In their brazenly opulent collaborative debut, Jay Z and Kanye West are re-writing the rules, from one outrageous lyric to the next.
Watch The Throne is every bit as hyperbolic as it was expected to be. It’s a gold-plated, superstar-endorsed fistful of social commentary, heavy with quote-able lyrics that are already forming huge fads across the internet. Political jibes sit alongside monetary bragging and nuanced cultural references, in an album overloaded with Kanye’s “couture-level flow” ( Otis ). Both rappers make it clear that they’re comfortable, with Yeezy apologising “Sorry I’m in pyjamas but I just got off the P.J.” ( Gotta Have It ) while Jay Z points out his “Louis Vuitton slippers” ( _ That’s My Bitch _ ), but this comfort is not only monetary – represented in opulent, boastful imagery, the pair are also clearly so assured in each others’ talents that their partnership has produced some of their best work to date.
Kanye spends most of the record sniggering to his back teeth with searing lines like “I made Jesus Walks, I’m never going to Hell” ( Otis )and “That’s pig Latin, itch-bay” ( Who Gon Stop Me ). With a flow full of tuneful vocal emphases and a little bit of the fake patois that Das Racist are keen to parody (check That’s My Bitch ), his contributions are cocky, and cocked ready to explode, powerful, unpredictable, and often hilarious. Chanting, on Who Gon Stop Me , “this is something like the Holocaust, millions of our people lost”, West reaches a whole new level of superlative, and finds himself perched on the border of acceptability, peeking into the back garden of self-parody.
Jay is by no means understated on the album either – “what’s fifty grand to a motherfucker like me?” he growls brazenly on Ni**as In Paris . Throwing plenty of non-verbal tics into his delivery, Jay hisses through his lines, exemplifying excess and grandeur. On Watch The Throne , he’s all anger and authority and condescension, living and breathing the regal attitude that the album sets out to embody.
Beyonce’s contribution to the track Lift Off is unsurprisingly fantastic; “supercharged”, she injects the song with the lift it sets out to evoke, surging through it like the powerhouse she is; as the track disintegrates into a percussion-led outro, her overlapping vocals swarm and mingle at the end of the track, bringing the best out of her talent with sublime production. Even Frank Ocean – “he’s in Odd Future ?” – king of inoffensive whiny R&B, becomes prowling, sinister and intriguing when his vocoder-tinged melodies are soaring over the monstrous beats of Jay and Ye. “What’s a god to a non-believer?” he croons on No Church in the Wild , allowing the letters to dwindle on his tongue, allowing the question to ring through the song.
There are things that need to be overlooked and forgiven on Watch The Throne ; the grating sampling of Cassius’ I <3 U SO being one. However, in an album so defiantly extreme, so unapologetically over-the-top, so blisteringly unique, it isn’t the place for the listener to be forgiving the artist; when you listen to Watch The Throne , you’re bowing down to the royal family of hip hop, and you’re allowing them to set the rules.