For the remainder of the week, the running commentary, criticism, and praise of Kanye and Jay-Z’s monster album, Watch The Throne, will continue to pour out on Twitter, Facebook, via e-mail and text, and maybe even over a few live discussions, but the critics have already passed their final judgments. As to be expected, there’s a mixed consensus on the collaborative album, though numerous mentions of the word “ego” appear across the board.
Behold, a review roundup of Watch The Throne.
Time: Dip deep into the Throne, past the bacchanal celebration of the finer things in life, and you’ll find the album’s heart: two men grappling with what it means to be successful and black in a nation that still thinks of them as second class. The finest example of this is “Murder to Excellence,” which compares the murder rate in Chicago to the death toll in Iraq…What could have been a forgettable mishmash, or considering the egos involved, a bombastic vanity project, is instead a beautifully decadent album by two of hip-hop’s finest artists—men with a lot of things to say and a lot of money to spend.”
The New York Times: In this union the unflappable Jay-Z has given in ever so slightly to the restless Mr. West. Both men sound hungry and probing and, most important, not complacent, making Watch the Throne perhaps the most ambitious and effortful late-career album hip-hop has ever seen. This is the least obviously commercial album Mr. West has ever made; as for Jay-Z it rivals some of his recent artistic disappointments, failures of shortsightedness, not ambition.
Entertainment Weekly: 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.
Los Angeles Times: The result is a cocksure, fiery, smart, if problematic, collaboration that showcases the pair’s distinct lyrical skills, their way around a metaphor and an ability to execute both a grand narrative and the details that turn it into truth. Musically, the production is captivating — especially West and RZA’s odd, syrupy beat on “New Day” — even if a relative lack of structural variety within the songs makes the record feel a little longer than it actually is.
Chicago Tribune: Both artists have developed distinct, not necessarily complementary personas. Jay-Z is about imperious flow, bridging his gritty past life on the streets with his current status as a cultural tastemaker and business mogul. He operates at arm’s length from the listener, a self-styled godfather who never seems to break a sweat as he rhymes rings around his inferior would-be competition…West is more desperate, transparent, awkward, vulnerable; he’s not nearly the MC that Jay-Z is, but still he aims for the stars, often shooting well beyond traditional hip-hop subject matter and production in his desire to make an impression. He is the one more likely to surprise and enrage these days, which makes him one of the most compelling figures in contemporary pop.
Washington Post: Those expecting a disastrous ego clash will have to wait for Congress to reconvene — or until Jay-Z and West hit the road together this fall. Here, the duo volley between the contemplative and the petulant, dreaming contorted American dreams in which your worth is defined by your Rolex, your tenacity, your Warhol collection, your desire, the cars in your garage and the chips on your shoulder. Over the course of 16 tracks, rebellion is consistently tempered with gluttony — the two dissonant spirits that make this country great.