The Game of Thrones Mixtape Was Finally Released, So Here’s a Very Nerdy Review
TL, DR: It's good, but it could have been great.
The HBO-produced Game of Thrones mixtape, Catch the Throne, is finally up on Soundcloud in its entirety. So how does it stack up? As Geekosystem’s resident Game of Thrones nutball, I have some opinions.
So I should get this out of the way first: I am by no means an accomplished music reviewer, especially when it comes to rap. If it’s not marching band or collegiate a cappella that I’m listening to, I don’t have much experience thinking critically about it. In fact, when we were talking about the mixtape out loud in the office yesterday, I mispronounced and/or misspelled the names of about three or four different rappers on this album, because I’m a complete dope who doesn’t know what’s happening in the music world. So this is meant to be more of a personal narrative of what I find engaging about the album rather than a decree on its overall merit, and you don’t have to agree with me at all.
Anyway, regardless of my inability to keep up-to-date on current music trends, I was ridiculously excited at the prospect of a GoT rap album. Though there were a lot people online who seemed confused by a possible mash-up between rap and medieval fantasy, I didn’t see them as contradictory mediums at all. At it’s core, Game of Thrones is a story about struggles for power, money, and respect among warring factions of people. What rapper hasn’t written about those themes at least once in their career?
But here’s my biggest problem with Catch the Throne: while most of the songs make for solid listening on their own, only a few of them really manage to sink their teeth into the source material, so trying to take in the entire album at once makes for a very repetitive experience as a result. After the third or fourth song that name-dropped the Red Wedding, White Walkers, “Lord Snow,” and Khaleesi all in the span of one verse, I was feeling some pretty powerful déjà vu.
By far, the best song on the album is Dominik Omega’s “Arya’s Prayer,” specifically because he picks one aspect of the show — Arya’s story — and follows it closely, filling his lyrics with world building references that don’t sound like they came off a HBO-supplied fact sheet. The third verse about her encounter with Jaq’en H’ghar, for example, is fantastic, and the second one ends with this spectacular line: “Had I lived a different life and maybe been a child of Pyke/I’d gladly pay the Iron Price.” This is a guy who really knows his Starks from his Karstarks, is my point.
But as we’ve discussed on the site before, Omega was already an avid reader of the books who’d been dropping Red Wedding references before the show had even gotten to it. Of course his track was going to be full of little details that a casual fan might not pick up on. But “Arya’s Prayer” isn’t the best of the bunch because of those references (though they don’t hurt): it’s the best because it isn’t trying to be an all-encompassing look at the show in its entirety. He focuses his track on one character and takes the time to really explore that character’s experiences, which ultimately makes it a much stronger, more memorable part of the album.
Similarly, Snow Tha Product’s track, “Fire,” picks a single topic and runs with it: the sexism that Daenerys Targaryen faces as a woman, and how she (literally) conquers that prejudice with her trademark fire and blood.
Unlike “Arya’s Prayer,” you could pretty much divorce this track entirely from it’s Game of Thrones origin and still find it endlessly compelling. She hardly mentions the show at all, and yet by choosing one element to draw inspiration from (and one that, as a female performer in a male-dominated industry, Snow can probably relate to pretty strongly), she does the show more justice than half of the other rappers on this album.
Which isn’t to say the other tracks aren’t good or worth listening to, of course. Big Boi’s “Mother of Dragons” is great, as are Magazeen’s “Iron Throne” and Damn Yankee’s “Born to Rule.” It’s just that I wish HBO had figured out how to sit down with everyone and come up with different storylines and themes to write about. Like, can you imagine how amazing a rap from the point of view of Tywin Lannister would have been? Or one solely about the battle between the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch? The world of Westeros is so vast that you could probably spend an entire career rapping about its intricacies without ever repeating yourself, so why is there so much repetition in Catch the Throne?
But again, all this is just personal nitpicking when you come down to it. Despite my nerdy misgivings, Catch the Throne is absolutely worth your time if you’re a Game of Thrones fan — it’s not like you have to spend any money to get access to it, after all. But if you’re like me, and it leaves you wanting something with a little more focus, then check out Adam WarRock’s Game of Thrones mixtape when you’re done. Seriously, he spends an entire song rapping about Hodor. It’s incredible.