For their first full-length collaboration, topline superstars Jay-Z and Kanye West choose to hide behind the sobriquet ”The Throne.” But why? Do they love professional wrestling and think their tag team needs a badass name for the ring? Are they hoping to snag spots as direwolves on Game of Thrones? Or do they simply want to temper the heightened expectations that tend to saddle supergroups?
The latter seems like a distinct possibility. Too much of Watch the Throne sounds cluttered and disjointed, as though Jay and ‘Ye built their garish castle in the sky via FedEx and text messages. ”Welcome to the Jungle” offers a lot of bluster but little heart, and ”N—-s in Paris” seems to be the result of the ritual torturing of an Atari 2600. Everything falls apart on the album-closing ”Why I Love You,” which cranks up West’s love of prog-rock bombast so much that it sounds like guest crooner Mr Hudson is trying to sing the hook over a poorly recorded bootleg of a Muse concert.
But Throne is certainly no disaster. ”Otis,” on which the pair exchange breathless verses about their rags-to-riches elevation from street-corner slinging to private jets, revels in the cleverly sampled sweat and soul of Otis Redding’s 1966 classic ”Try a Little Tenderness.” ”Lift Off” nearly suffocates amid baroque strings and self-importance, but is rescued by Beyoncé, who whips the chorus with a belt so powerful you’d think it insulted her mother. The album’s centerpiece, ”New Day,” finds guest the RZA laying down a busy, warm beat that gives the duo the freedom to write love letters to their unborn children, with West speculating about his future son, ”I mean I might even make him be Republican/So everybody know he love white people.”
In fact, the greatness of ”New Day” drives home the album’s big problem: It feels too much like a Kanye West project featuring a clutch of Jay-Z cameos. They sound like they’re on the same page only during fleeting moments, and when those slip by, listening inevitably is more frustrating than fulfilling. Then again, neither Kanye nor Jay should worry too much, right? After all, this misstep officially belongs to ”The Throne.” B-
Watch the Throne