"What's a king to a god/What's a god to a nonbeliever."
These words open Watch The Throne, and give a strong hint of the kind of lyrical word-spinning -- and thematic undertones -- in store on Jay-Z and Kanye West's collaborative effort. Aside from a few minor leaks, the duo's album -- which is being hailed by some as the cultural event of the year -- dropped digitally Monday at midnight, right on schedule.
For an album that is sonically more scattershot, Hov and Ye's words tell the story here -- they're blunt in meaning, but cut sharply when they hit your ear. The duo addresses a few larger themes -- success, hypocrisy and race among them -- and work their way around them with an unusual mix of cultural references throughout the album, from Will Ferrell's Chazz in "Blades of Glory" to sweet baby Jesus himself.
We'll be liveblogging a track-by-track, line-by-line reading of the album, so keep checking in for the latest from The Throne.
08/08/2011 6:37 PM EDT
Looking back at our day of all-things-Throne, a few tracks stick out as our favorites. That could change after a few (100) more spins. Let us know yours in the comments:"No Church in the Wild"
"That's My Bitch"
"Who Gon Stop Me"
"Why I Love You"
And off the bonuses: "Primetime"
08/08/2011 5:02 PM EDT
We all heard this one back in January, and not much has changed since then. It really takes going ham to an epic (read: operatic) level. Aude Cardona and Jacob Lewis Smith get their moments to shine around the three minute mark.
08/08/2011 4:55 PM EDT
Who Is That Other Opera Singer?
Let's not forget the male operatic voice on "H.A.M." That would be one Jacob Lewis Smith:
Jacob Lewis Smith studied at Manhattan School of Music and is currently a student of Victoria Clark. He has recently recorded with Kanye West and Jay Z for the upcoming album Watch the Throne on Def Jam Records. Past shows include Dick McGann in Street Scene (Chautauqua Opera debut), Raggedy Andy in Griffelkin, Cinderella's Prince in Into the Woods, Miles Gloriosus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, 4 Stop Tour (off Broadway), Defying Gravity: A Stephen Schwartz Revue, Hair, Lt. Wright in The Secret Garden, Charlie in Brigadoon, Gregor and featured dancer in Mame, a Gershwin - Bernstein revue, The World Upstairs (a new musical workshop), And the World Goes Round: The Songs of Kander and Ebb, and Tanner on Tanner with Cynthia Nixon
08/08/2011 4:51 PM EDT
Who's That Opera Singer?
The female operatic voice on both "Illest Motherf***er Alive" and "H.A.M." is one Aude Cardona, according to the liner notes for both tracks. From what limited info there is on Cardona online, it appears that she is a Brooklyn-based yoga instructor/opera singer who teaches a "Yoga for Vocalists" class -- a bit about her:
Aude Cardona started practicing Iyengar Yoga in Rishikesh, India, in 2001. Since then she has continued to deepen her practice in France with S.F Biria, and in the US with Kevin Gardiner, Genny Kapuler, Carrie Owerko and Joan White, eventually choosing to complete a 2 year training where she obtained her Iyengar intro 1 level through the US national association. Audeʼs interest for Iyengar Yoga was instantaneous. Her mind was able to focus and her physical awareness increased, helping her tremendously with her opera singing.
08/08/2011 4:25 PM EDT
The Deluxe Edition Goes On
The album may be done, but the deluxe edition is not. First up, we have "Illest Motherf***er Alive," which kicks in after three minutes of silence, with the same carnival-esque instrumental ditty we heard at the end of "New Day," "Welcome to the Jungle" and "No Church in the Wild," with cello by Chris “Hitchcock” Chorney.
The track soon steers away from the instrumentals and heads into more pompous territory, as they rap about being the "illest motherf***er[s] alive," as an operatic voice lays it on thick overhead:
"(JZ)King Hov, I’m exactly what the f**k you think / 11 in a row, Bill Russell rings / Michael Jordan swag, yall think Michael Jordan bad / Ni**a I got a 5 more rings than Michael Jordan had / Elvis has left the building now I’m on the Beatles ass / Ni**as hear Watch The Throne, yeah it’s like the Beatles back."
Delusions of grandeur or tongue-in-cheek? These guys make it hard to tell sometimes.
08/08/2011 3:37 PM EDT
Some People Are Confused As To What This Throne Business Is All About
|@ questlove : @jamespoyser to me: "why is everyone talking about #WTF Game Of Thrones?"|
08/08/2011 2:27 PM EDT
The Throne, Reviewed: Honesty Is A Good Policy Here
HuffPost's Kia Makarechi gives "Watch the Throne" his stamp of approval:
By turning the bravado inside out, West invites the listener to wonder if life really is always that great when you're a millionaire rapper. West's creative director Virgil Abloh likes to refer to the album as "luxury rap," but for every mention of a Maybach there is at least one caveat, one price-tag that isn't hanging from a Margiela hoodie. I'm not saying we should all spend today feeling sorry for West and the difficulties of fame, but no one in popular music humanizes the dark side of fame as adeptly as he does...
Jay and Kanye... live in that space between "yes this is as fun as it looks" and "but nothing in life is free." Neither rapper bests their all-time best performances here, but as messy as putting these two careers on the same disc could have been, it's hard to be anything but impressed.
Read more here.
08/08/2011 10:14 AM EDT
Sweet Baby Jesus
Frank Ocean is back, providing the chorus to "Made in America":
"Sweet King Martin / Sweet Queen Coretta / Sweet Brother Malcolm / Sweet Queen Betty / Sweet Mother Mary / Sweet Father Joseph / Sweet Jesus / We made it in America / Sweet Baby Jesus / Oh sweet baby Jesus / We made it in America / Sweet baby Jesus / Oh sweet baby Jesus / We made it in America."
Kanye lists off what he's done to get to the top -- and how once he gets there, he just crashes:
"Guess I’m getting high off my own supply / Downtown mixing fabrics tryina find the magic / Started a little blog just to get some traffic / Old folks’ll tell you not to play in traffic / A million hits and the web crashes ...Damn."
Jay takes a more nostalgic turn, looking back at how he got to where he is:
"I pledge allegiance to my Grandma / For that banana pudding, our piece of Americana / Our apple pie was supplied through Arm & Hammer."
08/08/2011 9:45 AM EDT
Murder To Excellence
After "Who Gon Stop Me" finishes assaulting our ears, "Murder to Excellence" (also produced by Swizz Beatz) is like a breath of fresh air, giving us a chance to regroup... at least sonically. Then the words kick in, and you hear Jay chanting "bloody murder, bloody bloody murder" in the background.
Kanye's voice comes into full focus:
"The paper read murder/Black on black murder/ The paper read murder / Black on black murder."
This song is saying, look, we have enough problems. Let's not add to it by turning on ourselves. Jay puts it simply: "When you see me, see you."
08/08/2011 8:52 AM EDT
Dubstep On 'Who Gon Stop Me'
This aggressive track takes its cue from dubstep, a darker, frenetic electronic music movement in Britain, producer Verse Simmonds told MTV News:
After getting a call from Bu Thiam, Def Jam's VP of A&R, to submit tracks for WTT, Simmonds and his production partner, Sham "Sak Pase" Joseph, immediately went to work. "What we did is, we locked in a week, we just went crazy on everything Jay and Kanye," Simmonds told MTV News. "I remember telling Sham, I was like, 'Yo, I think this dubstep stuff is going to be the next new flavor that everybody gotta be on. It gotta have a hip-hop feel to it still.' "
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