SOTBMusic Retrospective: Watch The Throne

I wanted to do a retrospective on the 2011 JAY Z/Kanye West collaborative album Watch The Throne with an embed of the actual album. However, due to TIDAL having exclusive rights to streaming the album and my hesitancy to post just YouTube links of the songs, I won’t be able to do that. I will, however, still be able to showcase some of the videos while talking about the project. 

In 2011, I worked at a summer camp in Washington D.C. because I needed some time away from the office life. I also thought that Watch The Throne was an album that was just alright in the face of its incredible promotion cycle. It had stellar production, for the most part. Tracks off it were catchy as hell. However, the lyrics tended to fall on the side of “look at our opulence. Bask in our excellence.” While that’s fun for a few tracks, it felt like 16 tracks worth of that. Because of this, I grew tired of the project rather quickly. Mind you, this is coming from the guy who still plays The Black Album and liked (parts of) Graduation. So, I’m not just some “hater.”

Nevertheless, the album didn’t stick with me like it could have/potentially should have. Six years later, after leaving that summer camp for an actual office job (again), do my “meh” feelings towards the project still ring true? Sort of.

Don’t misconstrue my apathy as hatred for the project, though. I enjoyed rapping along to “Otis” as much as the next twenty-something. However, I wanted more from this project than just catchy songs where Jay talks about how he “invented swag.” While there were songs like “Murder to Excellence” that tried to wax philosophical about gun violence and the lack of empathy for areas such as Chicago, those songs were few and far in between. The album just feels like two rich guys talking about how rich they are.
And again, that’s cool. Do you. If you’re rich, you don’t really have any reason to rap about “the struggle” anymore–unless you’re doing it from a storyline perspective. It feels inauthentic to hear a multimillionaire rap about personally selling coke when they haven’t done so for decades. Struggle bars are best left for artists who still have, well, struggle. With that in mind, for an album featuring two hip-hop heavyweights, I still expected more than Jay and Ye pretty much doing early-’10s hip-hop their way.
Maybe I was expecting too much substance from WTT. I grew up listening to both artists give us substance-heavy music and I thought that a collaboration would give listeners more of that sound. The album falls victim to its creators’ successes and ultimately just feels like one self-congratulatory boast versus an album with any sort of story or plot. But, because of this, you could argue that the success of WTT did something we’re still seeing the effects of today in music.

The wins WTT amassed helped usher in an era of “playlist albums.” Why? Well, look no further than the tracklist. For an album that was light on substance, it was heavy on single material. It was heavy on stuff that, while lacking a cohesive story to pull it all together, you could play in a workout, cookout, or party. So, for that, the album deserves praise for switching up the game, but also a bit of damnation since it helped to start the decline in albums with story.

Now, I’m not saying that WTT was the first album in this era (or any era) to go full-on “playlist” on us. However, it was one of the most-successful endeavors into this sub-subgenre. Utilizing guest spots from the likes of Beyonce, Frank Ocean, and Mr Hudson, the album was a playlist maker’s dream in some ways. The guest spots complimented the main stars and you could just focus on those hits without really missing any sort of story or anything of that sort.

But, was the album as a whole good?

Perhaps I’ve looked at it all wrong. Maybe this album wasn’t meant to be an “album album” and instead more of a curated collection of sounds and vibes. In that sense, it succeeds for the most part. You can throw “Otis” into a mix today and people’d still be hyped up. Is it a classic album? Eh, not exactly. But is it an album that served a purpose and moved the “what’s hot” barometer in a new (albeit somewhat scary) direction? Hell, yeah.

So, in short, the album ain’t half-bad. It’s no classic, but it’s a decent project if you look at it like a playlist and not an actual “album.”

Speed on the Beat

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