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'Watch The Throne' is enjoyable, but disappointing

Stephon Johnson | 6/5/2012, 12:45 a.m.
It's hard not to talk about Jay-Z and Kanye West's joint album "Watch The Throne"...
'Watch The Throne' is enjoyable, but disappointing

It's hard not to talk about Jay-Z and Kanye West's joint album "Watch The Throne" without mentioning some of the criticisms it's faced since its iTunes only release on Monday.

And we're talking about criticisms that don't have much to do with the music.

Many commentators, artists and other writers have taken the two to task for releasing an album basking in opulence while riots are going on in the United Kingdom, bombings continue in Libya and a economic downturn threatens the world in various ways.

Dr. Boyce Watkins expressed disappointment in a column that West and Jay-Z aren't more in tuned with issues affecting the disenfranchised communities from which they came. Chuck D hoped that the duo would use their power to educate and inform the masses instead of just entertaining them with "luxury rap" in the words of Mr. West.

This criticism is unfair for several reasons. Luxury rap has been a part of hip-hop ever since the emcee took the spotlight from the DJ as the focal point of the culture. Money talk was seen as aspirational and folks were able to relate because they had the same dreams of achieving the so-called "American Dream." What makes this situation different is that West and Jay-Z are already rich men so any bragging is liable to sting much more when the Black community is in the middle of one of the biggest depressions in recent memory.

But the dust from which hip-hop came still produced lots of money talk and the criticism wasn't leveled on other rappers as heavily as they are on "The Throne" (the official name of West and Jay-Z's collaboration). Horrible things are happening in the world all the time. Why choose this time in history to pick on them? All criticism should be kept to the music.

And there's much to criticize about the music.

It's starts off promisingly enough, with the Frank Ocean-assisted "No Church in the Wild." Ominous guitar noodling, kick drums and synthesizers push West and Hov to talk about the issues of monogamy, references to "blood on the coliseum floors" and money's inability to hide pain. "Lift Off," while promising, doesn't really take off, but might sound good in a arena (which this album was clearly made for). The song suffers from having too many cooks in the kitchen with West, Mike Dean, Q-Tip, The Neptunes and Don Jazzy all handling production.

"Ni**a's in Paris" works for the most part with a southern-ish bounce, but doesn't really hit you where a beat like this is supposed to (i.e. in the gut). Sampled dialogue from the Will Ferrell film "Blades of Glory" adds to the absurdity, but West usually does absurdity well.

By the time the listener hits "Otis" and "Gotta Have It" they should feel a increasing sense of wasted potential and disappointment. It's not that these two songs are bad. They pretty enjoyable, but these two artists are capable of better and have done better recently (West's fantastic, critically-acclaimed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy stomps all over this album).