08.12.2011, Words by Charlie Jones

12 Albums for 2011 - Kanye West & Jay Z's' 'Watch The Throne'

A strange, dissonant beast lurking underneath the fabulous bluster marks a new step for the rap album, and a shoe-in for one of our best of the year.

You might be mistaken for thinking that Kanye West and Jay Z made this album because they wanted to set fire to a Maybach. After all, in the explosive video for the lead single of Watch The Throne, ‘Otis’, they do exactly that. In their own windowless, doorless luxury car, with a slew of models sliding around in the back seat, they aren’t driving anywhere. They’re just driving – but, hell, it looks like fun.

Watch The Throne is an album that asks the question of what there is left to do when you’ve done it all, and when you have it all – the answer is a gold-plated fistful of social commentary, the Angry Young Man weighed down by his chains and using brand names like “Margiela” as if they were weaponry. In a year that has been characterised by seemingly aimless acts of unrest , Watch The Throne encapsulates the anger of a culture with its own brand of ridiculousness. Jay Z was scolded in November for attempting to cash in on the anti-capitalist Occupy movement with his “Occupy All Streets” t-shirts, literally taking the revolution and making it into his own brand of “cool”.

This branded social commentary is something which gleams through Watch the Throne in in the mournful future vision of tracks like ‘New Day’ and the death-toll statistics that cut through ‘Murder to Excellence’ – moments of researched, resonant rap are packaged between gimmicks and giggles so expertly that they sink seamlessly into the feel of the record. The fun of shouting along to a confrontational line like “’ello ‘ello ‘ello ‘ello White America, assassinate my character” almost makes you miss the tough implication of what Kanye is actually getting across – almost, but not quite. Looking back on harder times through the House-of-Givenchy-designed sheen of their album, Jay and Yeezy celebrate their success with a brazenly opulent swagger, but they back this up with the sincerely contemplative combined minds of those who have worked their way to the top from harder times.

The retrospective viewpoint of Watch the Throne is one which comes uniquely from two artists who are older and wiser than their competition; this wisdom is the throne that they sit assuredly in, waiting for the listener’s curtsey. Far from the dwindling twilight of two hip-hop artists looking back on a genre, though, this album has firmly maintained the spotlight of the hip-hop scene in 2011, referencing the current moment in rap with production from Frank Ocean and Lex Luger, yet boils the form to its purest elements, resulting in one of the most bracing, dissonant listens of any genre the year. Whilst it may have been infiltrated by many experimental, exciting and anarchic artists this year, Jay and Ye have nevertheless proved that they remain at its helm, re-affirming the core values of the scene with each catchphrase they coin – and no catchphrase has been more appropriate for 2011 than the growling boast of “no-one knows what it means, but it’s provocative._” If an ego could be set to music, it would undoubtedly sound like the snarling of _Niggas in Paris , the taunting twang of Gotta Have It or the bouncing, lyrical playfulness of Otis . The carving of two incredible careers is vividly heard in the sublime production of this record, from the hypnotic breakdown at the end of Lift Off to the sinister prowl of No Church In The Wild .

In its entirety, this record blazes like the burning Maybach – beautiful, ridiculous, and seemingly pointless. Ultimately, Watch The Throne doesn’t need excuses or explanation; it challenges, it boasts, and it breaks all the rules it wants to. It’s one of the best albums of 2011 because it provides an alternative, self-assured voice for those who have felt like the world was not on their side. In 2011, a year of revolt and riots, a year of unrest and upset, this album has given us rhyme and reason – and in the most seemingly senseless way, it has proved to make possibly the most sense of any musical event in 2011.

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