Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

The Throne – Otis

We told them the wealth would “trickle down”!


Michaela Drapes: I’m sorry, Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” is untouchable. Untouchable. Off limits to samples. Adding insult to injury, what’s on top? “Luxury rap, the Hermes of verses”? Not likely. Neither Jay nor Ye seems particularly invested in being on this track, really, and merely provide a lackluster laundry list of stomach-turning excesses. This isn’t how you act at the top of your game, it’s ungracious; this track is a lot of awful things, but mostly it’s just really embarrassing.

Anthony Easton: How did a song featuring two peacocks end up tasting like warmed over chicken nuggets. Would have never thought that they lost their swagger, until they told us that they had not.

Brad Shoup: The Redding sample — for which he snags a posthumous credit, setting a dangerous precedent — brings forth unfortunate comparisons to “Gone,” my choice for West’s best track. But the mindboggling expanse of “Gone,” which augmented Otis with supplemental melodic elements (most notably a gorgeously-arranged string section) has little to do with the present single. It’s a glorified mixtape cut, a couple of nice sampling tricks backing slightly distinguished verse-swapping. Beginning with Hova’s “photo shoot fresh” verse, each man’s final line is thematically connected to the other’s first, which is pretty cool. And after the past couple years’ art-world patronage and carte blanche production, it’s a bit of a treat to hear Yeezy take it back to basics. But it’s the featured artist that holds the attention, not the storage-shed inventorying or the stale “Top Billin'” meme. Redding’s allowed to sing for a full 35 seconds before anyone cuts in, as if Jay and Kanye were momentarily content to watch someone else’s throne.

Dan Weiss: The hardest-working coasters in the biz, bragging about how many Benzes and passports they have. From “New watch alert” to “I’m never going to jail,” I wish tunes like this were as commonplace and effortless as rap haters think. And the tumbling minimalism of the Redding sample takes one back to “Gold Digger”.

Alfred Soto: “Photoshoot fresh,” Jay-Z assures us while Otis grunts like a rutting bull elk, reminding us that the only passion these geezers share is for the verities of R&B samples. But ’Ye raps with renewed aggression. That’s what happens when you accept you’re on the ride of your life instead of bitching about it.

Jonathan Bradley: Rumors to the contrary aside, Jay and Ye evidently enjoy each other’s company. The question, however, is whether we can enjoy theirs. That these superstars don’t sound as if they’re merely exchanging master tapes via FedEx makes it easier to; they could actually be in the studio together. Notice the canny way their verses sync up: Hov’s “I got five passports, I’m never goin’ to jail” leads into Kanye’s “I made ‘Jesus Walks,’ I’m never goin’ to hell” — and in a verse that ends with a subtle mañana/Havana baton-pass. I enjoy Jay sidestepping his rarefied financial position by illogically absorbing the struggles of the illegal immigrant into his antagonism — “Build your fences, we diggin’ tunnels” — but Kanye bests him with a tightly-written, labored-over couplet: “Luxury rap — the Hermes of verses/Sophisticated ignorance — write my curses in cursive.” For all this welcome effort, however, the single’s ultimate worth falters with the transient impact of the sample: the pair show off their Otis Redding acquisition like it’s the the centrepiece of a newly opened exhibition. Clink your glasses if you like, but it’s not exactly soulful.

Al Shipley: The sampled “I guess I got my swagger back” piped in from 2001 Jay carries so much more verve and blithe charisma than anything 2011 Jay can muster here, rendering the statement itself sadly ironic.

Jake Cleland:That bit when it first drops into Jay’s verse with the piano cue is exactly the kind of comeback moment I needed to get psyched for Watch The Throne. If nothing else they deserve props for still finding inventive new ways to big themselves up, and their pithy lyricism makes it easyyyyyyyy-uh to see why they’re the neighbourhood’s favorite rappers. That’s not a diss; the song is funny and witty, coming from two artists whose last albums respectively featured some of the laziest lyrics of their career, so hopefully this is proof that even though they’re at the top of the game they’ve got plenty left to climb.

Katherine St Asaph: Judging a single based on its spot on its album is becoming less and less fair. Every day we’re shuffling; whose time is enough and whose brain unclouded enough, the pundits say, to listen to twelve tracks in their original sequence? But this is Watch the Throne, conceived and crop-dusted over the cultural landscape as an event to be experienced in full and not fucked with. It didn’t even leak; the closest it came was a few terrible snippets from a blogger everyone lambasted. So while “Otis” existed before August 8, it’s now reconfigured as the track right after “N—-s in Paris,” total bombast with a colossal final minute. “You are now watching the throne… I’m definitely in my zone,” raps Kanye in the outro, and first to follow is that Otis Redding sample. What follows is banter, relaxed and completely beside the point. It’s coasting. Jay is chillin’, ‘Ye is chillin’, the sample’s killing. What more need they do?

Zach Lyon: It’s nice to hear a couple of old dudes try to sound much younger by bouncing off each other (imagine what it would sound like if either of them had any gas left in the tank!). Sucks that building it around its Otisdom means that I listen to it for a minute before switching to “Gone.”

12 Responses to “The Throne – Otis”

  1. Jonathan – I got your back, son.

  2. Re: crediting a sample, that precedent was set a while ago. The most famous example was the 2004 Diddy-produced Mario Winans hit, “I Don’t Wanna Know”—I’ll let Wikipedia explain:

    “The song is based on a sample of the Fugees’ 1996 hit single ‘Ready or Not,’ which itself was based on a slowed-down sample of the instrumental track ‘Boadicea’ by Enya from her 1987 album ‘Enya.’ Enya and her representatives became angry since Winans did not seek her approval for the sample, as he was unaware that the Fugees sample he had used had itself been a sample. So, a compromise was reached to credit the single as ‘Mario Winans featuring P. Diddy and Enya.'”

    I suppose Otis isn’t alive enough or angry enough to agitate for such things, and Ye and Jigga just gave him the sample either as tribute or a shameless status-grab with one of the greats. But either way, it’s happened before.

  3. Thanks for the factcheck, Chris. My point was the posthumous crediting – since “Try a Little Tenderness” seems to be the only source here, it’s unlikely someone called out Roc-a-Fella on their paperwork.I’m assuming this was a status grab, plainly and simply; thus my concern.

  4. Sorry Michaela, that’s bullshit. No song is “untouchable,” beyond the grasp of them dirty crate-digging rap producers.

  5. We’re in sync like JC Chasez in 1999, Brad.

    (I also liked Katherine’s point about the song’s album context.)

  6. Sorry, that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

  7. Fair play, it’s just too close to elitism that I can’t stand for it.

  8. Seriously, you’re going to rail on me for elitism, given the content of the lyrics here? That’s rich.

  9. It’s musical elitism, is what I mean. Like those hoighty-toighty rock musicians who don’t want their songs “besmirched” by being sampled in rap songs (or electronic songs, whatever). I just think no song is above being sampled.

  10. Ok, I’ll give a little. No song is above being sampled well. This is not a good sample; it’s lazy.

  11. Yeah — Kanye and Jay-Z basically accomplished the impossible, which is making an Otis Redding sample seem like a comedown. (Someone thought I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about the tracks I reviewed off WTT, which doesn’t really make sense to me — I mean, of the four I did yesterday, one got a 4.5/5, which is basically a 9/10. Go back through my scores — I don’t really give many 9s here.)

  12. I agree with you there, Michaela. I think Kanye might’ve crafted a classic out of “Try a Little Tenderness” if this was 2001 or even 2005. But it’s on the lazier end of his producing, although I’m always a fan of chopped-up beats. But that’s a big problem throughout Watch the Throne—lazy lazy lazy samples and more importantly lazy sampling.