Neither of these albums is a watershed, certainly not Cruel Summer, an album that barely makes the cut. And while whatever I think about either is meaningless in the face of overwhelming thought to the contrary, it seems many missed the mark on both accounts. To dismiss Watch the Throne as an in-your-face account of everything you don’t have is to fall prey to the threat Jay and Ye set. With Cruel Summer, it’s a mix. Substance is far from its strong point, but it’s precisely not the point; compilations aren’t easy to do right, and despite some serious potholes, it can be enjoyed one song at a time. Personally, I’d cut “Creepers” and “Don’t Like” at least and drop the running time to a solid forty-six minutes. Then it’d be as long as Watch the Throne without the bonus cuts, which you don’t need. And if you do, you can always find “H.A.M.” on YouTube.
JAY-Z & KANYE WEST – Watch the Throne (Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella ‘11): Believe it or not, there’s more to this album than expensive samples and unending streams of braggadocio. These two titans offer a title demanding reverence with a skeptical undertone hard to detect because the boasts are louder, because let’s face it, “What’s fifty grand to a motherfucker like me / Can you please remind me” is a lot catchier than “This is something like the Holocaust / Millions of our people lost.” True to life, the social injustices littered throughout are overshadowed by luscious displays of power, the majority of critical comment being fixated on Jay and Ye’s Gucci-flaunting highlife details than laments for absent fathers, fears of being a future father, or consciousness-raising concerns about inner city violence. And I admit, while their self-congratulatory parade can be tiring, they’re aware their hegemony won’t last forever—Jay recalls Tupac’s and Jacko’s fates—and they never stray too far from the grim realities faced by minorities in America that ground them. Hence their invitation to watch. After all, if they made it this far, they must be doing something right. A MINUS
Kanye West Presents G.O.O.D. Music Cruel Summer (Def Jam/G.O.O.D. Music): It’s easy to understand critics’ across-the-board ire given the incalculable hype preceding West’s label’s showcase: “We were promised the Best Album Ever and received A Not Bad Album! Sacrilege!” Put aside that the most interesting thing about West has always been his ornate production and not his women-and-weed pedantries and you’ll miss this compilation’s purpose: Ye’s ample stock of studio tricks making bigger fools than he sound footnote-worthy. No easy task. Point is, it doesn’t mean anything to me how often or not Kanye appears on his own album and it doesn’t bother me that the best verses are supplied by those not under the G.O.O.D. Music belt—I’m not sad Ghostface drops in on “New God Flow” or uncomfortable making room for Jay-Z’s “Clique” cameo to momentarily reignite the Watch the Throne magic. So who cares if Kid Cudi’s “Creepers” is one of the most embarrassing things to ever happen? Assuming this is the worst album West has ever allowed to pass under his name, and it probably is, then that makes him, uh, one of hip-hop’s most talented producers. B PLUS (***)