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First Impressions: Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne

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Watch The Throne, probably one of the most hyped-up releases in quite a long time, has finally arrived. The work of rap superstars Jay-Z and Kanye West, the album reportedly took nine months and three attempts to create and fine-tune. Does it live up the hype? Is it the newest classic?

We decided to post our track-by-track impressions as each of us listened to the album for the first time. As we each finish, this post will be updated with our individual opinions. Right now, you can check out three sets of first impressions below. More to come soon!

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“No Church In the Wild (feat. Frank Ocean)”
Frank: The Frank Ocean vocoder hook is pretty unimpressive to me and it doesn’t really fit with the song’s production. The grimy beat strikes deep and both Hova and Kanye spit pretty hard over this. Interesting track idea though, especially with the animal sounds that close out the end of the song.
Tait: I really like the production on this song and the grittiness of the sample. It definitely feels like its building up to something and fits greatly as an opener. The Frank Ocean chorus is also quite nice, although I’m not quite sure about that heavily auto-tuned section in the middle; however, both Jay-Z and Kanye do come into the album with great verses, and the symbolism of the lion roar at the end fits right in hand.
Jeff: The beat on this is ferocious. The Frank Ocean hook is decent but I know he can do a lot more with his voice, so it’s a bit underwhelming. But I actually really enjoy the vocoder part in the middle. Both Kanye and Jay-Z enter with strong verses and the outro with animal noises fit the theme of the track.

Kevin: The hook from Frank Ocean is a lot different from what I have heard before, but I think he shows that he can be in a song with two of the biggest rappers in the game right now. The beat of this song goes pretty hard, but Yeezy and Jay-Z seem like they’re only warming up.

 

“Lift Off (feat. Beyoncé)”
Frank: I love the beat on this and how this song opens. I didn’t expect Kanye to start singing after his first verse, but his voice does work pretty well with Beyoncé‘s. Fans of 808s & Heartbreak will probably enjoy the autotuned vocals on this, as it’s pretty similar in style. Not sure how this song really fits in after “No Church In the Wild” though.
Tait: What’s a Kanye West album without horns? There’s a lot of singing (mumbling?) by Mr. West here, which to me is always a little detracting, but not too bad. Can’t say I really like the rocket ship sample though. It feels a little cheesy combined with the title of the song and the prevalence of the phrase “lift off” in the song. Overall, I feel like the song is alright but not great. Hopefully it will grow on me with time.
Jeff: Beyonce sounds fantastic on this, very soulful and sultry. I didn’t particularly want Kanye to start singing though and neither Jay-Z nor Kanye’s verses are that impressive. However, the beat is once again hard-hitting. Not as good as “No Church in the Wild” and the two songs are a bit too different tonally from each other for my liking.
Kevin: The trumpets that start out the song remind me a lot of “All of the Lights” from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Beyoncé delivers in this song with a powerful and soulful voice, which makes the song very inspirational when accompanied with the horns in the background. However, the rapping still has yet to impress me.

 

“Niggas In Paris”
Frank: So far, I’m very impressed by the beats and production on this album more than the verses. This seems a bit more like “H.A.M.” and the beat is pretty similar to that one. Lyrically and stylistically, this is pretty much the first “fist-bump” bravado song that appears. Second half of the song has a My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy vibe, which is pretty cool.
Tait: Interesting beat and song title. Glad to hear a song that’s more rapping than it is singing though. The samples as the chorus are well done and the skit in the middle definitely produced a smile. Gotta love the epic feeling after the transition at the end of the song.
Jeff: Definitely could see this as the next single. Great rhyming, though the beat does get a bit monotonous until the much needed transition in the last minute of the song. Could definitely envision people blasting this through their car speakers.
Kevin: I’m really feeling the beat in this song. It gets a bit repetitive after a while but I feel that the rapping that accompanies this beat is great. I was worried that this album would be too focused on beats and vocoder effects rather than rapping, but this song has me excited for the rest of the album. I also really like the transition to the outro of the song, which makes me feel like the album has officially begun.

 

“Otis (feat. Otis Redding)”
Frank: Opinions have been pretty divided on this song since it was first released a week ago. I was fan on first listen and I think the sample actually works really well. It has a soulful vibe that made me fall in love with Kanye in the first place. The screams are a bit off-putting at the end but it doesn’t bother me too much.
Tait: This song is definitely a stand out on first listen, which isn’t surprising as it is the lead single. The Otis Redding sample is fantastic and works greatly as a beat. Thus far the production on this album has been well above-par and it seems like it’ll stay that way. Both rappers have also been doing well flowing into one another and there aren’t any particularly bad lines that have stuck out so far.
Jeff: Love the Otis Redding sample, probably because I love Otis Redding. Kanye sounds great on this and Jay-Z holds his own. I still feel like Kanye’s been outshining his counterpart thus far. The screaming at the end was unnecessary and borderline irritating.
Kevin: I heard this song last week when it was released as a single and I was pretty excited that they used an Otis Redding sample. The transitions between Kanye and Jay-Z are pretty smooth and both rappers utilize the soulful beat very well. However, feel that the song is so much different from the previous songs that it kind of ruins the pump-up vibe that I felt like the album had going. Also, the screaming at the end of the song was pretty aggravating.

 

“Gotta Have It”
Frank: Another vocal sample on this one, but this one is a lot more mesmerizing. Not sure how I feel about Kanye starting his verse with “LOLOLOL, America” but the back-and-forth mic sharing on this song is pretty enjoyable. This song’s also filled with references, some subtle and some not.
Tait: It seems like almost every song on this album so far has a vocal sample in it so far. Again, both rappers do a great job intertwining instead of alternating complete verses. Although the song feels quite short, there’s definitely a sense of quality over quantity on this one.
Jeff: Love the Ferris Bueller references in this. Kanye and Jay-Z seem to trade lines rather than verses which is refreshing. Track’s a bit too short for my liking but overall it’s solid.
Kevin: So far I haven’t seen either rapper trump each other because both of them have had such strong verses. This song’s smooth transitions between both rappers show that Jay-Z and Kanye West can make great music together while drawing on each other’s strong points.

 

“New Day”
Frank: Kanye teams up with The RZA on this song, so you know the production is top-notch. The lyrical content is even better: the two rap superstars discuss how they will raise their hypothetical sons. Darker and more introspective rhymes make this song my favorite so far. This is the kind of song I was hoping to hear onWatch The Throne, a blend of their lyrical talents with slower, piano-driven beats in the vein of “Never Let Me Down”.
Tait: Probably the first song on this album that doesn’t feel celebratory and the song is fantastic. Both rappers give truly heartfelt verses on raising their prospective sons, Kanye hoping his won’t repeat his own mistakes and Jay-Z apologizing to his for the potential hardships he might cause. Glad to hear a song that is endearing from the two. There are some great lines in this one.
Jeff: It’s pretty apparent this will be a more thoughtful track from the get go, devoid of “the Throne killin’ it”-type sentiments pervading the first five. Each rapper displays his earnestness, contemplating the ways in which he’ll make sure his son doesn’t make the same mistakes he made. Also thought the vocal sample’s use of the melody and lyrics from “Feeling Good” was a nice touch. Very good tune.
Kevin: From the start of the song, I became excited because of the use of the “Feeling Good” sample. “Feeling Good” is such an inspirational and soulful song, but still seems to put me in a kind of melancholic mood. The lyrics in this song are also great. Both rappers confer about how they treat their supposed sons after the many mistakes they have made in their life. The guitar solo accompanied with the piano in the outro give a great touch to end a very earnest song. So far this has been the most standout track for me.

 

“That’s My Bitch”
Frank: Interesting production on this song. The 8-bit, glitchy sound blends awkwardly with the soul vocal sample, kind of like “Hell of a Life”. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but this album is a lot more Kanye than Jay. Most of Jay’s verses so far have been quite unremarkable so it was nice to hear him tear up this beat.
Tait: I’m not too big a fan of the synth driven beat but I dig singing in the song. I also agree with Frank on the prevalence of Kanye in this track. I have to say that I wasn’t too impressed with this song but that will probably change with more listens.
Jeff: Not really feeling the beat on this one. Verses are kind of weak. Underwhelming track.
Kevin: After a very heartfelt track, “That’s My Bitch” goes back to the vibe that the rest of the album had earlier. I think Jay-Z kills it in this song and is probably one of my favorite verses by him on this album so far.

 

“Welcome to the Jungle”
Frank: Swizz Beatz on the hook on this one. Jay-Z tears up this beat as well. The greatest part of this song is the energy created by the repetitive and slightly-annoying beat, but I’m sure people will be very divided over this song and the production in particular.
Tait: With the past two tracks and this one, it feels like the album has turned from a more celebratory, “we’re the kings”-like feel to a more serious one. Towards the end of the song is a little sample that seems to have been taken from another song completely, something that has occurred a few times already. It’ll be interesting to see if the end bits piece together to form anything.
Jeff: Jay-Z sounds better here than on any previous song. The beat does get a bit irritating after a while, though. However, I do like the “welcome to the jungle” chorus.
Kevin: Again, I’m really feeling Jay-Z’s rapping in this track. Kanye seems to quiet for most of this track, but I’m really enjoying this beat.

 

“Who Gon Stop Me”
Frank: Pig latin by Kanye? A rave-style synth beat? This is the most varied song so far and it’s an interesting contrast. “This is something like a holocaust,” describes Kanye.
Tait: Another synth driven beat, this time with a Flux Pavilion sample and a beat change with Jay-Z’s entrance. There’s a lot of crazy/unexpected synth in this one. It feels like something that’ll either get better after its fully digested.
Jeff: The beat here is once again massive and very dubby. Yet, for the most part, it strangely works. Kanye rapping in pig latin was a very clever idea. Pretty good track.
Kevin: When the song first started, I became extremely enthusiastic because of the sample used in this song. I am a pretty big fan of dubstep and I felt like Chiddy Bang did not do this song justice. I think this song is the most ambitious of the whole album so far and Kanye West and Jay-Z definitely does “I Can’t Stop” by Flux Pavillion justice. Kanye’s pig latin line was also pretty cool and as expected the bass in this song is incredible. The second half of the song is basically an entirely different beat, but I cannot complain because both rappers kill it on this track.

 

“Murder to Excellence”
Frank: Impressive all the way around. Kanye and Jay address the problems that Black America face on a day-to-day basis. Kid Cudi makes his only appearance on this song dropping a few “ooohs” in.
Tait: I like the different feel that the guitar brings to the beat. An interesting and deep song on the prevalence of murder today. This song also contains a beat change about halfway through this song, something that seems to happen often on this album.
Jeff: “And I’m from the murder capital where they murder for capital”, Jay-Z raps. Some of the best lyrics on the album here. This is another more serious track and once again, a very successful one. Both rappers sound fantastic, another standout.
Kevin: This is another solemn song where Kanye and Jay-Z describe the problems that arise in America. Halfway into the song the beat changes completely and I feel that the name of the track gives some sense of the beat change.

 

“Made In America (feat. Frank Ocean)”
Frank: Odd Future crooner Frank Ocean makes his second appearance and this one is much more enjoyable. He has one the greatest voices out right now and he lends it over a twinkling piano line in this song. Kanye talks about meeting No I.D. and his rise to fame as a rapper. On the other hand, Jay-Z raps about his grandma and childhood memories. Raw and beautiful.
Tait: This is probably the most laid back beat so far on the album, and it fits really well following the last few tracks. Frank Ocean sounds great, and the dropback at the end caps off a pretty inspirational song.
Jeff: Frank Ocean’s vocals are rich and soulful here, much better feature than on the first track. West’s opening verse is one of his best on the album, great lyrics and flow. Jay-Z also excels here, discussing his upbringing. So far, this, “Murder to Excellence”, “New Day”, and “No Church in the Wild” are my favorites.
Kevin: I enjoyed Frank Ocean’s hook on the opening track for the album, but I’m really feeling his hook in this song. It really exemplifies the great voice that he has. The lyrics in this song are very inspirational and beautiful. Both verses by Jay-Z and Kanye are some of my favorite from the album. I just like everything about this song.

 

“Why I Love You (feat. Mr Hudson)”
Frank: Interesting hook from G.O.O.D. Music fam Mr Hudson, with the singer’s voice pitch-shifted for effect. This was probably the best choice to close the album, but the abrupt end leaves much to be desired.
Tait: Interesting to see them use this track as an ending instead of “Made in America”. Kanye and Jay-Z intertwine well, just like they did earlier in the album, and Mr. Hudson does a good job on the chorus. Like most have said however, the ending is fairly abrupt in manner.
Jeff: The loud opening is a bit off-putting after the more relaxed beat on “Made in America”. Mr. Hudson’s hook is adequate, but repeated a couple too many times. Once again, the rappers seem to trade lines rather than verses. I would have rather seen “Made in America” finish the album off; its more extended outro feels more conclusive than the startlingly abrupt “ooh” that closes this track.
Kevin: This song is pretty good as a closer for the album, but I feel that “Made in America” would be better as a closer. This song does well as closing the entire album because it has an intense beat and hook that is predominant in the rest of the album. I really like the last line where Yeezy and Jay-Z just trade off for the last couple words.

 

Final Verdict
Frank: All things considered, Watch The Throne is a pretty strong effort. When Kanye and Jay are able to settle down and shed the bravado that embodies their reputation and their careers, they spin some very interesting tales. Discussing their come-ups, their lives, and their futures, these moments make Watch The Throne utterly inspiring and utterly impressive. Is this a classic? One listen isn’t enough for me to conclude that, but this is certainly a great piece of work from two of rap’s best.
Tait: With all the hype surrounding the release, I have to say that I was worried about how this album would turn out; however, it’s safe to say that Watch the Throne definitely exceeded my expectations and is likely be one of the top albums this year. I also have to add how impressive it is that they kept it from leaking until its actual release date (something that I feel hasn’t happened in a long time and is even more impressive when considering the popularity of both artists).
Jeff: It’s definitely a strong release and will probably be one of, if not the, best hip-hop albums this year. But do I think it will go down as anything more? Not particularly. To me, this is nothing more than a very good hip-hop album with some fantastic beats. Perhaps that will change with more listens; one spin often isn’t enough to judge a record accurately. But for some reason, even despite my only having listened to Watch the Throneonce, I really don’t think this record will ever be a classic, at least not to me.
Kevin: I think the beats are the things that stand out most in the album. There are differently a number of songs where the lyrical content is great, but beats still standout for me. After all the hype that this album got, I feel like there is not one bad song on the album. It’s definitely not my choice and I have no idea if this album will ever be labeled a classic, but it is undeniably a great album and will probably make many albums of the year lists. Both rappers do great, and I’m glad that one doesn’t trump the other. This album shows that Jay-Z and Kanye West are at the top of their game.

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