The automobile antics of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Otis” video remind me so much of the opening scene from David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. In the film, a car careens through the Hollywood hills as girls riding in the back giggle/scream with glee for no reason other than because they’re going fast. In the music video, two of the biggest pop stars in the world take a chopped Maybach through the desert with their female passengers having much the same reaction. Thing is, in the music video it’s hard to tell who has the bigger smile: the girls or driver and shotgun-rider.
Watch The Throne obviously was a fun ride for its creators, audacious and out-sized purely for the sake of being so, but it seems like the aforementioned joy rides: thrilling but with no purpose, with no destination, with nowhere to go. I feel awkward leveling that criticism because that’s not the point of this project. It was reportedly recorded quickly (at least for these meticulous creators) and, more or less, for fun (fun to the tune of the best iTunes sales ever). It’s not supposed to be a ground-breaking musical masterpiece, just the sonic equivalent of a dick pic texted to the whole world: behold our greatness, but also, notice how you’ll forgive us for our arrogance because of the sincerity of our apologies and self-critiques.
There’s a whole lot of soul-searching on Watch The Throne and the usual fame-game anxieties that are so popular in hiphop these days. It’s lonely at the top, but it’s also really fucking cool — obscure and surely expensive foreign-sounding brands are name dropped at will; parties happen in Paris just because they can. The production is there to match, for better or worse, with hit-or-miss exercises in the overblown which surely made their way onto Young Burg’s yoga playlist (I’m looking at you “Lift Off”). Tracks like this and “Made In America” feel smugly self-congratulatory in their boundary-pushing of traditional hiphop sounds, but like Kanye’s auto-lauding for using Pig Latin in a verse, the props are misguided — dogg, that’s not even correct fucking Pig Latin.
Yet there are moments when the experimentation and self-congratulations come together so magnificently well. “Who Gon Stop Me” is a sublime attempt at dubstep-rap that actually goes HAM, with multiple movements and the hardest verses of the album. “Murder to Excellence” eloquently celebrates Jay-Z’s “post demise” with one of the more toned-down and tuneful tracks on the project. “Why I Love You” slaps with an aggro 80s-ish beat and angsty chorus from Mr. Hudson that seems urgent and earnest rather than cheesy.
And then there’s “New Day,” on my shortlist for songs of the year. The auto-tuned vocal sample meanders under Jay and Ye’s remorseful letters to their unborn sons. Kanye takes a devastating look at his past short-comings prior to his coronation, mostly of his mistakes with women and failures at love. Hov promises not to repeat the sins of his father but apologizes for passing them on: “I’m sorry junior, I already ruined ya.”
Despite the critiquing and feelings of guilt, there is never the true admission of regret. Though both would not want their sons to follow their paths, they don’t apologize for the ones they trod themselves. They won’t apologize for being the best and they won’t apologize for how they got there. And most of all, they won’t apologize for being loud, for being flashy, for living and creating to excess just for the sake of doing so, driving fast with nowhere to go in the nicest cars possible.