Pop Music in 2011: All Hail ‘Watch the Throne’

Fighting the music scribe’s uniquely annoying desire to make definitive lists, I’ll instead share some informal thoughts about what I noticed, loved and despised about pop music in the year 2011. I’ll check in with a highlight every day for the next couple of weeks. Let’s start with the two-headed monster that visited American Airlines Center last week.

‘Watch the Throne’

The long-awaited collaborative album from hip-hop auteur Kanye West and rapper laureate Jay-Z debuted in late summer to across-the-board critical praise. But writers still made light mockery of the life of excess represented in the lyrics. A few seemed turned off by the boast-a-thon, coupled with West’s ego-tripping of years past.

Understandable. With a Givenchy-designed gold-leaf album cover and implication in the title that they’re the undisputed kings of everything, Jay and Kanye didn’t shy away from goading the lip-pursing detractors.

A known pop hedonist and beat freak, I found nothing wrong with Watch the Throne. I drove around listening to it for weeks after it came out, gas prices be damned. Hell, it took about half an hour on the day I picked it up to move past the opening track.

“No Church In the Wild” is a flawless production, from Frank Ocean’s quizzical anti-chorus to the-Dream’s haunting Autotuned refrain later on. Feels like silly fandemonium to even type this, but when Jay-Z’s first verse kicked in, I knew it was love.

Jay’s autobiographical moments on Watch the Throne endear him to anyone who’ll listen. It’s got to be the way he hustles to make each successive line more audacious.

As much flack as Kanye gets about being self-absorbed and narcissistic, he’s pretty generous on this record. He lets Jay-Z play the role of rapper-slayer. He shuts up and twists the knobs as Jay’s verses take “Who Gon Stop Me” further than anyone would expect. Not to say he doesn’t coin his share of unforgettable phrases throughout (my favorite being “What she orda? Fish fillet?”).

West and his hand-picked gaggle of production all-stars (including Dallas’ own S1, on the “Excellence” portion of “Murder to Excellence) certainly deserve something more high-profile than a “Best Rap Album” nomination from the Grammys. But who expects the Grammys to get it right?

While I’m on the subject of inspired hip-hop partnerships: 2011 also saw Eminem and Royce da 5’9” spit fyah on Bad Meets Evil’s Hell: the Sequel. (Still not sure where Bruno Mars fits in there.) Local hip-hop fans were treated to a wealth of material from the duo A.Dd+, including the Picnictyme-produced album When Pigs Fly and several other great one-off tracks.

Don’t be afraid to start throwing out your favorites in the comments. Be back tomorrow with the new king and queen of country.

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