10 Things We Learned From The ‘Watch The Throne’ Listening Session

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You should know a few things before I begin. My last Hov listening session was Blueprint. Ten years ago. Small studio on the West side. The Source’s Mind Squad—Carlito Rodrigiez, Erik Parker, Kim Osorio, Boogie and myself—were in the building. Jay wasn’t quite the showman he is now. Mr. Carter was much more of an introvert. His descriptions of those classic cuts were measured. No wasted words. He never broke character. The new issue had dropped and that was really his focus. The reviews in particular. He knew what he had in Blueprint so there was no need for him to oversell. The only time he cracked a smirk was when “Takeover” played. The notorious line dropped: “Ask Nas he don’t want it with Hov.” He laughed (you know that signature cackle). That was as far as the record went that evening. Not sure if he was holding back or the verse hadn’t been recorded yet.

Ten years later hip-hop’s commander in chief works a room at the Mercer Hotel like a politician. He’s a jokester. Yet never offensive. Slight jabs. All in fun. He’s ready to play Watch The Throne. A room full of journalists are eager to hear it. Here’s what I learned about the album and Shawn Corey Carter last night (in no particular order of importance):

1 → I’m a fan of obnoxious, stuntastic hip-hop. Always have been. So “Italian Life,” (All titles are tentative, BTW) where both Jay and Ye flow majestically over an “Ave Maria” sample was grand. It’s not for everyone. Purists will probably puke. But if this album comes out this summer you will hear that record out of several automobiles. Drops, preferably. I forget if he said the song was inspired by the two having penne pasta one night. Anyhow, it’s rich. Maserati drop-top rich (one of Ye’s references to many luxurious toys).  

2 → You didn’t like “Ham?” Well guess what? They two titans got the memo. So they stripped back on making everything sound stadium-ready. Surely it’s an outstanding performance record that rocks stages, but, as Jay said, “No one is trying to go Ham in the house.”

3. → “Ottis Redding” is fantastic. Throwback to College Dropout in terms of production. High replay value. Great lines, one being “I made Jesus walk so I ain’t never goin’ to hell.” There’s humor: “I’m about to call paparazzi on myself.” For all the standout lines, none outdo the track. The production on “Otis Redding” is that good.

4. → Kanye’s candor has no bounds. He’s aware of his shortcomings. When he talks about the wisdom he would pass down to his son** it’s so unapologetically honest. He warns don’t be like your dad; says he would never have his seed have an ego; and warn the child to never let his mom move to LA. Jay’s equally open. He starts of by admitting that he’s ruined it for his son as he would “literally be born with a spotlight on him.”

** Not sure what this song was called

5. → Who cares what people think at a barbecue? Jay doesn’t. This is not Watch the Throne related but still a worthy anecdote. Ye was adamantly against “Run This Town” as a single because when the song played at a barbecue no one put their chicken down to head nod like possessed humans. He wanted Jay to go with “New York” first. Thought it was a bigger record. Jay, however, understood that “New York” needed to be set up. Long story short, Jay went with his gut. It all worked out. What’s telling is that Ye was willing to sacrifice a song that he clearly shines on in order for what he thought was the greater good. If you can’t respect that your whole perspective is wack.

6. → Nothing was dialed in on this record. Whether it was NY, LA, Paris, Australia, the two recorded the entire record together.

7. → Frank Ocean has a mean pen. And the pen is Jay-Z approved. Not only does Frank appear on this album but he will also be on Jay’s next solo project. The song is already in the can.

8. → RZA made the album. I mention this because I was told the most hilarious story about RZA and this project. It’s one of those that I’ve gotta keep in the vault, but nonetheless, happy RZA made the cut.

9. → Jay wants to surpass the Beatles’ record for most #1 albums. They’re at 16. He’s at 11.

10. → The expectations for this album are insane. And if Jay and Ye delivered the Holy Trinity of rap records people would still find flaws. But they do this for the culture and the record isn’t done yet. What I will say is I heard some great material last night. And goodnight. —Jermaine Hall, VIBE Editor-In-Chief