NEW YORK — Anyone walking into the swank Waldolf-Astoria hotel Thursday morning would've been hard-pressed to figure out exactly what was going on. Jay-Z and R. Kelly had scheduled a press conference there to hype and answer questions about their March 26 release, The Best of Both Worlds, but it felt a lot more like a party. (Click here for [article id="1451924"]photos[/article].)
Funkmaster Flex was spinning both superstars' greatest hits on the wheels of steel, and a spread of spinach-and-mushroom omelets and hash browns was left out for all to indulge upon. The morning's hosts, however, were nowhere to be found. They had been out until around 5:30 a.m., partying and finishing up their album, so they sent a few of their friends to make time with the press.
After the presidents of Jive and Def Jam addressed the crowd, attorney Johnnie Cochran came out to introduce moguls Andre Harrell and Russell Simmons. After words of praise for Jigga and Kelly, they introduced a panel of guests that would give even more kudos to the music kings. Ronald "Mr. Biggs" Isley, Kareem "Biggs" Burke, Tone from Trackmasters, independent music retailer George Daniels, reformed pimp Bishop Don "Magic" Juan and P. Diddy all came out to support.
"I'm basically here — to be honest — I'm here as a fan," Diddy said. "These are my two favorite artists in the whole wide world. I go to all the concerts, I've got all the albums, I know every lyric to every song. It's just a pleasure to be here. I can't wait to see the concert, I can't wait to hear the album."
"What The Best of Both Worlds means to me," Magic told the spectators, "is when you have two fine gentleman like these come together it's gonna be a spiritual explosion. It's spiritual 'cause the [fans are] gonna know the music of the hip-hop world is one world, under one nation on the music side."
That was the perfect segue back to Flex as he debuted the album's first offering, titled "Honey," which is about being under pressure from your girl to stop chasing money in the streets.
"This is mean and vicious, man," said Jay's voice, blaring from the speaker over a sample of the Bee Gees hit "Love You Inside Out."
"Lord forgive, I'm ballin' outta control/ I got the spirit of a hustla pouring outta my soul," Jigga went on to rhyme on the track. "Mommy, I love you, but there ain't no stoppin' my stroll/ If you wanna be down with me, you gotta go."
"Stuck bee-tween these two worlds," Kelly's voice sang as it oozed through the speakers. "What I'm gonna do with two girls?"
"Get This Money," whose slow Spanish guitars made it sounds like a sequel to the remix of Kelly's "Fiesta," which Jay appeared on, was also previewed. On that song, Kelly and Jay do their best to reach a light-speed pace, singing and rhyming about raking in the dough.
"We had the 'Fiesta' remix and ['Guilty Until Proven Innocent,']" Jay told the crowd, beginning to explain how the collaborative LP came about. "Hearing how those are, we would always talk back and forth: 'We should do a whole album together.' We're creative people — creative people create. Just the idea of having a whole album with myself and R. Kelly is such an amazing prospect."
"We're like mad scientists," Kelly said. "You want to get together and mix potions."
Jay said listeners can expect to hear songs about "just real-life situations" since "we both came from the dirt."
"We're not afraid to talk about the things we go through in our music," said Kelly. "We're gonna continue to do that."
As Kelly explained to MTV News earlier this month, the two tried to bring the best out in each other while recording, even though they were not together for most of the LP's production.
"On the last four songs we plan to come together and do them," Kelly said in early January, "because the ideas we wanna put together, we have to be together to do them. Other than that, I do tracks in the studio and write the hook and do some lyrics and send it to him. He puts his thing down. Then he'll send it back and send me something.
"Tone from Trackmasters, him and [his partner] Poke have been like the referees, making sure we get the tracks back to each other. Tone flies to Chicago and goes back to New York. It's been working out."
"It started out back-and-forth because we wanted to know how serious it was," Jay said Thursday. " 'Let's see what you can do with this one right here.' He'd send it back in one day. 'All right, send him two.' We got together at the end, the championship round, and put it together."
Helping to construct the opus were the Trackmasters on production (they split the work with Kelly) and Beanie Sigel and Lil' Kim with some raps. The duo also hopes to make Kelly's protégés Boo & Gotti last-minute guests.
But even without them, Kelly has visions of grandeur for the LP, especially on the marketing end.
"Best of Both Worlds T-shirts, drawers, condoms, everything," he joked.
Though it's still unclear what kind of paraphernalia the album will spawn, a tour is definitely in the works.
"Best of Both Worlds tour coming soon to a theater near you," Jay-Z said. "We're gonna put the show together. Just one set, one long set. He's doing the songs people love him for. I'm doing songs from my album, and we're doing songs from the Best of Both Worlds album."
And if Jay and Kelly can put their egos to the side long enough to wrap up and promote their album, then their labels — Def Jam and Jive, respectively — can surely figure out a way to join forces and make cheddar together. As determined by a coin toss, the album will be distributed on Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam in the U.S. and Canada, while Jive will handle distribution internationally.
"[We hope this is] a trend for more unity for black people on a whole," Jay told the crowd. "You've got a cab company, I've got a cab company, we're fighting for the same money? Maybe we can join forces. That's why this panel is here. That's why we have the support of Russell, Andre and Johnny C."