It’s finally here. On Monday, fans across the world can finally experience Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne , the joint project that was first announced on August 27, 2010, via Yeezy’s Twitter. Now, almost a year later, the highly anticipated album is available for purchase. Only a select few can say that they were along for the ride, and senior VP of A&R at Def Jam, Lenny Santiago, is one of those people.
Last month, MTV News secured 12 exclusive behind-the-scenes photos from the famed WTT recording sessions, which took place in New York City, Australia and Paris. Lenny S., who was present for much of the album’s recording, breaks down the story behind two of the photos.
The first shows one-half of the Neptunes, Pharrell, seated in the middle of a makeshift studio, arms folded, taking it all in. That particular session reminded Lenny of the good old days at Roc-a-Fella, when he made his bones in A&R. “What was real dope about that picture and just about that day period — it felt like old Roc-a-Fella, Bassline days,” he said, referencing the label’s old recording home, Bassline Studios.
Jay co-founded the label where he released his debut album, Reasonable Doubt, in 1996 and put out Kanye’s first LP, The College Dropout, seven years later. The label was also home to recording artists such as Cam’ron, Beanie Sigel, Freeway and Memphis Bleek, just to name a few. But in 2005, after Hov spilt with co-founders Damon Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke, the rap powerhouse lost its luster. These days, Hov is pushing his new Roc Nation label and West heads G.O.O.D. Music, but this particular session felt like a throwback.
“That day alone felt real ill,” Santiago said. “I remember Jay and ’Ye both just making note of that.”
The second pic depicts Jay-Z hovering over a mixing board, leaning in with his arms folded. The board’s green and red lights are lit and the casual observer may be led to believe that Jay has decided to add studio engineering to his ever-expanding résumé. Not the case, says Lenny S. “A lot of times when Jay writes — or doesn’t [actually] write — that’s how he writes, with his arms leaning on the board, boppin’ his head,” he explained.
While most rappers either write their raps down on paper or in the memo pads of their BlackBerrys and iPhones, Jay uses no physical instruments. For years, Hova has famously conjured up entire songs in his head. “That’s literarily Jay’s way of writing, which is so ill and dope if you ever have the honor and the pleasure to be there and witness that,” Lenny S. said. “Just the beat is on, and he’s nodding and grooving to the joint. Ten, 15, sometimes eight, sometimes 12 minutes later; 20 minutes later he’s in the booth saying this whole ill crazy 16-[bar verse] or 32-[bar verse] or whatever the case is … No pen, no pad, no nothing.”