I waited to write this because I wanted so desperately to love the album. In all honesty, I do not love the album but it is really growing on me. There are tracks that I think are phenomenal, but it is a hit or miss album. That being said, I would go so far as to say that more than half of these tracks are great. That kind of depth is rare in music and even rarer in rap unless it comes from, well, Kanye West. Lately, he has had the throne. Jay-Z pretty much gets grandfathered in to the throne given all he has done, but he actually has much less influence on music overall compared with Kanye lately.
You can hear Kanye’s production throughout. He and Jay seem to downplay their egos a bit on the tracks, almost as if they are trying not to dominate one another. It may be a good idea, but it also makes the entire album feel a bit safe and restrained.
No Church in the Wild is a great track, and one of my favorites. You can tell how much Kanye loves Frank Ocean’s voice and style, he brings him in on that amazing hook often and I am not complaining.
Lift Off feels totally overshadowed by Beyonce, and I am not crazy about it. That isn’t me bashing Beyonce at all, just something about this track never lifts off for me (hachacha). Not a winner.
Niggas in Paris is awesome. The Blades of Glory samples are a nice touch, and the beat is one of my favorites from the album. Jay seems to take this one over a bit, but his verses are some of the best on the album so I’m not complaining.
Otis has been out for a while, and after HAM, which I did not enjoy at all, it was such a refreshing drop from the album. I love this song and the style. I wish these two would have traded off every 4 lines like they did on this track more throughout the album. When they each do lengthy raps it makes the tracks seem divided because they are each such a strong presence. It benefited them to divide their raps up more and almost flow together.
Gotta Have It is awesome because of the beat. I love beats heavy on synth and these soulful, melodic samples. Much like Otis, they trade off their raps almost every other line. This is what I wanted from a collaborative album, the ability to not just come up with their own shit, but play off one another.
New Day shows a hell of a different side to both rappers after the first 5 tracks. It’s wild to hear two people (especially Kanye) talking about disliking anything about themselves after the grandiose, bragging nature of the first few songs. I love it, I think it’s beautiful (fuck you, yeah, beautiful).
That’s My Bitch misses the mark for me. I would write more, but it just doesn’t come together for me. This was bound to happen on a few tracks.
Welcome to the Jungle is a winner for me. Strong verses, really legit production and beat.
Who Gon Stop Me feels groundbreaking. The beat and production is house-esqe. I would even go so far as to say it has a dubstep feel to it. Look for a lot more stuff like this to come out from all over the place soon. However, as always, Kanye keeps it ambitious but refined. Potentially my favorite song just because of how different and influential it sounds already.
Murder to Excellence is soulful, introspective and the kind of song you just want to bob your head to and sit around listening to. It starts a stretch of songs in which Jay and Kanye touch on a lot more on social issues. They are some of the most interesting on the album, but not necessarily the best. Out of this song, Made in America, and Why I Love You, this track is the best for sure.
Made in America has a beautiful hook from Frank Ocean aaaand underwhelming raps and a repetitive beat. Decent, but not great.
Why I Love You starts out with Mr. Hudson declaring “I love you so, but why I love you, I’ll never know.” I can say the same thing about Mr. Hudson, ever since I heard him on 808s I have really enjoyed his hooks. This track touches on Jay and Kanye’s frustration with being criticized by the very people they stand up for and the fact that they still love them. Admirable and a very cool theme through the song. Pretty good one.
Illest Motherfucker Alive has a beat that, well… Hell, I don’t like it. Also not the best verses on the album. A pretty weak song.
H.A.M - I’ll say it, I don’t like the song. At all. Didn’t like it when it came out, gave it plenty of chances but I just don’t like it. It probably has to do with the fact that it is essentially two short verses and then a billowing chamber orchestra.
Primetime is another one of those “sit in the corner and jam to it” songs. Good not great.
The Joy is a welcome presence on a grandiose album. The Curtis Mayfield feature is very nice and soulful, and the track is a slow jam for sure. Good stuff.
8/10 Overall for the album.
While pretty consistently good throughout with flashes of a classic feel to it, the album still feels restrained and like it just missed its mark. Still trying hard to go to this tour and see these two. The fact that this collaborative album even exists and makes this strong of an impact is pretty spectacular. Also, it has to be pointed out that within one year, Kanye released the best rap album of the decade (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) and then came out with something this ambitious and strong. Also, Jay-Z continues to be the Brett Favre of rap and quit and return constantly. The only difference between Jay and Brett is that Jay comes back strong every single time.