When two royal figures in the hip-hop world get together and give their collaboration album the title Watch The Throne, they were probably looking to stir up debates on a single subject: so who should sit on that throne, then? Maybe we’re fantasizing a bit too much here, but with reports of feuds between them two during recording sessions, we do like to think that this is an album representing a duel. Truth is, Jay-Z has been the undisputable king of hip-hop, but Kanye who started as one of his disciples, has long surpassed that stigma and is now challenging his mentor at his own game.
So is this a battle of two egos? Probably yes, but most of all, these are two enormous egos, and that shows a lot in Watch The Throne. Kanye has come from a recent critical acclamation (the very ambitious and highly successful – at all levels – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy), while Jay-Z has never had so much success salewise as with his recent The Blueprint 3. Consequently, everything in here screams HUGE, from the long list of A-level producers and collaborators involved (RZA, The Neptunes, Just Blaze, Beyoncé, Odd Future, Bon Iver, Q-Tip, Swizz Beats, The-Dream, Kid Cudi…), to the presumably very-expensive samples used (James Brown! Otis Redding! Nina Simone! Curtis Mayfield! Quincy Jones!) , or the many luxurious locations where it was recorded. But paradoxically, this is also an album quickly made in record time and probably just for the fun of it, to show the world that yes, they can – do everything they want, that is.
The result is a wide representation of almost everything in today’s hip-hop: we have more aggressive stuff, some experimental things, lots of powerful hooks, propulsive beats, wicked synths, lyrics that touch various subjects – from more mundane things such as telling off the world and how everyone should envy them, to more political stuff regarding racism or the flaws of today’s society. Nothing quite revolutionary, true, but still mostly a pleasure to listen to.
So in the end, yes, this is a big expensive exercise in narcissism and self-undulgence which doesn’t add anything to their carreers. But the fact that it’s still a great album does say a lot about the talents involved. (7/10)