“Hi. We know Will Ferrell, and you do not.”
Michaelangelo Matos: Great catchphrase, intriguing beat, and it all sounded a lot better at the Planetarium when they previewed the album.
Michelle Myers: It’s a song about the paranoia and grandeur of fame. It’s good drama, if ultimately unreleatable. It’s also one of those songs that turns into an even better song halfway through. Thus, both formally and spiritually, this is Jay-Z and Kanye’s Band on the Run. Personally, I always liked Wings.
Brad Shoup: “Ball so hard motherfuckas wanna fine me,” Jay spits, but he’s a little off. It’s the defensive backs who incur the costs; in his metaphor, he and Kanye are actually the quarterbacks, the glory boys who set the tempo and call the plays. (Syl Johnson represents the Retired Players’ Association, fighting to send some benefits backwards.) While Hit-Boy keeps the pocket clear with a mincing, menacing two-finger riff, the Throne’s platoon system executes the game plan in a hostile road environment. Bluster becomes an existential weapon; while Will Ferrell implies a certain sardonicism, it’s a typical Kanye choral gesture that gets to run out the clock.
Jonathan Bradley: Yeezy chillin’ in a Rive Droite hotel, ensconced in the cultural capital of the old world but laughing his head off at second rate Will Ferrell comedies, while Jay takes off to see the town: “If you escaped what I escaped, you’d be in Paris getting fucked up too.” This is the French city that prompted Frederick Douglass to comment, “the negro has never been seen there as a degraded slave, but often as a gentleman and a scholar.” Their European tour is a departure from reality, an accentuated version of the break from racial marginalization that wealth has permitted each man to occasionally access. Hov takes to his foreign playground like he knows exactly what he’s escaping — “First niggas gotta find me” — but Kanye just uses the opportunity to revel in boorishness: “You need to crawl for your booooooy,” he blathers at a woman, positing himself as both regal (“Prince Williams ain’t do it right if you ask me”) and bestial (“We goin’ gorillas”) in the space of a few lines. Each man raps as if he were getting away with something; they are gauche Americans on vacation, sure, but they’re too Other — too black, too famous — to be the regular fanny-pack wearing, Hawaiian shirt-clad, Euro-Disneyland-visiting sort. Hit-Boy’s off kilter synth jabs and the out of context regurgitation of phrases like “ball so hard” and “that shit cray” adds to the air of the fantastic, the volatile, dreamlike sense that nothing is quite real and anything might happen. The shuddering bass breakdown suggests that, indeed, anything might have. Provocative, sure, but hardly inscrutable. Gets the people going? Works for me.
Hazel Robinson: It’s probably unfortunate for any major rap release to (inadvertently or otherwise) set itself up for comparison with Last Train To Paris. This has a great hook and Jay-Z sounds the most attentive he has for awhile until Kanye turns up and starts his attempt to extend every other word until someone somewhere takes him seriously and no amount of silly broadcast noises or repetition can make this seem necessary. It’s all very well, being a rap legend, but when it starts sounding as though songs deliberately recorded together are posthumous edits then, I don’t know, stick at the fashion labels?
Alfred Soto: Jay sticks to his tried-and-true, and, alas, so does Kanye, who tries to past the quiet erosion of his flow by elongating vowels, y’aaaaaaaaaaaaall. Insinuating synth hook though, and the quasi dubstep breakdown interlude is a masterstroke.