THE TOPIC: JAY-Z & KANYE WEST'S NEW SINGLE "OTIS"
Listen: Kanye West & Jay-Z f/ Otis Redding "Otis"
THE CONSENSUS PANEL: Jeremy Larson (ConsequenceofSound.net), Kathy Iandoli (HipHopDX.com), Confusion (PigeonsAndPlanes.com), Dallas Penn (Dallaspenn.com), Paul "Big Homie" Duong (RapRadar.com), LowKey (YouHeardThatNew.com), ego trip (egotripland.com), Marcus Troy (MarcusTroy.com), John Gotty (The Smoking Section), Andrew Barber (FakeShoreDrive.com), Maurice Garland (MauriceGarland.com), Karen Civil (KarenCivil.com), Modi (DCToBC.com), Mike Waxx (IllRoots.com), Combat Jack (The Source), Foster Kamer (New York Observer), Paul "Gooch" Cantor (PaulJCantor.com), Erika Ramirez (Billboard), Jeff Rosenthal (ItsTheReal.com), and Noah Callahan-Bever (Complex).
See mini-reviews from each panel member below...
PANELIST: Kathy Iandoli, HipHopDX
REACTION: I'll go hard in the pop culture paint and say that I can't hear this Otis Redding sample without thinking of Pretty In Pink where Jon "Duckie" Cryer is grinding against dusty vinyl for Molly Ringwald. Other than that, this track could use a few more drums, but it's otherwise a decent record; way better than "H.A.M." in my opinion. Then again, a lot was better than "H.A.M." Jay and Kanye always collectively succeed when they're trading verses back and forth. This shows a heightened level of teamwork on their part and makes the anticipation for Watch The Throne only that much more exciting. I do think the track ends pretty suddenly though, but then again this is Jay and Kanye, so they make their own rules.
PANELIST: Jeremy Larson, Consequence of Sound
REACTION: Remember when Jay-Z dropped "D.O.A." before any track on Blueprint 3? "Otis" is the same: something to whet the pallet. Ye cut up and pasted "Try A Little Tenderness," but it sounds like he did it while reclining in his other other Benz. It's good to see the two dovetail verses like they do, and both have their traditional flows in tact. Jays sounds exhausted, and Ye sounds aggressive, but as far as narratives go the track is all over the map, repackaging a career's worth of ego strokes and hustle history. Oh, you're back with two watches? Neat, Jay.
I'm really hoping for some some more interplay between the two on WTT so it's not just pass the mic for the whole album. Can two egos become one mind and forgo sound-bites for synchronicity? I'm watching the hell out of that throne, dudes. Oh, and will someone go to the "Top Billin’" Wikipedia entry and add another line under the 'Notable references' section? Who's on that? That list is getting long.
PANELIST: Robbie Ettelson, Unkut.com
REACTION: Enough with playing the original vocals at the start of the song already...that shit ain't cute nor original. The good news is that the main chop reminds me of the beat Diamond D did for Master Rob when they were the Ultimate Force. The bad news is that the rapping sounds like it was recorded through a tin can with a piece of string, or worse still, a diamond-encrusted Macbook with a shitty built-in mic. You guys couldn't have copped a decent microphone for the yacht? Dealing with standard Private Jet Rap topics (which for the most part seem to revolve around flying on private jets. Who knew?), it's not without it's charms, although I can't help but imagine what another duo with even a sliver of hunger still rattling around their rib cages might have done with this. I'm joking, obviously - I'm sure if I wait another five minutes they'll be 18,000 freestyles over this beat flooding the internets for our "enjoyment."
PANELIST: Confusion, Pigeons & Planes
REACTION: I've always had issues with with vocal samples playing underneath verses, and Kanye's got a habit of using this technique in his production. "Gold Digger," "Testify," and "Brooklyn Go Hard" are all good songs, but those looping vocals in the background cause confusion in my brain, like when two people talk at the same time. On "Otis," Kanye does it again, using the classic soul man's voice as a building block instead of the focal point, but it still throws me off a little bit. That being said, hearing the two vets trading lines and sounding on top of their game is never a bad thing. Solid track.
PANELIST: Dallas Penn, DallasPenn
REACTION: The song “Otis” isn't the heatrock I was awaiting from this epic project. Like, this wasn't the song that the dude from Fader got kicked out of the secret society circle for tweeting about. The soul sample is cool. The rhymes are cool. Both facets lack that “X” factor in their mix which makes us say, "Yes, Kanye is the greatest Hip-Hop producer of all-time and yes, Jay-Z is rap's GOAT emcee.”
While the rhymes aren't bad per se, this isn't Jay filling the bars with high end European product placement. This isn't Jay-Z wearing the Infinity Gauntlet on his Thanos rap shit. This is just Captain America Jay. Still superhero rap, just not superhumanoid rap. Kanye does spit that fashionista shit that he took back from Wale, but that was okay with Wale because Wale has this obscure sports reference shit on smash.
Free OnSmash. And free Action Bronson. Otis Redding Back. Just not on this track.
PANELIST: Paul "Big Homie" Duong, RapRadar
REACTION: Sounds so soulful, don't you agree? Yup. It's safe to say, that a beat by Kanye along with his soulful sample is always a win. The beat riding out during the intro had me on the edge of my seat waiting for one of the two to go in. And with no hook included, both Jay and Kanye exchanging bars back and forth is what we all really wanted to hear. Two of Hip-Hop's top dogs bragging on their lifestyle from Jay's "I’m about to call the paparazzi on myself" to Ye's "I made Jesus Walks, I'm never going to hell," only made me wish the song lasted longer. Not bad for some immigrants.
PANELIST: Low Key, YouHeardThatNew.com
REACTION: You know what “Otis” was? A warning shot. Not to the competition, but to the critics. We didn't believe WTT was coming and they slapped the taste out our mouth in three minutes. Is it the best offering from these two to date? Nope. But this is just what we needed to keep quiet until the full project comes. This was for us. The bloggers. The writers. The tweeters. Now we can't say anything. This is mean. Not perfect. But MEAN. Imagine what they have to say to the competition. SMH
PANELIST: ego trip, ego trip
REACTION: "Otis" wows us with its orgasmic (and uncredited) closing JB screams and gritos of "¡Viva Me-hi-co!" Mucho props to Señor West for the purist production, which morphs a classic Otis Redding stammer into a hypnotic chop probably best suited for getting zooted. Lyrically, Jay and Kanye drop enough memorably over-the-top one-liners to do the track justice (Ye’s “sophisticated ignorance—write my curses in cursive” already being an early favorite). Yet for all of “Otis’”s musical riches, this Yeezy-dubbed “luxury rap” also kinda makes us feel like the only way we can afford to listen to it is if we exploit small children in foreign countries. And frankly we can’t shill out for the expensive ass speakers to bump this with complete escapist conviction, no matter how playful the wordplay. For those who don't a) own a Benz and an “other, other Benz” or b) haven’t smoked “Cubanas with Castro in a cabana," "Otis" might make you feel like a poor, corner store hero eating son of a bitch who can’t crack Jay and Ye’s Givenchy Code. Who knew watching the throne could be so expensive? (For a more affordable option, watch this throne.) And for more of ego trip’s luxurious thoughts on “Otis” go here.
PANELIST: Marcus Troy, MarcusTroy.com
REACTION: There’s just something about Jay-Z & Kanye that makes them the ultimate duo and I’m not talking Batman and Robin. Think Clark Kent & Peter Parker collaborating as civilians to then fight crime in uniform. You look forward to both of their efforts especially when they suit up for action exchanging super power flows back & forth. I love how Jay-Z is able to floss so hard on this track, but at the same time continue to remind us of his political mind. Jay-Z was very clever by slipping in references about immigration, building fences, tunnels, and political asylum. Kanye rarely disappoints with clever lines about fashion, flow, and of course his braggadocios bravado rap. I think we like Kanye when he is stunting on us. He has trained our ears to appreciate him at his cockiest. Anyone offended by this heavy materialistic rap during this poor economic climate has to realize that the album is titled Watch The Throne, which speaks for itself. What is really happening right now is that these guys are just really rapping so there is not much more we can ask for except a longer track next time.
PANELIST: John Gotty, The Smoking Section
REACTION: The varying waves of backlash surrounding "H.A.M." must have made their way to Kanye and Jay because the lyrical fervor is raised a notch on "Otis." Back and forth rhyming remains a winning formula in rap, even though it's barely used since so few groups exist and creating the required chemistry means artists would have to be in the same vicinity while recording. The comparisons will come any time "Big Brother" and little brother 'Ye do songs together so I'll play along by saying 'Ye took "Otis." If Jay's jogging, Kanye's in a full sprint towards the finish line with the reward being winning listeners' attention. West does it in full color, too, and employing a bit of his "mayonnaise colored Benz" comedic wit with many of his lines. And even if he didn't recapture it in rhyme, Kanye's production goes back to one of its original draws—the soul sample—and creates good excitement.
My only real bone to pick would be the overuse of the sample. No disrespect to the dead, but Otis Redding's skatting towards the end sounds great on the first listen or two, but could prove to be an annoyance after that. Even if it doesn't now, I know it will once Innocent Rapper A crafts his crummy remix over the instrumental. All in all, I'd say "Otis" puts us where we expected Watch The Throne to be.
PANELIST: Andrew Barber, FakeShoreDrive
REACTION: Upon first listen, I thought "Otis" was missing something—perhaps a heavier beat—but after a few dozen plays and analyzing the origin of the sample, I realized just how well Ye chopped up the track. Not to mention the classic shit talking from Yeezy and Hov. Nothing like these two trading verses back and forth to make me feel inadequate about my life accomplishments. Since this record isn't a single (in the traditional sense at least), I suspect it will be one of the more revisited album cuts five to ten years down the road. Perhaps in the vein of Kanye's "Gone" or Jay's "Ain't No Love." Summer's over? Nah, 2011 is done. #okbye
PANELIST: Maurice Garland, MauriceGarland.com
REACTION: I might have said this on the last 'Ye & Jay consensus (hmmm, just looked it up, I didn't say it, but meant to), but I think Watch the Throne is going to be where Kanye tries to kill Jay-Z once and for all. Jay sounds like he wants to compliment Kanye for the sake of sounding good on a song with him, while Kanye sounds like he wants show up "Big Brother" any chance he gets (that "mananaaaaa" thing he did was lazy though). As for the song itself, I'm glad they went this route with the production instead of using some male cosmetic boutique sounding shit that both of these guys have been known to hop on for the last couple of years.
PANELIST: Karen Civil, KarenCivil.com
REACTION: Seeing as how there was only room for improvement from the first leak of "H.A.M.," damn near anything was sure to cause a firestorm of debate. Couple that with the overwhelmingly positive listening session reviews and Jay and Kanye were playing with house money. "Otis" just so happened to be the right song to release at the right time. Is it the greatest thing to happen to happen to Hip-Hop since Yo! MTV Raps? Not at all and some of it comes from being a prisoner of the moment. Is it a great song though? Of course it is. Both sounded hungry and it's hard to go wrong sampling the iconic Otis Redding. It was great example of the two egos colliding on one track producing a song that had everyone talking. And Kanye lost his damn mind on the record. Needless to say, the anticipation for Watch The Throne just quadrupled from this point yesterday. That's a win on all accounts.
PANELIST: Modele "Modi" Oyewole, DC To BC / The Great Progression
REACTION: Man, I can't even fake. From the Lex Luger-produced single to the overbearingly abrasive album artwork that reminds me of that new Dominic Cooper flick coming out, The Devil's Double (that trailer looks ridiculous by the way. Good grief.), I never thought I'd hear anything this soulful on Watch The Throne. That being said, this track just isn't really for me. The beat is a simple loop, and conceptually, it's some excellent hip-hop shit. Super boastful rhymes back and forth every eight bars. But they're two of the (if not the) best rappers in the world, commercially speaking, so I expected as much. While it was cool, I'd choose to listen to Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul trade more intriguing bars on "Rapper Shit", an apparent throwaway collaboration track and criminally underrated loosie that's floating around the net, than jam this. Shoot, I'd rather have Magno and Mike Jones on the original "Cuttin'" in rotation over this. So sue me.
I think 'Ye went harder than Jigga though. More swagoo drippin' from the bars and stuff, man. "I'm done, I'll hit you up man-yan...nahhhh." Oh boy. Regardless, I wanna hear the rest of this project—these two titans did make The Blueprint, after all. I also wanna know if Jay can let me get the same team who created his website to re-design mine. I e-mailed them for a quote and the dude was like, "We start at $50,000." I was shook. That's neither here nor there though.
PANELIST: Mike Waxx, IllRoots
REACTION: It's funny because I JUST put a "What Would Hova Do?" bumper sticker on MY Maybach the other day. Funk Flex playing this over and over never felt so good and I couldn't imagine a better way to formally introduce “Otis” to the masses. With Hov and Ye going bar for bar for bar for bar over the illest Otis Redding chop, it's really, really hard not to like this song. Soul samples back? There's just so much feeling in this record. It's a song for everybody that bumps on any occasion. From your car to your laptop to 1Oak or @superfunparty, this track just works. Very fun record and a great re-introduction to Watch The Throne. Don't forget to smile either, you know you want to!
PANELIST: Combat Jack, The Source
REACTION: There was so much slurpage going on over this record that I never got a chance to appreciate it. Even Huffington Post got on bended knees to gobble ‘em. Upon my first listen, I was like … meh. Not ever hating, Jay stays #1 in my top 5 and Kanye is the greatest of his generation to be doing it, so trust this ain’t hate b. The much ballyhooed Otis Redding sample was at best, very basic. Like looped up in someone’s basement basic. The rhymes? Verbal gymnastics indeed, Jay and ‘Ye are 'posed to spit monumental. BUT… there’s something missing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on until I read Ivan Rott’s accurate review of ‘Otis’ pointing out with surgical precision that what’s missing is “soul”. Unlike most heatrocks I fux with, and unless I’m rhythmically dead inside, “Otis” elicited no requisite scrunch face response from me, no vigorous head nodding, and no head holding while I scream “Oh my god.” All the song pulled out of me was a blank face. All swag style, minimal substance, “Otis” lacks soul, or the amount of soul that should come from a Jay x Kanye x Otis Redding collabo. Maybe I expected a masterpiece, so that overall sense of disappointment I feel might be on me. But what the fuck else am I supposed to expect from two masters of the art form? So far, watching the throne has been as exciting as going shopping with wifey at Walmart. No shots.
PANELIST: Foster Kamer, New York Observer
REACTION: Remember early Kanye? These guys finally do. "Otis" is the perfect anti-single for this album, because it's a reminder that what we always loved about these two collaborating is still very much there. Not only do they not need hooks, neither of them need to remind us that they don't. There was that first line of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, "I fantasized 'bout this back in Chicago," and then, the relief after it, where you didn't have to worry about the rest of that album. That everything would be alright, just because Kanye still remembers something about his past other than Amber Rose's FreshDirect order. It's something we haven't heard about since Late Registration and something that might have been all, but gone when he decided he was a robot sent from the future of a condolences section of a Hallmark store during 808s. We knew the word "Chicago" invokes something specific with Kanye, something all too rare from him now: repping. For something. Anything. And hearing 'Ye rhyming about the 'Roc like he means it on "Otis"; when was the last time that happened? The "Diamonds" remix? Now that Kanye has guys repping for him, when he throws up the Roc, it just hasn't been the same since...until now. Maybe it's a preoccupation (pushing Pusha, a pushing-30something crack-kingpin rapper, on the kids?) or an insecurity (Cyhi Da Huh?), but maybe Ye's Roc throwing just sounds a little less practiced when Jay-Z's next to him, without anyone else but Otis Redding. He doesn't need to try to sound sincere: he's standing next to Jay-Z over an Otis Redding sample as Jay-Z writes off all the world's OFWGKTA-hype with one line. Even when Kanye's talking about his "other other Benz," it's evident that he's in a way we haven't seen him in too long: humbled. And when Hov is going to murk someone in the lobby of the Mercer Hotel for you, how could you not be?
PANELIST: Paul “Gooch” Cantor, PaulJCantor.com
REACTION: "Otis" is a pretty good rap song. Great? No. But maybe rap is just that mediocre right now to where something marginally hot gets folks super excited. I can dig that logic. "Otis" is not reinventing the wheel. And hey, to Jay-Z and Kanye's credit, there's no edict that says they need to do that. "Otis" is some pretty stellar rhyming over a cool sample. No autotune. No crooning. No trance-y synths. It's just a simple beat with some awesome back and forth raps. If I found fault with this formula I might as well just say I don't like traditional hip-hop. And that's far from the case.
Some aspects are better than others. Like the rhymes—heck, it is Kanye West and Jay-Z— which are really the showcase here. There are just so many quotables. I think if anything "Otis" was just a teaser to say, "Hey, this Watch The Throne album, we're going to try to be pretty lyrical on it." And that's cool. Lyrics are great, I guess.
Will I replay "Otis" ten years from now for my unborn kid and say, "Son, this record changed my life when it came out"? Definitely not. It seems momentarily hot. Like I might forget it once DJs stop playing it. You know songs like that. They're songs that are good, but we wouldn't be going and searching for them on Spotify if we didn't sort of have to.
Considering that "H.A.M." wasn't really that good, "Otis" does what it was probably supposed to do. Which is basically whet my appetite for the whole album. While not a life-altering song, it's definitely good enough to make me eager to check out Watch The Throne. Thing is, I hear these guys went in to recording it with no plans of making a single or anything. That leads me to believe that maybe the whole album is like "Otis." Which I guess would be ballsy, but at the same time just sort of, good. And when it comes to Jay-Z and Kanye West, good is not really good enough. I'll cross my fingers.
Final thought though, I like the song for what it is. Anything these guys do is going to get criticized to death (see my aforementioned analysis, where I kinda crap on it, despite it being pretty ridiculously hot). "Otis" is better than most artist's best records. I'm sure I'll jam to it a bunch of times over the next few weeks.
PANELIST: Erika Ramirez, Billboard
REACTION: "Otis" gets better with each play. Filthy rhymes of hip-hop's bffs champagne living over Ye's twist to Otis Redding's classic, "Try A Little Tenderness." "Luxury rap?" Sí. Hov spits lines ("photo shoot fresh, looking like wealth") I'm sure we'll be seeing on our timelines in 5… 4… 3… 'Ye counters with mean muggin'-worthy rhymes ("I made 'Jesus Walks' so I'm never going to hell… write my curses in cursive"). While some are deciphering who outdid who on the cut, I'm just clicking my heels to "Otis" till Aug. 1.
PANELIST: Jeff Rosenthal, ItsTheReal
REACTION: I'm a Kanye fan. I'm a Jay-Z fan. A Yee-Z fan? I'm unsure. They work well together when only one of them is talking at a time. But last night, I was very much tuned-in to Hot97 with the rest, hopeful. What I got was unexpected in sound if not in rhyme.
Somewhere, Drake is crying. No surprise there, but with the release of "Otis," the curtains to Marvin's room must be especially black. Kanye chopped up Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness," but does the opposite of Redding's bidding, dropping beaucoup bars of fuck-you rap. In his first, third, and maybe even second verses, he seemingly disowns his Canadian step-child while knocking Drake's rhyme scheme: "Dudes talkin' real reckless: stuntmen/I adopted these dudes, Phillip Drummond ‘em." (At several points during Funk Flex's hour-long personal tantra session, he advised "no one in particular" to push their album back.)
I listened to the four (!!!) different streams on Rap Radar, and with each play, it became less about Kanye-Jay-Z than Kanye-Drizzy. I'd choose this tofu beef over H.A.M. any day of the week.
(Can I take time now to petition Complex for a separate Consensus to review the Jay-Z song within Otis?)
PANELIST: Noah Callahan-Bever, Complex
REACTION: I like rap music. So I like “Otis.” It’s that simple, stupid.
There are two tacks for artists of Jay and ‘Ye stature to take when crafting and selecting a “single” (whatever that exactly means in this digital age), with all of its loaded implications, off an LP like Watch The Throne, with all of its implicit magnitude. Either pull out all stops, dripping up and draping out the record with every resplendent bell and whistle within their formidable bag of musical tricks, or strip it all away, revealing and revelling in the bare bones brilliance that is the foundation of their musical genius. With “H.A.M.,” the LP’s widely-criticized (but, to me, still pretty awesome in its kinda silly over-the-top grandeur) first look, the duo clearly went the former route. So, it makes sense, being that Kanye and Jay are two of the most thoughtful and sensitive to the environment they release their tunes into, that with “Otis” they went as far in the other direction as possible.
From my vantage, “Otis” is about as hopped-the-fuck-out as a record can be. Kanye took a familiar sample in Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness” and gave it the most skillful chopping and reconstruction we’ve seen since Just Blaze put his hands on “Super Freak” for Hov’s “Kingdom Come.” And on top of it, the two simply trade top shelf Sucker MC raps with virtually every line a quotable. No hook is needed and no hook is given. What I enjoy the most about the record is the effortlessness. Where “H.A.M.” appeared almost achingly labored, “Otis” feels spontaneous and free. Kanye and Jay swap 4-bar raps with complete abandon, each mini-verse building topically or thematically on their partner’s last line (“I got five passports, I’m never going to jail... I made ‘Jesus Walks’, I’m never going to hell”, “I’m done, I’ll hit you up mana-naaaaaahh... Welcome to Havana, smoking Cubanos with Castro in cabanas”). In fact, outside of the over-sized boasts that they can actually back up with their bank accounts, “Otis” really has the extemporaneous charm of rap’s best four-track demos.
And, as I said, I like rap. So, in the words of obscure-hop forefather Son of Bazerk, what could be better, bitch?