'Watch the Throne' was a whirlwind in the rap world. Singles like "N***** in Paris" garnered the kind of attention that only Kanye and Jay can.
A song all about the limits of religion/spirituality in a brutal world where social hierarchy might be inevitable and Jay Z and Kanye West are self-declared gods? Still very relevant today. Though the two have changed significantly, the notion that only hard work and success equals higher power in this wild world remains cogent. "No Church in the Wild" is one of the most important songs in ‘Watch the Throne.’ It is a powerful listen that delivers a strong start to the project. It also establishes the cohesion between the voices and deliveries of Kanye West and Jay Z in this album. A later song,“Welcome to the Jungle” is thematically similar. Though “Welcome to the Jungle” focuses closer to earth. That is, the repercussions of this limited religiosity to everyday people as opposed to living legends like the duo we are listening to. Kanye delivers his iconic “sunglasses and Advil verse in this song, placing the entire album in relation to the trope of sunken Hollywood. The lonely, potentially decrepit, feeling of success and its many parties. Think Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
The most energetic and successful song from the album, "N***** in Paris" is a celebration of the duo’s vast success. Not only in terms of rap, but in terms of cultural significance - where Paris represents a certain cultural capital of the world. This is especially true with fashion, a field which Kanye West has influenced since the very start of his career. Through the years, Ye and J have not lost any influence. If anything, Jay Z is even more institutionally powerful. Recently, Kanye’s popularity has taken a bit of hit. Yet, he is one of the key movers and shakers in fashion. Anything he makes or touches sells out. Musically, Kanye West’s style has changed significantly. He is less interested in the themes presented and developed in ‘Watch the Throne.’ He recently announced that he will only produce Christian music moving forward, a vast departure from the self-proclaimed godship of this album. However, Kanye West is still one of the key figures in 21st century music history, with the most Grammys of any rapper. In "N***** in Paris," Kanye delivers some of the most memorable lines of the album immaculately.
Expertly sampling Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” “Otis” is thematically aligned with the previous song. It’s a celebration of success delivered slightly less aggressively. The song boasts strong one-line brags. This song is a bit more about the material implications of immense success, referencing iconic luxury brands throughout.
This beat is still, 8 years later, incredibly infectious and effective. When it comes to motivational music, it's hard to beat this duo in terms of beat production and lyricism. "Gotta Have It" is a nice way to follow up the two previous songs. This song is successful in having one succinct flow between the two rappers, as opposed to self-contained verses. Ye and J weave in and out in a very coherent and enjoyable way.
This is where the album turns an emotional corner. After proclaiming themselves gods and celebrating vast success, Ye and J reflect on how they will raise their children. For Kanye, his success has come with controversy. At that time, his reputation as “having a big ego” was one of the more popular opinions about him. Kanye saw this as personal attack. It is clear from the lyrics that Kanye deeply feels the criticism, and wants to make sure his children do not experience this pain. Jay Z feels guilt about the life his children will have due to his fame, but promises them a proper education in personal accountability. For both men, this song was naturally produced before becoming fathers. It seems they are keeping their promises, as all signs point towards them being attentive and doting dads to their children. For one, Jay Z produced an album to apologize to the mother of his children, Beyonce, for cheating on her. Something like ‘4:44’ has no precedent in the rap world - a world that has never seen Jay Z’s level of wealth.
It’s nice to hear Jay Z go out on a musical limb by singing. It’s for a good reason: to talk about black on black violence in cities like Chicago. The stark contrast between “murder” and “excellence” created by the unusual song structure and beat shift produces a discomfort in the “excellence” portion of the song. Although it is celebrating black excellence and the duo, the second portion of the song still references the institutions that hurt black men.
The vast silence at the beginning of this track, in a way, precluded it from becoming one of the more well-known songs of the album. The silence is extremely potent given the song's lyrics. Kanye West is no stranger to metaphysical studies of his fame and the nebulous critique of Hollywood culture. Yet, the beginning of this song is like performance art in music. The silence paves way for a short wind instrument refrain. And then the song officially begins. Kanye delivers some of his most memorable one-liners in this song - i.e. fucking centerfolds, a lot of n***** having money, thousand dollar tees with no logos etc. The entire sentiment behind this song applies almost perfectly to both Kanye and Jay, though they are categorically different types of "illest ever." Time has proven Jay Z to be one of the best business minds in music history. Kanye West, on the other hand, is a cultural icon whose movements reverberate through the fabrics of society.
The repetitive piano in minor is a bit off-putting, but this album has never claimed to be about sweet victory per se. More so about the bittersweet aspects, the sacrifices, and in many ways the inhumanity of immense success. This duo has extended beyond what you “scientifically” need to be happy. Their success can be seen as sacrificial in many ways, purely to pave the way for what a black man can be: the most successful and powerful in institutional ways.
The rhythm and lyrical delivery of this song deems it the project’s most melodic and calm. This is where Kanye delivers his iconic “holy trinity” line, cupping around the album’s initial establishment of the hard-lived Hollywood lifestyle.
This album is masterful and has not aged one bit. It was timeliness on release and remains one of the crucial rap projects of this age.