It’s doubtful that you’d realize how many times “stars” are referenced on Watch The Throne if you didn’t hear it for the first time whilst gazing at digital galaxies and constellations above your head in a super dark room. Words like “moon” and “sky,” too, actually. Last night, at New York City’s Museum of Natural History, Jay-Z, Kanye and the generous folks at Def Jam hosted three separate listening sessions inside Hayden Planetarium, allowing inquisitive listeners to hear the album almost in its entirety (skipping just one track) while they sat reclined, looking up at the impressive show above.
While it was definitely a unique experience for all in attendence, the pizazz of the intergalactic spectacle on the theater’s ceiling screen was a distraction from the music that drew VIPs like Beyonc?, Pusha T, DJ Khaled, Ryan Leslie and Busta Rhymes to show up in the first place. And sonically speaking, unbalanced levels also made focusing on both emcees’ verses a challenge. In the first session, for example, the bass would be so loud that our seats were vibrating and Hov’s lines were rendered virtually inaudible. But let’s dial it back. From what we heard of it, overall, the album sounded solid. The production is definitely on-point, and Jay isn’t paired with Linkin Park or R. Kelly this time around; although it’s too early to tell off these first listens, it seems Kanye’s verbals may, in fact, actually best Jay’s. And ‘Ye will be the first to admit that he’s selfishly “getting high on [his] own supply.” Of beats, that is.
Although the duo don’t stray from their vainglorious, my-life-is-fancier-than-yours approach too too much, some songs admittedly do have substantially more depth, arriving mostly toward Watch The Throne’s second half. In “New Day,” Jay and ‘Ye issue intense apologies to their unborn sons for bringing them into the chaotic life of superSTARdom, and in the moving “Made In America,” the second Frank Ocean hook on the LP massages the spirit with calls to “sweet brother Martin” (Luther King, Jr.), and “sweet brother Malcolm (X), leaving Kanye admitting he’s “learned the hard way” when it comes to loving strippers (hayyy Amber!) and Jay exclaiming “this is the STAR spangled banner!” Contrasting nicely, Swizz Beatz-produced “Welcome To the Jungle” hits hard while Jay admits to bouts of isolated depression, and “Murder To Excellence” is just that: an analysis of black-on-black crime that also asks to “redefine black power.” But does soul-baring and social self-reflection come too late, getting drowned out by the brag, brag, brag that surfaces before it? Perhaps. We’ll need to hear the album more to say for certain, especially since taking notes in a pitch-black room was precarious.
On many songs, Kanye and Jay showcase their close-knit teamwork and pass lines back and forth like a hot potato, climaxing on final track “Why I Love You” when they pretty much go bar for bar addressing the “assassins” who’ve set out to destroy them by being disloyal. No worries, though, Hov just built his “castle bigger” and “walls taller.” But this guarded disdain is also met with a hook that packs both pity and unconditional love, with Mr. Hudson crying “I love you so, but why I love you, I’ll never know.” This one feels directed at Dame Dash, but again, we’ll have to hear it again under less frenzied circumstances. Some other lines worth mentioning appeared in “N***** in Paris” when ‘Ye says “Show me why you deserve to have it all” (and means it) and Jay admits “I’m supposed to be locked up too,” nodding at his former life of hustling. And even though we’ve heard it before, Hov’s line in “That’s My Bitch” asking “Why are all the pretty icons always all white?” followed by references to both Marilyn Monroe and his beloved Beyonc? (whose hook on second track “Lift Off” is beyond powerful), still rings loudly.
What song did they not allow us to hear, though? According to Wikipedia’s tracklisting, we were presented with all twelve tracks, so while it’s possible we misheard the “we’re skipping one song, and one song only” announcement; there may be more in store for the August 8th release. Our guess? The missing song contains a special-guest feature. After all, is it really possible that these two didn’t allow any other rapper to add a verse to their masterpiece? We’ll all find out soon enough.