For one of this year's most anticipated projects between two of the world's most acknowledged artists, you'd expect Kanye and Jay-Z to pull out all the stops on their collaborative album Watch The Throne. Unsurprisingly, the group of guest talent gathered to work with the two rappers represents some of the most prestigious musicians around. Swizz Beats, The RZA, The Neptunes, and Pete Rock all lend hands on the production side of things, while Beyonce, Mr. Hudson, and R&B's newest golden boy Frank Ocean showcase their vocal skills for a few of the choruses. Despite all the star-studded performances though, Watch The Throne ultimately feels like a well-oiled partnership; the work of just two rappers.
Right from the start, the album jumps into Kanye and Jay's affluent realm of the spoils of riches and the turmoil that accompanies it. Lyrically, the context of WTT bases primarily around questions of faith, power, and status. "Tears on the mausoleum floor/Blood stains the coliseum doors", raps Jay-Z on the first couplets of "No Church In The Wild", the album's raw and riffy opening track. "Lies on the lips of a priest/Thanksgiving disguised as a feast". There's a lot of drama seated deeply into WTT, and its felt almost immediately. Of course, all the theatrics seem pinned with unceasing references to a life of fortunes (Kanye, on "Otis": "Last Week I Was in my other other Benz." Jay-Z on "Gotta Have It": "I'm Planking on a million"), but I suppose no one should be too surprised here. At least, for every mention of a Maybach car or a price tag, there's an allusion to heritage or family; things both rappers have spent a good amount of time throughout their careers convincing listeners they care just as much, if not more, about. On WTT, Kanye and Jay-Z do their best to turn the bravado inside out, humanizing the dark side of fame and inviting the listener to wonder if life really is all it's cracked up to be when you're a millionaire.
In the end, Watch The Throne is an album that hits all it's necessary bases, even if the follow through isn't all there. "Why I Love You" and "Who Gon Stop Me" have that big, stadium-filling sound, while "No Church in the Wild" and "Made In America" bring forth some ultra-smooth emotion. Considering the egos involved, WTT could have easily become a pompous, overdone, vanity project. Instead, the two titans of hip-hop prove that even with all the glitz and glamour, they can come out with a very well balanced piece of work.