When the media’s tectonic plates form mountains of hype and awards are handed out prematurely, there looms the possibility that expectations won’t be met. We can look at the 2011-12 Philadelphia Eagles as a cautionary tale. Dubbed the “Dream Team” by trigger-happy writers and players prior to the season, they finished at 8-8, missing the playoffs and inspiring pure, spring water fresh schadenfreude among haters.
Watch the Throne was granted the same “Dream Team” treatment from the moment of its conception. Honestly, I drank the Kool-Aid. I was sure that Watch the Throne would beam rap into another galaxy and begin a renaissance. I expected the explosions of “Armageddon” mixed with Hitchcock creativity. Unfortunately, what I got was Michael Bay directing “Avatar.” Kanye and Jay-Z didn’t change the game so much as they just rubber-stamped what 2011 gave them. You like dubstep? They’ve got dubstep. You like Frank Ocean and Lex Luger beats? Look no further!
I’m not trying to completely discredit WtT as an album. The flashy lyrics are quality and the bombastic production complements Ye-Z’s penthouse boasts nicely. But I just can’t brood silently as WtT earns album of the year accolades over and over and over again. It’s a well-made album, but lacks the innovation that both artists are known for. Kanye’s rap-opera, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, had an artistic vision rarely seen, and Jay-Z is a legend, in musical prowess and business acumen, meaning they should be held to a higher standard. The gold-plated album cover is appropriate, but more apt might have been a picture of them patting each other on the back.
Maybe I’m just bitter because I know they can do better. I paradoxically love and hate WtT, acknowledging it as both the high and low point of rap. Jay and Ye penned an ode to the luxurious life of rap royalty, in which you can rhyme about life in the hood while wearing Louis Vuitton socks. They know they’re the kings, and in true DGAF (don’t give a…) fashion, stopped working once they knew they had a cash cow recorded. Watch the Throne is an 8, but it could’ve easily been a 10. Watching Kanye rap “N***as in Paris” nine times straight while wearing a kilt is a decadent thrill, and songs like “Why I Love You” are brilliant, but the entire album is an example of a contradictory version of complacency. Jay-Z and Kanye have become complacent in their greatness, and on WtT they simply don’t strive for top-level excellence. Being an 8 is an unbelievable accomplishment, but they traded “best of all time” (in a Kanye West voice) lists for “best of 2011” lists.
I know I shouldn’t penalize Watch the Throne for not meeting my Mt. Everest-level expectations, but did people congratulate the Miami Heat for making it to the NBA finals? No. A pairing of the (debatably) best in the game should be judged on a separate scale, and for me, Watch the Throne fell under “could’ve been better.”
Greatness comes easy to Ye-Z. There’s more creativity on any one of their albums than most rappers have in their entire catalog, but Watch the Throne is not fully developed. We get it, you guys live lives that Russian billionaires envy, but get past that. No denying that WtT was a top album of 2012 — I listened to “H.A.M.” about 100 times — but that top spot should be reserved for musicians who are currently innovating, not just doing what’s expected of them. In a rap vacuum, WtT might be the album of the year. But when factoring in my mammoth expectations, artists like A$AP Rocky and Big K.R.I.T stand higher on the podium.
I hate to hate, but someone’s gotta do it.