It sounds a little bit like the beginning of a tired joke. “A rapper mogul millionaire invites his rapper mogul millionaire buddy to join him in Australia and lay down some tracks in multimillion dollar homes...” The ten-minute officially sanctioned documentary ‘The Making Of Watch The Throne’ dropped a couple of weeks back and in atmospheric, very concentrated scenes, promised that this collaboration between two of the most formidable forces in contemporary hip-hop, Jay-Z and Kanye, would be just that: atmospheric, concentrated and formidable.
That a picture is worth a thousand words is the curse of this joint, years in the offing venture. The pictures we see in the mini-documentary promise so much – camaraderie, professionalism, dedication. But at 30 frames per second, it was always going to take some very wisely chosen words for the Chicago/Brooklyn connect to deliver. What we get on Watch The Throne
then, goes some way to describing the explosive energy described on film. But needed a more critical ear — a little additional editorial oversight — to really soar.
The main problem is the two names that come under the banner of ‘Executive Producer’ on the album’s blood red liner notes. Kanye West has produced for Jay-Z before – most notably on 2001’s The Blueprint
. Jay-Z has guested for Kanye before – most effectively on Late Registration
’s ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone - Remix’. But in both instances, they had each other as protection, as countervailing, vested interests. It’s when this supervision slips and two of the biggest egos in the game become their own worst censors that results may vary.
As a result, Watch The Throne
is a masterclass in how to craft an album of self-congratulation. Underneath a messy Reading-sampling beat, it’s difficult to fully understand what big single ‘Otis’
is actually about. The newly released, Spike Jonze-directed video would suggest it has something to do with the thrill of cutting up Maybachs and riding with Ralph Lauren models. As ode to success, it doesn’t get much uglier than ‘Gotta Have It’ where brand name dropping extends to home appliances. Who knew Miele had hood status?
Elsewhere, big numbers inexplicably fall down. ‘Lift Off’ featuring Mrs Hov on the chorus has My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
’s ‘All Of The Lights’ potential, but the sensational Beyonce can’t save apathetic verses. ‘Primetime’ hints at ragtime origins before collapsing in a heap of overproduction. Perhaps most disappointingly, on tracks like ‘Why I Love You’ and ‘Who Gon Stop Me?’ the lads’ attempt to jump on the crossover bandwagon falters. The result finds them dragged behind Cassius and Flux Pavilion samples, spitting flailing raps unconvincingly.
That said, despite Kanye sounding mildly exhausted after pouring himself into MBDTF and Jay-Z’s regurgitated rags-to-riches reflections wearing thin, there are glimpses of what the high-rolling twosome are capable of. Odd Future black sheep Frank Ocean’s appearance becomes a harbinger for goodness, with both opener ‘No Church In The Wild’ and standout ‘Made In America’ audibly boosted by his presence. A little more dedication to lyricism on ‘H.A.M’ would make this year’s best acronym and one of the album’s bigger songs even better.
But it’s on closer ‘The Joy’ – a hangover from Kanye’s G.O.O.D Friday
, in which he released a free download every week in the lead-up to MBDTF – that an awareness of the excess and waste that characterises Watch The Throne really hurts. Sensational, simple Pete Rock production, a dim jazz-club vibe, a stellar Curtis Mayfield sample and solid rhymes show up the rest of the album as chaotic rather than eclectic. There’s no doubting that Jay and Ye have more gags up their sleeves. They just forgot the punch line on this one.
Words by David Seidler. More at thevine.com.au