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Commentary: ‘Watch the Throne’ vs. ‘Hell: The Sequel’

“Watch the Throne,” the long-awaited collaboration between hip-hop moguls Jay-Z and Kanye West (now collectively known as The Throne), was finally released Monday on iTunes.

Since then, the Internet has been abuzz about the project, even comparing it to “Hell: The Sequel,” the collaboration album released in June by Eminem and Royce da 5’9″, jointly known as Bad Meets Evil.

So how do they compare? Which one is better? We examine because, quite frankly, “Watch the Throne” is a big deal.

Verses

Lyrically, “Watch the Throne” is largely carried by Jay-Z, but Kanye holds his weight. His verse in “Otis” referring to himself as the “Hermes of verses” is the highlight of the track. Kanye also delivers some of his best lines ever in “New Day,” in which he raps about wanting his son to be a better person than he is, and that he “might even make ‘em be Republican / So everybody know he love white people.”

The problem with “Watch the Throne” is that the lyrics get a bit silly. Boastful verses may be expected with two of rap’s juggernauts joining forces, but based on Kanye’s history of getting ultra-personal with his lyrics, why ditch a winning formula?

Just look at Eminem, who’s gotten by on recent albums by taking things in a more serious direction. And why shouldn’t he? He has the background to pull it off, though I admit I miss the raunchy, silly fun of his early years. On “Hell: The Sequel,” Em delivers quite a few great, laugh-out-loud lines to counter the tougher fare, though many of them are unfit for print. With that balance, and with solid backup from Royce, lyrically, “Hell: The Sequel” is quite impressive.

Edge: Bad Meets Evil & “Hell: The Sequel”

Production

Hardly anyone in the industry tops Kanye (and, to some extent, Jay-Z) in terms of production value, and “Watch the Throne,” though not as innovative and genre-bending as “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” is no exception. “Watch the Throne” channels dubstep (“Who Gon Stop Me”), samples ‘60s soul artist Otis Redding (“Otis”) and even brings glam rock (“Why I Love You”) to the table.

“Hell: The Sequel” is nowhere near as original and is rather bland in that regard.  Many of the tracks sound quite generic and aren’t very interesting. In typical Em fashion, the beats are hard, but that’s nothing new. In fact, “Lighters” might be the best-produced track on the album.

Edge: The Throne & “Watch the Throne”

Popularity

“Hell: The Sequel,” which was released June 13, has sold 420,000 copies in the U.S., according to Billboard. “Lighters,” the pop-infused second single featuring Bruno Mars, has reached as high as No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album’s first single, “Fast Lane,” however, was met with a much more tepid response, peaking only at No. 32.

“Watch the Throne” was released digitally Aug. 8 and as a hard copy Aug. 12, so no reputable sales figures have been released yet, though The Los Angeles Times says it’s figured to sell as many as 500,000 copies, making it the second-biggest first week of 2011 behind Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” Singles “H•A•M” (peaking at No. 23) and “Otis” (peaking at No. 12), however, haven’t seen the same success as “Lighters” on the singles charts.

Still, Eminem is without a doubt the most popular the rapper in the game. Combining Jay-Z and Kanye West, who aren’t far behind, though, essentially equalizes the two groups popularity-wise.

Sure, popularity isn’t necessarily reflective of quality, but in this case, since the talent on these albums is similar in that regard, it doesn’t much matter.

Edge: Push

Critical response

“Watch the Throne” currently has a 79 percent on review aggregator Metacritic, whereas “Hell: The Sequel” is sitting at a 72 percent.

(For reference purposes, The Lantern gave “Watch the Throne” four stars. Click here to read our review.)

Edge: The Throne & “Watch the Throne”

Group talent (or: Who the f— is Royce da 5’9″?)

Bad Meets Evil features arguably the best rapper in the business in Eminem. Em’s fast rapping makes him one of the most technically proficient rappers in the game, and his wit gives him the originality to separate himself from other rappers.

Royce da 5’9″, while a solid Detroit-based rapper in his own right, just doesn’t hold his weight the same way that Kanye West does next to Jay-Z. His hard-and-fast style meshes well with Eminem, but he’s no Kanye West, either in terms of all-around musicianship or stature.

Jay-Z is a living rap legend and probably one of the top five greatest active rappers. While Jay and Em are different stylistically – Jay doesn’t try to be as blatantly humorous and is more meticulous than Em, though Jay did rap in double-time on “Watch the Throne” – they are equals in their own right.

Kanye, though not as proficient at spitting rhymes as he is at producing and writing serious, emotional verses, continues to break the rules of rap and deliver the closest thing to art in modern popular hip-hop.

The Throne features two artists at the top of the rap world. Bad Meets Evil only has one. Game, set, match.

Edge: The Throne & “Watch the Throne”

Overall album

“Hell: The Sequel” is not a bad album. Eminem carries the load, though I long for the lighter, wittier Em we got in his first few albums. Production value leaves a lot to be desired, but Eminem’s albums have always been carried more by the lyrics and delivery rather than original production.

“Watch the Throne” has been in the works for seemingly forever and was the product of a major hype machine. With Kanye coming off of 2010’s best reviewed album in “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” expectations were high as ever, and some see “Watch the Throne” as a letdown. I don’t. While there are a few disappointingly mediocre tracks, the rest of the tracks make the album an all-time classic, fueled by a mesh of Jay-Z’s smooth delivery and Kanye’s unique vision as a producer.

Edge: The Throne & “Watch the Throne”

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