Watch the Throne Has Us Rapt

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Published August 8, 2011

 

WATCH THE THRONE‘S COVER ART, BY RICCARDO TISCI.

Watch the Throne, the epic, long-awaited debut of the Jay-Z/Kanye West partnership, has finally arrived. The collaboration, which was released digitally at midnight last night, is a little bit old-school and a little bit new-school, much like the two performers themselves. It’s not like Yeezy and Jay-Z were strangers coming into this—Kanye produced The Blueprint, after all—but this is the first time they’ve recordeda full album together, making today’s release something of a historic one. The kings of hip-hop recruited a gamut of producers for Watch the Throne, as well as artists including Beyoncé, The Neptunes, Swizz Beats, Q-Tip, Mr. Hudson, and Frank Ocean. In rapping-royalty fashion, the duo sampled artists as diverse as La Roux, Otis Redding and Curtis Mayfield (in absentia, of course), Cassius, James Brown, and even a Will Ferrell voice clip.

The album was recorded all over the world by Jay-Z and West, who were together in person for the duration of recording. There were no lines being sent by email and no melodies being written via phone; this was purely an organic and true musical partnership. (That seems to be why, despite overwhelming modern odds, the album didn’t leak prior to its official release.) The album addresses the musical zeitgeist as well as the cultural one: dubstep, electronic, R&B, and chillwave all find their place, coupled by over-the-top lyrics to reference politics, religion, success, race, and culture.

Although the album has West’s artsy familiarity, Jay-Z manages to reclaim the stakes in true-blue hip-hop. The duo conquer outer space on “Lift Off,” featuring Jay-Z’s wife, Beyoncé, and “Why I Love You,” featuring Mr. Hudson, which is heavily influenced by West’s over-the-top recording antics. The duo covers their bases, and their current single “Otis” is representative of the album’s vibe: a throwback track with the funkiness of the duo rapping over it to bring it to the 21st century. It’s less aggressive than “H.A.M,” so those who might have been shocked by that track should be able to relax more when hearing this one.Kanye himself hasn’t been relaxing much, actually: the release of Watch the Throne comes on the heels of dual controversies. Last week, gossip rags reported that Jay and ‘Ye were “barely speaking to each other” due to strife over their touring contract—predictably, Kanye wanted “next-level production” that would prove very expensive, while Jay-Z took a more reasonable stance. And just this past weekend at a show in England, he sort of said he knew what Hitler felt like. Whoops!

But if Watch the Throne proves one thing, it’s that regardless of Kanye West’s personality and diva antics, the man knows how to put out a well-produced record; and Jay-Z knows how to choose the collaborators. Haters should back-track, as the rappers’ recipe for success doesn’t seem like it’s going to change anytime soon. The album speaks for itself in that respect: whether it’s tracing back to hip-hop’s real roots or an offering experimental new version, Watch the Throne is just the honest summation of the trials and tribulations of ‘Ye and Hova’s societal reign. They’re just telling it like it is.