Getting an album the day it comes out, then listening to it and talking about it with our friends—we feel like we’re in high school again. Anyway, we here at Popdust spent the day reviewing Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne, one song at a time, and now that we’ve finished, we’re presenting you all 12 of our reviews in neatly compiled, ranked format. Starting with our least favorite song and going up to our very favorite, here’s what we thought about Jay & ‘Ye’s much-anticipated work. Thanks for reading all day, and can’t wait to see you again for Turn Away From the Throne, You Infidels in a couple years’ time.
No. 12: “Who Gon Stop Me”
Sounds Like: Jay and Kanye’s grand dubstep experiment, name-checking and sampling most of a Flux Pavilion song to proclaim themselves unstoppable. It’s about all they do, too; save for the midsection, where Jay’s rap and the most dynamic part of the beat boost each other up, “Who Gon Stop Me” might as well be a mostly-unchanged mixtape cut.
Pros: That Flux Pavilion song was good, right? You hear pretty much the entire thing, and credit Kanye’s “extra production” for making it sound slightly less blown-out than the original. Some people might call that a con; we’ve got different ideas. For instance:
Cons: This is nothing like the Holocaust, and “ixnay on my dixnay” doesn’t even make Pig Latin grammatical sense. (The word you’re searching for is “ickday,” assuming you’re not George Washington.) Let’s take a break from Kanye, though; “like a rabbit, I like carrots. I’m allergic to having bunny ears” and “like, nope” would be bad enough had Jay not sounded temporarily out-of-breath from the exertion. There’s boasting, then there’s not even trying.
Song Winner: At least Jay restricts his embarrassing lines to one-offs; the rest of his verse is solid or at least attached to a solid beat. Kanye’s are repeats.
Definitive Self-Aggrandizing Lyric: Jay’s “Pablo Picasso, rock those rookies / graduated to the MOMA, and I did all of this without a diploma.”
No. 11: “Made in America” Featuring Frank Ocean
Sounds Like: A patriotic anthem that’s more subtle than “Empire State Of Mind,” with the pulsing synth reminiscent of Toto’s “Africa” underneath Ocean’s chorus.
Pros: Ocean recalls the names of those not only important to African-American history (Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King, Malcolm X), but American history in general. But while ‘Ye spends his time looking back, remembering his rise from summer school student to in-demand producer (“I told my mama I was on the come up / She said ‘you going to school I’ll give you a summer’ / The she met NO ID and gave me his number / 10 years later she driving a Hummer”), Hov is planning ahead for the future and his potentially expanding family. (That’s the sound of millions of blogs launching speculative “What Should Beyoncé and Jay-Z Name Their Unborn Child?!” posts.) Like “Welcome To The Jungle,” this is Jay at his most vulnerable, revealing things he may be thinking but not regularly willing to share with others. While the song’s chorus seems to honor all of those “Made In America,” the track is really a look at the history these two have shared and perhaps their differing futures, which is a fitting fixture towards the end of the album.
Cons: The midtempo track is carried by Ocean’s smooth chorus, but for someone known for his NSFW lyrics with and without Odd Future, hearing him sing the sweet, innocent-as-apple-pie lyrics seems a bit confusing.
Definitive Self-Aggrandizing Lyric: Kanye is nowhere near modest when referencing the power just about anything he does has over ye old Internet. “Old folks’ll tell you not to play in traffic / A million hits and the web crashes—damn!” could be about a number of things—the unexpected remarks about George Bush during the telethon for Hurricane Katrina, crashing Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the VMAs, joining Twitter—all of which went viral in a matter of seconds. This tongue-in-cheek reference to his mass fame packs extra punch thanks to his seemingly indifferent attitude towards it all.
Song Winner: Frank Ocean’s “Sweet Baby Jesus” might be stuck in your head for the rest of the day (or have you reaching for your copy of Talladega Nights) but for us, it’s Kanye who manages to both appreciatively give thanks to his rise to fame as well as generate more than one eye roll with his bravado (“This ain’t no fashion show, motherfucker we live it”).
No. 10: “Why I Love You” Featuring Mr. Hudson
Sounds Like: “I Love You So” by French group Cassius, buffed and slotted like a jewel into Watch the Throne‘s final track. “Why I Love You” is among the album’s most ambivalent tracks, about Jay-Z and Kanye’s paranoia, resentment and reluctant love toward fans, labels and each other. Other tracks on Watch the Throne might reward closer, repeat listening; “Why I Love You” demands it.
Pros: “Why I Love You” almost sounds beefy enough to justify its final-track slot, and there’s more direct interplay between Jay and Kanye here than anywhere else on Watch the Throne. Too many ostensible “features” don’t sound like the other guy on the credits even listened to his absent guest’s part before pasting his segment into the track; Jay and Kanye at least sound like they’re aware of what the other guy’s doing. It’ll probably sound great live.
Cons: Notice the “almost” in that last paragraph. For a closer to an album of Watch the Throne‘s scope, “Why I Love You” feels more like the third-to-last track, beat and verses and sample content to operate at 70% strength. The abrupt ending, lacking even an outro, doesn’t help, and to say Mr. Hudson doesn’t earn his featured credit is an understatement.
Song Winner: A tie; both Jay and Kanye impress even if you could untwine their respective contributions.
Definitive Self-Aggrandizing Lyric: “Please, Lord, forgive him / for these n—-s know not what they do.” What’s more definitive or self-aggrandizing than invoking Jesus’s final words?
No. 9: “Lift Off” Featuring Beyonce
Sounds Like: A percussion and synth-heavy track with aspirations of being a stadium jam, where the actual lyrics are an afterthought.
Pros: Sharp snare drums propel the transition from Beyoncé’s chorus to Kanye and Jay’s verses. B’s words are highly catchy—even if “moon” and “stars” are pretty obvious—blasting on repeat throughout the track. The last minute or so is the most interesting, as the chorus which we’ve heard over and over gets reworked on some new percussion, but alas, it’s just an outro.
Cons: Given it’s the second track on the album and boasts a Beyoncé guest appearance, we were expecting this song to really get things started, or at least have the most obvious commercial appeal. It appears to be going for the latter, as the trio attempt to take advantage of the recent trend of aerial-themed, inspirational anthems (“Firework,” “Lighters“). But rather than explode into Kanye’s rhymes, there’s a lengthy intro filled with too many sounds before giving way to Beyonce’s (somewhat cheesy) chorus. B’s vocals are always welcomed, but at 30 seconds it feels overwrought, just delaying the inevitable awesomeness that never quite materializes. Kanye’s verse starts off strong before he begins mumbling his lyrics, while Jay’s follow-up is almost nonexistent. The song looks to have most mainstream appeal (Beyoncé certainly never hurts with that) but there isn’t enough of a definitive or inventive line to really motivate us to “take it to the stars,” without the use of tired solar system references. We were at least expecting ‘Ye to squeeze in something about Uranus.
Definitive Self-Aggrandizing Lyric: A tie between ‘Ye’s “I got the whole city/They about to go off” and Bey’s collective bragging in the chorus: “We gonna take it to the moon, take it to the stars/How many people you know can take it this far?” Because, well, we don’t have an answer for that question.
Song Winner: We’d say West has it over Jay, but this song is really all Beyoncé. We’ll take her constant presence throughout the track as refusal to be just any other guest star.
For songs number eight through five, click NEXT.