Jay-Z And Kayne West: The Making Of Hip-Hop's 'Thriller'?
The world of music has been on the edge of its collective seat since the initial announcement of Jay-Z and Kanye West's collaborative album, "Watch the Throne." Since West broke the news via Twitter months prior to the release of his 2010 album, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," many have questioned whether or not the effort will result in a musical masterpiece, the "Thriller" of hip-hop.
Granted, pulling two powerhouse names together in the studio will generate more than enough consumer interest. And when it comes to recording an album, the title alone creates quite high expectations to live up to. According to the producer of "Thriller," crafting a timeless collection of songs is something that happens organically and in the moment.
"Anyone who tells you that they knew a record was going to be a big hit is a flat-out liar," Quincy Jones stated in an open Los Angeles Times blog. "We had no idea 'Off the Wall' was going to be as successful as it was, but we were thrilled." The success that Jones had in recording Michael Jackson's 1979 opus was so energizing that the two legends birthed the best-selling album of all-time three years later.
Fast-forward nearly 30 years, when one of today's top artists and one of its top producers are coming together to put shape an album that (they hope) will create the very same magic that brought the multitalented jazz musician and King of Pop eight Grammy Awards.
"I want to know what they were saying while they were making 'Thriller' in the studio," Jay-Z pondered in a recent online documentary that showcased the duo recording "Watch the Throne." "You heard all the Mike stories ... about him wanting to be the best, and sh*t," West responded. "And how long he'd be working on it ... But that's the conversation we having."
Obviously Jay and Ye each have a successful history making music, with Hov being one the greatest MCs ever and Kanye one of the all-time great producers. But if in fact we are on the brink of music history again, a masterpiece has the potential to install them on the throne they are claiming.
"This time, them teaming up is a little different. Kanye has developed into one of the great spitters of our generation, and Jay shows no signs of his skills diminishing," says Shaheem Reid, a music critic and CEO of Shaheem Reid Media. "The rollout for 'Watch the Throne' is kind of odd, though. They have yet to release the big radio single that you figured would be a lay-up for two heavyweights, and the release date isn't being hyped up. No huge media blitz, and the only marketing seems to be the fact that Jay and Ye are making a album.
“Their latest song, 'Otis,' has no video as of yet," he continued. "But the duo's mastery of lyrical sharpshooting on the track is stop-dead-in-your-tracks stunning. Based on that song alone, I feel the fans are going to salivate at the opportunity to get their hands on the album."
To Reid's point, the album has abandoned the standard operating procedure for marketing and promoting new music. Until the beginning of July, the album's August 12 release date had been under wraps, adding more mystique to the project. Not to mention the album's exclusive release to iTunes customers on August 8, with a special deluxe version released through Best Buy on August 23. Having exclusive deals in place could very well prevent piracy and crown the superstars as music royalty with multiplatinum success, according to one music insider.
"Nothing meets expectations these days because we can't ratchet our scale down low enough to match reality," says music pundit Bob Lefsetz, who is also author of "The Lefsetz Letter." "The key is to release as early as possible, so people will buy instead of steal. Yes, without physical sales, the first week may not be as big, but maybe this is an indication that the game is coming to an end. (One can hope!)"
Unlike Kanye, Jay-Z has released a few previous collaborations during his career, working with R&B chart-topper R. Kelly on 2002's "The Best of Both Worlds" and their 2004 follow-up, "Unfinished Business." Both were released with little promotion, the first due to R. Kelly's legal issues and the second because of personal differences with Hov. All of which leads one to question whether the hip-hop mogul can share the spotlight with another platinum-selling superstar.
"The chemistry between Jay and Kanye is stronger because of the length of their working relationship," said Vibe Magazine Editor-in-Chief Jermaine Hall. "Keep in mind that these two worked on 'The Blueprint' together, with Just Blaze 10 years ago. They each know each other's roles at this point.
"The fact that they crafted the songs in rooms together also makes a difference," he continued. "R. Kelly and Jay were sending tracks back and forth, while Jay and Ye had the advantage of instant input because they were present in the moment. On songs where they go back and forth, the lines are crisp and well thought out."
Hall, who has had the special opportunity of previewing the album before its release, believes that "Watch the Throne" will be a big event, but will come under scrutiny no matter how lyrically or sonically flawless it is.
"You're dealing with a 'major event' record," he added. "Major event projects like these always end up being overanalyzed. There is no way to live up to expectations. Because of the level of talent involved, Jay and Ye could have delivered 'Thriller,' and people would find flaw in the Vincent Price monologue."
"What you're going to hear from 'Watch the Throne' is two artists expressing a lifestyle and doing it a high level," he asserted. "'Will everyone be into the lifestyle?' is another question altogether. But when you bring together one of hip-hop's finest curators of music with the legend of Jay, you're going to get an enjoyable product."