Ever the wordsmith, and master of the double entendre, Jay-Z knew just exactly what he was doing when he and Kanye West named their collaborative effort, Watch the Throne. Grandiosity is a given with stars of their ilk, especially on bonus cuts like “Illest Motherfucker Alive” and “H*A*M.” But a closer listen to most of the tracks here reveal a different type of grandeur. The duo aren’t ballin’ to break the bank, as much as they’re aiming to shatter a caste system that keeps too many black, brown and yellow faces from joining their party.
Among the centerpieces to this train of thought is the standout “Niggas in Paris,” featuring Jay and ‘Ye trading luxurious lines about watches and wealth, with a winking nod that their successes are the minority in terms of achievement.
“Ball so hard, this shit weird/We ain’t even suppose to be here,” Jay spits over Hit-Boy’s pulsating production. “Since we here/It’s only right that we be fair.”
“Murder to Excellence,” “Made In America” and “That’s My Bitch” are equally tinged with a political or socio-economic hue. But the pair also get personal, both on the RZA-helmed “New Day” and “Why I Love You,” where Jay, once again, revisits the Roc-A-Fella split. On the former, however, West is as self-aware as he’s ever been, recalling his controversial comments made in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina via his treatment of his future son.
“See I just want ‘em to have an easy life/Not like Yeezy life,” he raps over the melancholy number. “Just want ‘em to be someone people like/Don’t want ‘em to be hated all the time, judged/Don’t be like your daddy that would never budge.”
Collectively, the project is incredibly ambitious, yet dexterous; West and his band of producers skillfully lay down a musical foundation that makes it easy to dance to and not be worn down by the, at times, didactic messages. The set isn’t without fault, though. “Lift Off” feels too airy on a project this heavy and “Welcome to the Jungle” comes across as forced in comparison to the rest of the material. But, with an effort as publicized as this, the shortcomings will, undoubtedly—and unfairly—draw as much attention as the exemplary. Heavy are the heads that wear the crown. —Jayson Rodriguez