Jay-Z and Kanye have just made more history together, and hip-hop will never be the same again. From the projects to the penthouse, rap has a new home. Get your weight up—not your hate up.
There has never been an album like this. No. Truly. You never thought that hip-hop would take it this far.
Watch The Throne was created by two of our culture’s biggest stars— truly united in one vision to raise the bar. Set the standards. Lead hip-hop to uncharted territory. They were in the studio working together in every moment—from Peter Gabriel’s recording facility in Bath, England, to New York’s Mercer Hotel—and Jay-Z and Kanye have delivered an amazing album that celebrates success, excess…and progress.
It’s unfair to dismiss this collection of introspective, celebratory, angry, intelligent tunes as an out-of-touch collection of big-money talk at odds with America’s current troubled economic condition. Like Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith, Shawn Carter and Kanye West are black folk who have overcome hardship, accomplished great things and grinded to the top. Why can’t they rap about it? Honest hip-hop. Can they live?
Here’s a news flash: At least one of your favorite rappers is a multimillionaire. He’s got plenty of money, even if he doesn’t feel comfortable talkin’ about it. Hip-hop came from poor New York City kids who wanted to succeed, have nice things. Hip-hop wanted to change that world, and guess what? It did. For many. Reap the benefits with closed mouths? Nah, that ain’t our style.
No one recognized us, but we are the best. We say what we feel. We grab the mic and our dicks and tell you about it. Bragging and boasting. In our rhymes, we always wanted to get rich—come up. Get large. Aspiration. Ambition. From The Sugarhill Gang’s “I got a color TV so I can see the Knicks play basketball” to the Notorious One’s “Birthdays was the worst days/ Now we sip Champagne when we thirst-ay.” Dream big. Roll the dice.
Life after Biggie and Pac proved it was possible. The Master Ps and the Puffys have always had more impact on the culture than the poor righteous teachers. The point is: A conversation must be had. We’re in this together—rich, poor or the disappearing middle class. I’m 40 and can connect to the artistry found on Watch The Throne. I admire the courage that Jay and Kanye demonstrate on this album. They spit about deep shit: money, paranoia, women, love, death, family, failed friendships, failed relationships, politics, crime, blackness. The future will prove me right—this is the most important album in hip-hop history.
Two of our biggest winners have overcome their big brother/lil brother trust issues. Their gift to us? The sharing of truths. To make our heads bob one minute and think the next. Ignite imagination. Inspiration. Holy intellect. This record is a reminder that there’s no ending to the power of hip-hop. Our culture. Our drive. Our reward. We’re on a mission.
“No Church in the Wild”
Main Producer: 88 Keys
Track Murderer: Jay > ’Ye. ’Ye > Jay. Draw.
Watch The Throne commences with a courageous curveball. The opening track is surprisingly dark, produced by Polo-gear-obsessed producer 88 Keys and led by the soulful punch of Odd Future’s Frank Ocean on the chorus. “What’s a God to a non-believer?” he asks, which anchors one of WTT’s most consistent themes: mortality. Jay-Z paints vivid introspective pictures, Yeezy rhymes about crazy bitches. There’s a captive congregation, and Mr. Carter is ready to address them: “Jesus was a carpenter/ Yeezy laid beats/ Hova flow the Holy Ghost/ Get the hell up out your seats.” To hell with the song’s bizarre bridge lead by The-Dream, because it comes off as clumsy as his part on Jay Electronica’s 2010 “Shiny Suit Theory.” Hey, didn’t Jay kill Autotune already? Anyway, Mr. West sounds agitated. A boisterous bachelor livin’ the rock star life—but it weighs on him. “Sunglasses and Advil/ Last night was mad real.” Fresh off a crazy night at the club, ’Ye nails the best punchline, noting that the lady in leopard was “rubbin’ the wood like Kiki Shepard.” It’s showtime!
Main Producer: Kanye
Track Murderer: ’Ye. (Jay doesn’t really rhyme here, though.)
This seems more like an album opener. Beyoncé belts, “We gon take it to the moon/ Take it to the stars/ How many people you know can take it this far?” in over-the-top Vegas cabaret glory. If you saw that documentary that prematurely leaked, you know Kanye was pretty geeked about this tune also. He’s so gassed, he forgot to write rhymes. He rumbles and stumbles through his verses—reminiscent of the times in concert when he ad-libs melodies in between his antimedia tirades. Delightful. Jay pops up briefly, basically to let us know that he knows other rappers are gonna be “pissed off” when this album drops. The space shuttle clips make this clunker suck even more. The cool lil tribal bridge is too little too late. Although not as horrendous as Kingdom Come’s “Hollywood,” “Lift Off” never leaves the gate.
“Niggas in Paris”
Main Producer: Hit-Boy
Track Murderer: ’Ye.
He gets his Quincy Jones on—Kanye executive produces the fuck out of other dude’s beats. I don’t know if he touched up young producer Hit-Boy’s track, but this is the LP’s best production. An unabashed club banger 2.0, it will have you standing on a couch with a drink in your hand in no time. Jay speaks of his Nets ownership and the time he was fined $50K for visiting the Kentucky Wildcats’ locker room during the 2011 NCAA Tournament (owners aren’t permitted to associate with collegiate players). But this is an ode to a different type of ballin’. Word to Jim Jones. Fun and frolicking in France, ’Ye is in party mode again: “Prince William ain’t do it right/ If you ask me/ ’Cause if I was him, I would have married Kate and Ashley.” Later ’Ye declares, “Don’t let me get in my zone,” over the song’s electro-crunch-filled finish. Makes you feel like you’re already watching the two at a concert performance. Powerful stuff.
Main Producer: Kanye
Track Murderer: ’Ye. Close, though.
This is more of what people would expect of a Jay-Z/Kanye album. Donda’s baby boy behind the boards, choppin’ up soul samples the way No ID taught him. This is The Blueprint 10 years later—but this time, ’Ye gets to rhyme. Hov stays classy and “photo shoot” fresh, while Kanye is happy to keep it crass and get in the competition’s ass. YMCMB? Do you know who we be? “Niggas talking real reckless/ Stuntmen/ I adopted these niggas/ Phillip Drummon’d them/ Now I’m about to make them tuck their whole summer in.” This is a back-and-forth, pass-the-mic, tag-team, vintage Roc-a-Fella Records session shared with the world. The fact that this song with no hook was presented as the project’s first single speaks to this dynamic duo’s desire not to abandon our culture’s foundation.
“Gotta Have It”
Main Producer: Neptunes
Track Murderer: Jay.
The first song of the second quarter of WTT fittingly follows “Otis”—it finds Shawn and Kanye still sharing the ball like LeBron and D. Wade (who they namedrop over playful Neptunes-produced bounce). This is one of three tunes (“No Church in the Wild” and “Otis”) that feature vocal samples from James Brown’s nifty funk of 1974’s “Don’t Tell a Lie About Me and I Won’t Tell The Truth on You” to spice up the mix. It’s needed ’cause the song is really about nothing. But the rhymes here are nonsensical and clever. ’Ye: “Sorry I’m in pajamas/ But I just got off the PJ” (private jet). And Jay shows he keeps up with current affairs in his reference to “plankin’ on a million.” Cash rules!
Main Producer: RZA
Track Murderer: Draw.
Playtime is over. Jay and ’Ye take a page out of Tupac’s book and pen verses to their unborn children. Mr. West warns the young lad not to follow in his steps and draws from his public scandals: the 2005 Katrina telethon and the Taylor Swift clash at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. He draws from his relationships: dumping his college girlfriend and getting into a relationship with a former stripper. The most moving part is Kanye’s reference to his deceased mother: “I’ll never let his mom move to L.A. knowing she couldn’t take the pressure, now we all pray.” Strong and sentimental stuff, but Shawn follows strongly. “Sorry, junior, I already ruined ya,” he snaps, detailing how he’d be the strong father figure he never had. “Look a man dead in his eyes so he know you talk truth when you speak it/ Give your word, keep it.” The almost G-Funk groove produced here by the Wu-Tang leader is infectious, as is the refrain by each MC, enough to make any rap nerd crack a Kool-Aid smile: “Me and the RZA connect.” Bong!
“That’s My Bitch”
Main Producer: Q-Tip
Track Murderer: Kanye.
Return to the celebration. It ain’t safe in the city, because Mr. West is on the hunt for late-night lovelies over a romping Q-Tip track that incorporates classic hip-hop breakbeats, like the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache.” “Too $hort called, told me I fell in love with her,” he jokes and drops the killer line: “My dick worth money/ I put Monie in the middle.” If you really wanna party with ’Ye. Hov tackles the topic a different way, wondering why he sees so few beautiful, iconic images of women of color: “Put some colored girls in the MOMA/ Half these broads ain’t got nothing on Willona?/ Don’t make me bring Thelma in it.” Man, good times. And before the song closes, the elephant in the room gets addressed “Now, shoo children, stop lookin’ at her tits/ Get your own dog, ya heard/ That’s my bitch.” What up, B!
“Welcome to the Jungle”
Producer: Swizz Beatz
Track Murderer: Jay. (‘Ye doesn’t really rhyme here, though.)
In a parade of production stars, Kaseem Dean shines. He’s solely credited here and delivers the hooks—and the ad libs (right…oh!). From 1998’s “Money Cash Hoes” to 2009’s “On to the Next One,” Swizz has shown his ability to get the best out of Shawn. The opposite of “Lift Off,” ’Ye takes a backseat and lets Hov shine. Jay lyrically blacks out over the tinkering thump: eulogizing the losses of his uncle, his father, his nephew and Michael Jackson (“Rest in peace to the leader of the Jackson 5”). Yup, Gloria’s warrior is having a bad day. “Mama, look at ya son/ What happened to my smile?” It’s a great vocal performance. Unfortunately, after Shawn pours out his soul, things abruptly end. No Kanye verse. Swizz’s final refrain, “Goddamnit,” is pretty fitting.
“Who Gon Stop Me”
Main Producer: Sak Pase
Track Murderer: Jay.
The most ambitious track on the album finds the Throne rhyming over dubstep. This is some Speed Racer rap shit, and you almost wish SC would flash back to his double-time rhymin’ roots with Jaz- O. His new rhyme partner, ’Ye, is still gettin’ freaky like Marv Albert, but once again Hov flourishes. Jay gets so locked in the pocket, he instructs engineer Noah Goldstein to put some more beat on it as he declares a “middle finger to my old life.” The Kanye-led chorus is also sure to shake things up: “This is something like the Holocaust/ Millions of our people lost.” Referring to the internal conflict in the African-American community, Jay keeps a black strap with an I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. But the sentiment here harkens back to “Niggas in Paris”: Ball ’til you fall. Ride ’til the wheels fall off.
“Murder to Excellence”
Main Producers: Swizz/S1
Track Murderer: Jay.
Currency doesn’t replace consciousness. These two rap superstars can’t save the world, but they are concerned with the ills of it. Black-on-black crime is addressed in the first half of this two-part song. On “Murder,” Jay acknowledges the senseless slaying of student and star athlete Danroy Henry, and West reminds us his hometown is the U.S.A.’s murder capital and compares the deaths in his city to the number of soldiers lost in Iraq. Hov informs us his birthday is the day Fred Hampton was murdered in a 1969 Chicago police raid. Hov’s message remains: The success of Shawn Carter should be an inspiration to his people. The “Excellence” portion is about pride and achievement. Hov namedrops fellow elites Will Smith and Oprah and observes, “That ain’t enough, we gonna need a million more.” Kanye drives the point further that he and Jay are rich, blessed but stressed just like everyone else.
“Made in America”
Main Producer: Sak Pase
Track Murderer: Kanye.
It gets blacker as Frank Ocean returns with an earnest chorus that name-checks MLKJR, Malcolm X—and God. Seriously, this song could play at the NAACP Image Awards. This is hip-hop a black kid could play his grandfather. Kanye speaks of his mother again, and how she was so instrumental in his career and his fellow Throne partner’s: “Niggas hustle every day for a beat from ’Ye/ What I do? Turn around and give them beats to Jay/ And I’m rappin’ on the beats they were supposed to buy/ I guess I’m gettin’ high off my own supply.” SC returns to BK and his grandma’s banana pudding. But he still can’t knock the hustle. “I pledge allegiance to the scramblers/ This is the Star-Spangled Banner.” A tad sappy but still spine-tingling, this track connects another one of the album’s central themes: black excellence.
“Why I Love You”
Main Producer: Mike Dean
Track Murderer: Jay.
Jay and Kanye are the last two standing triumphantly from the Roc-a-Fella Records era, so you knew that legacy, old partners and friends had to be addressed. You don’t know the pain Hov feels: “I tried to teach niggas how to be kings/ And all they ever wanted to be was soldiers.” Is he talkin’ about outspoken former artists like Beanie Sigel or his former partner, Dame Dash? It’s probably both. “Fuck you, squares/ The circle got smaller/ The castle got bigger/ The walls got taller.” Ouch! “Wasn’t I a good king?” Jay asks rhetorically as Kanye serves as his hype man, cosigning their allegiance all the way through to the awkwardly brilliant last verse. Who woulda thought? The kid with the pink Polo was the heir to the throne.
“Illest Motherfucker Alive”
Main Producer: Southside
Track Murderer: Jay.
There’s a painful three-minute-long silence break before this song begins on WTT’s deluxe edition. Guess the Throne wanted the sentiment of “Why I Love You” to really sink in. The broke and bitter aren’t gonna like this one. Kanye got staples on his dick ’cause he’s fuckin’ centerfolds and wearing $1,000 Lanvin Ts with no logos. King Hov compares his 11 number-one albums to Bill Russell’s 11 NBA Championship rings. And no, Jay didn’t say that he, ’Ye, Beyoncé and Rihanna are the new Beatles, did he? Ha! With an audacious classical backdrop, the Throne don’t let up on detailing their glamorous life. Every day is like a video shoot.
Main Producer: Lex Luger
Track Murderer: Jay-Z.
It’s the return of WTT’s first offering. The critically panned Lex Luger concoction was the album’s non-starter—it dropped back in January. Why did it not exactly light up the rap stratosphere? Kanye’s unsure and clumsy verse provides some answer. He’s snarling with all swag and no substance. Hov’s contribution has way more bite. He snaps, “Fuck y’all mad at me for?” and proceeds to put his Timbo up his peers’ asses: “You got baby money/ Keep it real with niggas/ Niggas ain’t got my lady’s money.” Royal family rap. Mike Dean’s churchlike symphony at the song’s bridge almost makes the tune something special—but almost doesn’t count.
Main Producer: No ID
Track Murderer: Draw.
It was a big mistake omitting, in the final hours, this song from the non-deluxe album’s main track list. This is the sensational sleeper of the disc, as Hov flourishes on his opening verse, which revolves around numbers. The “40-year-old phenom” effortlessly glides and guides you through his journey: “Started in ’88/ Got warm in ’92/ I landed in ’96, that’s the year I came through.” He also promises that at “42 he’ll be better than 24.” Get SC’s b-day card ready for December 4. Ha! ’Ye holds his own and is still lady-chasin’ starlets. Why must an angel be his centerfold? “Well, Adam gave up a rib, so mine better be prime,” he reasons. Plus, he provides some philosophy: “I never live in fear/ I’m too out of my mind.” Who was crazy enough not to recognize this gem? Sorry, Dion.
Main Producer: Pete Rock
Track Murderer: Kanye
A vibrant leftover from Kanye’s Good Music Friday releases, this is the Throne once again showcasing a legendary producer. Pete Rock leads this (Curtis Mayfield–sampled) soul ride as the album’s emotive ride comes to a close. Kanye is the star of this show as he dissects fatherhood (“Don C just had a shorty, so it’s not that bad/ But I still hear the ghosts of the kids I never had”) and his career comeback from Swift-Gate (“You know the demo/ Your boy act wild/ You ain’t get the memo/ Yeezy’s back in style”). With ’Ye havin’ two verses, Hov’s appearance comes off as a feature. But his endorsement is monumental as he proclaims, “Pete Rock make the needle drop,” and delves into his childhood—and sippin’ his pop’s Miller nips. Pause. Kid Cudi’s refrain at the end is prophetic: “Don’t let them take your fire.”
I’m anxious to see where The Throne’s musical marriage goes next. WTT is the close of a trilogy of a true creative partnership. Kanye used to make beats for Jay in the early 2000s. Now they truly compose music together. Lest we forget, Kanye shaped the direction of Jay’s 2009 Blueprint 3, and Hov’s presence was abundant with great guest turns on Kanye’s 2010 My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. All three discs are the sound of the expansion of hip-hop. Follow the leaders. An A-level rapper and producer, Kanye has always been clear about his goal to be a cultural icon. Jay-Z, the GOAT MC, has grown into that. They’re not businessmen. They’re businesses, man. Walking, breathing, global brands. Ask Steve Stoute. It’s no shock that their sound has changed. If you want their old shit, buy their old albums. From BK to Brixton, from Chicago to Copenhagen, they want to move the masses. WTT’s production stretches hip-hop’s boom-bap aesthetic and embraces electronic dance music in an organic way without losing its—our—edge.
Longevity. Legacy. Stadium status. How many five-star albums can Mr. West make? Hov beat Elvis, but can he really knock out eight more number-one albums and beat The Beatles? If you still don’t enjoy the album, are you really not gonna go to a show on the tour? Ha! This is an important moment in hip-hop. It’s okay to savor it. Get inspired!