Ten Trends That Watch The Throne Could Kickstart
Albums Being Released Digitally First To Ensure Leak Prevention
This is the Throne thing the music industry is no doubt most jazzed about: It didn't leak, not by any conventional understanding of the term. iTunes released it to some consumers at about 11:30 p.m. Sunday night, and it hit file-sharing/downloading/torrenting sites shortly after. But an album becoming available 30 minutes before its official release is nigh unfathomable in the Pirate Bay era. Surely, the tight circles Jay and Kanye share helped (another reason to work closely in studios, maybe?), but the lack of a physical CD that could go missing at any of the many steps of the manufacturing process and appear on the Internet moments later was probably the most important part of this leak prevention plan. Good news for acts and labels who can prioritize digital over physical relatively easily, but obviously terrible news for brick-and-mortar retailers—who were right to be upset about the iTunes exclusivity, and could have caterwauled even more.
Albums Being Leak-Proof Or Otherwise Gimmicky In Order To Deflect Buzz About A Single
Listening to WTT for a second time last night, I was struck by how little of it sounds like anything on the radio. The obvious smash candidate, "Lift Off," isn't a hit: Beyonce dominates; Kanye sounds half-invested at best; and Jay's presence is limited to four bars, one a Dale Earnhardt reference. "H.A.M." failed to gain more than middling purchase on the charts, and "Otis" looks like a top-ten hit at best; shorter songs "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Gotta Have It" are too shrill and too cool, respectively, to be released. "That's My Bitch," the closest thing to a trunk-rattling jam, has obvious censorship issues.
Maybe getting the novel angle of a leak-proof album sparked enough interest to make up for the lack of radio love this is sure to receive? Worth noting: MBDTF died on the vine after disappointing first-week sales, getting passed by Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday on its slow march to platinum status, and spawned no top-ten singles. And now WTT looks like it'll have a similar first week.
Flailing Attempts To Wrap Flows Around Dubstep By Less Nimble Rappers
Kanye swings and misses by beginning "Who Gon Stop Me" with "This is something like the Holocaust/ Millions of our people lost," though Hov fares a lot better, especially when the beat switches from its straightforward Flux Pavilion sample to live audio from laser-based warfare somewhere beyond Saturn. But Jay-Z and Kanye likely know better than most how to hit the pockets in dubstep beats, and their stature grants them the necessary gravitas to not be overwhelmed. Can a B-level rapper do that? (That is not an invitation, Fabolous.)
Attempts To Floss Consciously
Watch The Throne is not a story of hardscrabble beginnings and unpaved roads; it's more like surveying the domain of kings (and the damage of empire) from above. "Murder to Excellence," the brilliantly-titled look at both black-on-black crime and what Jigga terms "black excellence, opulence, decadence" balances where these guys came from with where they are better than anything else on the album. But seeing Jay and Kanye deign to do even that much—spectacularly rich guys have to rap about something other than being spectacularly rich, mind—is a reminder that, even if they can't fix things, they know about what's broken.
Jay-Z's Third (Or Fourth?) Act
Kanye will likely improve as a rapper with every album he releases, and he's done so on Watch The Throne, hitting hard and scratching at some open wounds. But Kanye at his peak is still somewhere below Jay-Z, who sometimes sounds inspired on this album in ways he hasn't for some time—to my ears, since he revisited Reasonable Doubt on American Gangster, at least. Few rappers age gracefully, but no rapper has compiled anything like the war chest or acquired anything like the clout that Shawn Corey Carter has. Jay's still got a little fire in his belly, and that is a promising sign for those who hope he finds a better fate than becoming rap's Wayne Newton with his insanely taut live shows or moving permanently from the studio to the boardroom.