she screwed up her face at it (in the car) and informed me that though she likes Jay-Z and Kanye, they need to leave Otis Wilson alone. Chuck D seems to agree. I still bob to the beat, but I hate the part with the sampled screams. Who would purposely put that on the track? Notable Quotables: Jay-Z eloquently mocks those with fewer passport privileges: "Luxury rap, the Hermes of verses; Sophisticated ignorance, write my curses in cursive. I get it custom, you a customer You ain’t ‘customed to going through Customs, you ain’t been nowhere, huh?"
This is my Lake Shore Drive anthem of the moment. It reminds me of Raekwon's "Glaciers of Ice" minus the urgency, and I hit pon di replay on this bad boy three times in a row. Not a big fan of the refrain "the night is young, what the [bleep] you gone do," but I'll accept it. Notable Quotable: West, for the win. "They don’t want nobody who's coloring outside the line. So I'm late as a mother[bleeper[, colored people time.
“That’s My Bitch”
Sigh. All rappers have to offer up some variation on the me-and=my bitch-theme. Here's the Throne's contribution, a testament to the ladies they love (or just love to sleep with) over a slithery beat that combines a vintage Jungle Brothers/Tribe Called Quest/Neptunes sound featuring La Roux. La Roux sounds like Nelly Furtado on the vocals, which works well, and I like the "Can't Truss It" sample thrown in there for extra urgency. But back to the "bitch" thing, two questions. Did the supernova-sized star known as Beyonce reallly give her husband clearance to refer to her in this way on the track? Second, what part of West's gentlemanly "Rosewood" movement is calling women out of their names in a song title? Notable Quotables: It's derogatory by design, but at least Hova reps for multiculuralism in our pop icons. Had me wondering if he's been to Pioneer Court when he raps: "I mean Marilyn Monroe, she’s quite nice, but why all the pretty icons always all-white? Put some colored girls in the MOMA. Half these broads ain’t got nothing on Wilona. Don’t make me bring Thelma in it. Bring Halle, Bring Penelope and Salma in it."
Welcome to the Jungle
Swizzy, shhhh....Seriously. Please call DJ Khaled and get some advice about toning it down. Even that renowned loud mouth knew to bring it down a notch on "I'm On One." And as for this beat, where is Alicia Keys? Can you send your man to the store for some milk and a new arsenal of beats? Notable Quotables: The lyrics have more impact in this song, but one of my faves is from Hova: "Black Axl Rose, Move halfs and wholes. Come down to the jungle. Just ask for Hov. Move blocks and squares.Move apples and pears. Work pots and pans, Just to cop me some Airs."
Who Gon’ Stop Me
This track, like "Murder to Excellence" tries to throw a little social awareness in the track with yammerings like "something like the holocaust, millions of our people lost," but the main point seems to get some revenge (again) on the faceless haters of the world while re-asserting their financial positions. Kanye strikes back at those who called him a bigot post Taylor Swift-gate by saying his only bias is preferring "green faces." Um...so, guess he showed them? Kinda? Notable Quotables: Jay is on an Oprah-naming dropping kick, ain't he? It's not enough that he checked the O in "new York," but now he taunts: "Y’all Steve Urkel, I’m Oprah’s circle." And what the heck did Urkel ever do to 'ye and Jay?
“Why I Love You”
Rocks hard. Somewhere, Axl Rose, Def Leppard and Motley Crue should be putting their lighters up. Yes, the HAM delivery makes another appearance, but Jay's sped-up approach is the perfect choice for this song that examines the traitors both men have encountered as their stars have risen. It is truly more Judas than Lady Gaga's "Judas," and provides a rare glimpse at the chink in these men's armor. They may be on the throne, but they are not immune to disappointment that they couldn't take their neighborhood friends to the castle. Notable Quotables: Hova has this one, most likely because he has seemingly faced the most infidels out of the two. "I tried to teach [n-words] how to be kings. And all they ever wanted to be was soldiers. So the love is gone 'til blood is drawn. So we no longer wear the same uniform." (Oooh, Beenie and Dame, I think somebody's ears are burning.)
So, that's my take on this long-awaited supergroup. Share your "Throne" thoughts. Will you be at their concert when it hits Chicago?
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