The build-up for Watch the Throne is on a level all its own. If you don’t know Jay-Z and Kanye West’s master-and-apprentice history, or the development of an EP into this LP, which went through three different phases of recording, this very internet contains volumes. But as the edge-of-your-seat anticipation for this release underwent months of inchworm updates, a polarization seemed to occur between those who got sick of hearing the hype and those who waited devoutly for their rap deities to deliver. With that in mind, I’ll get this out of the way for both parties: there’s nothing revolutionary here. Also regardless of which party you fell into a priori, you will undoubtedly still find a couple tracks to dig, but your mindset coming in is likely to dictate your experience overall. Though it is true that this maxim can be claimed with just about any release, in this case it holds particularly relevant since this type of unprecedented hype sustained for such a long wait comes but once in a generation, or at the very least, once every 12 months or so.
Putting all the subjective mind-play aside, there are certain attributes at work here that make Watch the Throne an undeniably above-average piece of work. To start, Kanye is still behind the boards, and with a gamut of assists from industry experts like The Neptunes, Q-Tip and RZA, the production was inevitably going to be innovative and worth a couple listens by itself. Second, citing that last point as the reason, Jay-Z appears re-invigorated every time he raps in collaboration with Kanye. Between this record and past efforts like “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” to “Monster,” Jay’s contemporary swagger begins and ends with his prized protégé-of-yore.
Also, while the overall sound can’t be expected to be as cohesive as Kanye’s solo efforts have been (though it clearly has intentional track order in places), each Watch the Throne track carries a strong identity; from “New Day,” where each takes a verse to speak to their unborn sons about life lessons and their own personal mistakes, to “Why I Love You,” generally speaking to all those Jay and Kanye have helped grow in the business who eventually moved away.
It’s creative precision points like these that make this record an objective success. Sure, their personalities are inflated and may have been overexposed throughout the painfully long hype process, and of course Kanye’s lyrics are silly and at times downright laughable (“that’s pig latin/ itch-bay!“). These arguments from casual critics can go on to include Jay’s age and Kanye’s ego. And this is where the lovers and haters depart on this release: if you haven’t been thoroughly enjoying the ride these two superstars have taken listeners on thus far, then you likely won’t hang on for this larger-than-life victory lap. But for fans of Kanye and Jay-Z, it’s just a little bit more of what we’ve already come to embrace.