Kanye West, Jay-Z, the Throne - Watch the Throne (Def Jam)

Hotly anticipated collaboration sidesteps grandiosity and showboating

Kanye West, Jay-Z, the Throne - Watch the Throne (Def Jam)
Def Jam

This hotly anticipated collaboration mostly sidesteps both the grandiosity of Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Jay-Z's showboating and slick 2009 disappointment The Blueprint 3. Advance single "Otis" has a Treacherous Three starkness, irreverent verses cascading over an audacious "Try a Little Tenderness" sample. "Niggas in Paris" and the skittering "That's My Bitch" are equally rough-hewn pleasures. They're even funny again; on the reflective "New Day," West slyly predicts his future son's upbringing: "I might even let him be Republican/So everybody knows he loves white people."

When Throne attempts anthemic highs, it flounders. "Lift Off" is designed as club climax but even its Beyoncé hook is lifeless, and by the Frank Ocean-drenched "Made in America," both artists, particularly West, are consumed by their own mythologies. Did either of them think the tasteless "This is somethin' like the Holocaust/Millions of our people lost" hook on "Who Gon' Stop Me" was a good idea? What could've been a classic without the histrionics is instead a half-great record. When on point, though, Throne dances on the volcano of its unapologetic hugeness — as Jay puts it, "I'm out here celebrating my post-demise." Carry on, then. —Nathan Phillips

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