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Rappers are either catching hurt feelings today or hitting the studio inspired.  Honestly, the 2nd half of Watch the Throne, or perhaps everything from Track 3 on, is quality.  Say what you will about oft-treaded themes and co-opted styles, Jay and ‘Ye just take everything one step further whether lyrically or with their production teams.  Any rapper can take techno or house or dubstep and flow over it but they’re not gonna make it a hot song.  Therein lies the difference.  If you’re not clever, if our flow is dumb in the literal sense, if you’re not a cut above the rest in talent, skill, or weirdness, you can’t make this record.  If you love hip-hop, and have watched it grow over the last 30 years, you’re going to appreciate the effort.  Although we’ll all be sick of the copycats in a few months.  Catch my thoughts upon 1st listen of the 2nd half of the record below.

Welcome to the Jungle – prod. Swizz Beats

A stuttering, outstanding and unmistakably Swizzy track has Jay-Z falling into the beat comfortably as if it was On to the Next One part 2.  A concise but poignant piece on block culture, love, and loss, Kanye gives way to experience as Jay riffs on dealing with the pressure of all of this.  Whereas earlier on the record a deliberate, too-slow flow catching up to the beat seemed out of place, it’s placed perfectly here. (JZ) I’m losing myself / I’m stuck in the moment / I look in the mirror / My only opponent / Where the f**k is the press? / Where the f**k is the Pres? / Either they know or don’t care / I’m f**king depressed / No crying in public / Just lying to judges / Risking my life  / I’m already dying, so f**k it well

Who Gon’ Stop Me – Prod. Shama “Sak Pase” Joseph (Jugganauts) and Kanye West

Yea, this is a certified banger.  An unabashed cribbing of Flux Pavilion’s dubstep monster “I Can’t Stop,” ‘Ye and Jay give respect due by tearing it to shreds.  Hova and Yeezy both deliver some of their finest verses on the record, with Jay especially heating up.  If the first 7 tracks were spotty gunfire, he’s on his napalm now and definitely bringing out the best in Kanye too.  Each is punctuated with Jay’s epic refrain: Black cards, black cars / Black on black, black broads / Whole lotta money in a black bag / Black strap, you know what that’s for?

Murder to Excellence – Murder prod. Swizz Beats, Excellence prod. S1 (Soul Kontrollaz)

A fairly stunning 2-part juxtaposition of humble, dangerous beginnings and loneliness at the top.  We have Kanye going hard on Chicago and Jay pontificating on the trappings of black success or lack thereof.  A haunting “La La La” sample and music from The Color Purple provide the backdrop to some of Ye’s heaviest rhymes on the record: (KW) And I’m from the murder capital / Where they murder for capital / Heard about at least 3 killings this afternoon / Lookin’ at the news like damn I was just with him after school / No shop class but half the school got a tool / And I could die any day type attitude / Plus his little brother got shot reppin’ his avenue / It’s time for us to stop and re-define black power / 41 souls murdered in 50 hours /

Jay controls the Excellence piece: Now please, domino, domino, / Only spot a few blacks the higher I go / What’s up to Will / Shoutout to O / That ain’t enough / We gon need a million more / Kick in the door / Biggie flow / I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Made in America – prod. Shama “Sak Pase” Joseph (Jugganauts,) featuring Frank Ocean

Joseph dials back the aggression with this track, layering ethereal synths and piano with a Frank Ocean hook (he sounds much more capable than track 1) celebrating black icons, a fitting companion to the previous Excellence.  Kanye paints an explicit picture of his come up from meeting No ID to his incineration on South Park while Jay sticks to the days of his youth with sweet tales of cooking: Grandma’s and grams.

Why I Love You – prod. Mike Dean and Kanye West

Dean and West lift Cassius’ “I Love You So” with similar effect to “Who Gon Stop Me.  A thumping head-shot to haters and hangers on, no ill will is spared.  This is why Jay is still a boss: You ripped out my heart and you stepped on it / I picked up the pieces / Before you swept on it / God damn this sh*t leaves a mess don’t it / Sh*t feelin’ like death don’t it / Charge it to the game / Whatever’s left on it / I spent about a minute / Maybe less on it.

Illest Motherfucker Alive – prod. Southside, Kanye West, and Mike Dean

When Kanye said he was gonna make other rappers tuck their whole summer in, I’m pretty sure this is the song he was talking about.  Do you remember how you you felt when Power dropped?  It’s insanity that in the same year he can drop a flow and beat equal to or better.  As Avon Barksdale said, “You better get in this man” and look out for a hilariously painful line involving dicks, staples, and… well I won’t ruin it for you.  And Jay-Z’s middle finger is up everyone’s ass on this one: (JZ) King Hov, I’m exactly what the f**k you think / 11 in a row, Bill Russell rings  / Michael Jordan swag, yall think Michael Jordan bad / Ni**a I got a 5 more rings than Michael Jordan had / Elvis has left the building now I’m on the Beatles ass. Ouch.

Primetime – prod. No ID (sampling “Action” by Orange Krush)

While “The Joy” closes the deluxe version, it’s been out nearly a year and is pulled from Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Friday’s series leading up to My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy.  THIS is a proper closer.  Over a slick, piano laced No ID beat, Jay-Z plays the numbers game to precision (Mo money, 40 year old phenom / Our 15 minutes of fame has stretched beyond / At 42 be better than 24 / I carried the 4-5, mastered 48 laws / Still wearing my 23’s they can’t f**k with the boy / As far as them 16’s, I’m 23 of it all / Primetime, riding that 6 deuce / That 9-11 I only subtract the roof / Started in 88’ / Got warm in 92’ / I landed in 96’, that’s the year I came through) while ‘Ye acknowledges his inherent absurdity in concert with blasting towards a new level of asshole.  It’s a beautiful mess. It’s like the best damn champagne I had in my life / “When you coming home” / That’s a text from my wife / I told her, run a bubble bath / And float in that mother***er like a hovercraft\ / And soak in that mother***er til I call you back / I mean who says sh*t like that / And doesn’t laugh (un-huh.)

(Note: H.A.M.M. and The Joy not reviewed, they’ve been out nearly a year.)