Before we can get to the #1 Album of 2011, we need to see who the runner-up is. But before that, we need yet another recap.
30. 4- Beyonce
29. The Dreamer, The Believer- Common
28. Just Once EP- How to Dress Well
27. Alien Observer- Grouper
26. Step Brothers- Don Trip & Starlito
25. Cole World: Sideline Story- J. Cole
24. Weekend at Burnies- Curren$y
23. Suck It and See- Arctic Monkeys
22. Celestial Lineage- Wolves in the Throne Room
21. The Whole Love- Wilco
20. Bad As Me- Tom Waits
19. Live, Love, A$AP- A$AP Rocky
18. Helplessness Blues- Fleet Foxes
17. 21- Adele
16. Wounded Rhymes- Lykke Li
15. Hilarious- Louis C.K.
14. Cults- Cults
13. Goblin- Tyler, the Creator
12. Tomboy- Panda Bear
11. Strange Mercy- St. Vincent
10. Parallax- Atlas Sound
9. Nostalgia, Ultra- Frank Ocean
8. House of Balloons- The Weeknd
7. Take Care- Drake
6. undun-The Roots
5. Father, Son, Holy Ghost- Girls
4. Dedication- Zomby
3. James Blake- James Blake
#2 Watch the Throne- The Throne
“It was all good just a week ago, then Watch the Throne dropped.” The hype for this album was fevered months before with the release of “HAM,” the Lex Luger track that served as the first taste of this collaborative-effort from Jay-Z & Kanye West. Many scoffed at the track, convinced the two had grown too egotistical for their own good. The song lacked the ambition of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Ye’s 2010 magnum opus, but it’s operatic second-half still told us something. It warned us that The Throne was here, and it wouldn’t be long before the kingdom was theirs again.
“Human being to the mob, what’s a mob to a king? What’s a king to a god? What’s a god to a non-believer who don’t believe in anything?” begs Frank Ocean on the initial lines of “No Church in the Wild.” From this world-weary line of thinking enters Jay-Z over a reeling guitar track with kingly visions, “tears on the mausoleum floor, blood stains the Coliseum doors.” Jay spends the remainder of his verse wondering if heaven pays attention to thugs, but Kanye has no such concerns, focusing on “forming a new religion,” where deception is “the only felony.” ‘Ye is back to the hedonism of “Hell of a Life,” loving every minute of it.
The balancing act of the moral and material is one that furiously teeters at every turn on this album, with the world paradise of “N****s in Paris,” darkened by the brooding “Welcome to the Jungle.” This blend is beautiful for the two, who have never sounded better together. On the pricey Otis Redding-sampling “Otis,” the duo plays lyrical ping-pong with one another. It’s an album that sees them turn in career performances, Kanye referencing his troubled relationship with Amber Rose on “New Day.” “I’ll never let him ever hit a strip club, I learned the wrong way that ain’t the place to get love,” he raps about the hard-earned life lessons he’ll deal to his eventual son. Here Kanye is fully aware of his ostracizing-ego, praying his son becomes a better person.
Hova’s high-watermark comes on “Welcome to the Jungle,” dedicating his second verse to fallen rappers. Referencing 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G., and Pimp C, he comes to the sobering realization he’s the only one left. The man once scoffed at for declaring himself the King of NYC, is alone in his room, the reflection in the mirror his “only opponent.” “I’m f***ing depressed,” he decries. Nearly everyone Jay came-up with is either in the ground or turned their backs on him, as he spitefully recalls on “Why I Love You.” Even with all his millions, ‘Hov knows he can’t buy back what he’s lost.
Much has been made of the wealth-talk on this album. The point is bizarre when accounting for wealth-talk being rap’s lifeblood since Big Bank Hank bragged about his Lincoln Continental on “Rapper’s Delight,” in 1979. To criticize the two for something that’s been going on for years, is to miss the point. Where others wantonly spend, they spend to distance themselves from where they once were. Jay marking himself a scrambler on “Made It in America.” As he is quick to point out in “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” he went from “grams to Grammys,” so why is it now fashionable to deny him what he has earned? The African-inflection of “Murder to Excellence,” impeccably answers that question. After furiously examining black-on-black crime, ‘Ye labeling it genocide, the two describe “black excellence, opulence, decadence.” The point here is potent, “black excellence” is ready for all those willing to pursue it.
Other critics have adamantly attacked the pair for having a noticeable barrier between them. The duo’s dexterity on “Otis,” frantically pushes this notion aside. In reality, Watch the Throne represents the two biggest stars in rap getting together and reinvigorating their “sibling rivalry.” The album is the counterpoint to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Where Kanye was once “lost in the world,” he has now found his place and “surviving in America,” is no longer a concern of his, the witch-hunt long since passed. For Jay-Z, this record is redemption after the bumpy ride of Blueprint 3. No record this entire year had more hype. It would have been easy for them to jog in-place, but they chose to run the rap-race with dogged determination, lapping their competitors in the process. Watch the Throne’s win is one more jewel for Jay, his kingly crown gleaming like never before. He can’t help but laugh, as he sits with Kanye atop the rap world. The “throne,” is safe.