NEW YORK — Jay-Z and Kanye West's forthcoming album may be called Watch the Throne, but soon enough fans will be listening, not just looking, and it will have been worth the wait. On Thursday night, MTV News was among the shortlist of media outlets invited to get an early listen to the power duo's collaborative project.
The listening session was held in the Mercer Hotel, where the New York Post previously reported that parts of the album were recorded. Though it was originally set to begin at 8 p.m., Jay-Z walked into the hotel lobby closer to 9 (word is he was at a Yankees game hoping to see Derek Jeter get his 3,000th hit). The group of journalists followed the rapper up to a suite that had been transformed into a recording studio. Seated in the rear of the room, wearing a Yankees snap-back hat and crisp, white shell-toe Adidas, Hova balanced a MacBook Pro in his lap. After asking those in attendance to introduce themselves, he got right into playing selections from the album, loudly.
Standout tracks included a pair of songs that feature Odd Future crooner Frank Ocean. Jay-Z relayed that he reached out to Ocean after hearing his Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape and wanted him to contribute to his next solo album. After their initial work went well — Ocean appears on one of two songs Jay-Z revealed he has recorded for the solo LP — Hova invited the crooner to get down on Watch the Throne too. The only other guest on the album is Beyoncé, who appears on the resounding "Lift Off," which sounds like it was tailor-made to be performed in large stadiums.
On another particularly interesting song, Jay-Z and Kanye deliver verses directed to their hypothetical unborn sons. (Note: Jay-Z's press representative asked that lyrics from songs not be quoted.) The Brooklyn MC recalled that Yeezy first recited his verse to him at New York's Museum of Modern Art. "I told him I wasn't going to get on it," Jay-Z told MTV News of the song, adding that he thought Kanye's verse, running down his myriad past mistakes, is one of his best ever. "The honesty of it, it's just really cool."
Throughout the album, Yeezy holds his own when rapping alongside Jay-Z, a lyricist of the highest caliber. Other standout tracks that feature the duo trading rap bars include a song whose beat features a chopped up Otis Redding vocal sample that many requested be played again. Another song called "Living So Italian" also got a favorable response from the room.
Jay-Z played over a dozen songs and said that he hoped to finalize the track list by this weekend. He also admitted that the album is actually on its third iteration. Initially, he and Kanye were looking to make a grandiose project with elaborate songs, but they felt that doing so would take away from its enjoyment, so they chose to pare it down sonically.
"It's just so big and so much, you don't want that sh-- screaming in your house," Jay-Z said, referring to their early single, "H.A.M." "If we don't make records that we like and represent the culture, we would be over."
The room didn't start thinning out until near midnight, and as the session winded down, Jay-Z started playing additional tracks, including a song whose lyrics seems to hint that it was produced by No ID. Nodding his head along to the knocking grooves, he also played a song that features Swizz Beatz that he said probably won't make the final cut.
Back in January, MTV News' Sway sat down with West, who teased the Watch the Throne project, saying, "We going to the South of France at the end of this month just to record new ideas." And late last year, when we caught up with Jigga, he explained the long history between him and 'Ye. "Kanye, he's really like a brother to me, I've seen him from the beginning to where he is now, and to see him as a producer and how he's grown as a producer and and artist, you know, for me, on another level it's enjoyable."
While pre-order receipts of Watch the Throne indicate that it will be shipped on "2011-08-02," Jay-Z and his representatives did not provide a solid release date for the highly anticipated album beyond saying fans would hear it "soon." Keep watching.