There couldn’t have been a more fitting venue for the series of listening sessions held for Watch the Throne, the highly anticipated collaboration album from reigning hip-hop heavyweights Jay-Z and Kanye West. After a lengthy wait outside in the 90-degree heat, an eclectic mix of journalists, models, industry types and stars mingled in the American Museum for Natural History’s Rose Center for Earth and Space, sipping champagne and noshing on mini lobster rolls with imagery of all things otherworldly (planets! stars! black holes!) in view. And we were there. Read our breakdown of songs from Watch the Throne >>
Warner Music Group CEO Lyor Cohen and Gayle King (of Oprah’s best-friend fame) were also there, as were staples of the hip-hop kingdom Busta Rhymes and 88-Keys, along with Ryan Leslie, Beyonce, and (yes!) even Jay-Z and Kanye showed. And after the hour-and-change album play-though, which took place in the Hayden Planetarium in shifts, we’re here to tell you that the music lived up to its larger-than-life lead-up.
While the rap superduo did preview some of the music they’d been working on for the Throne last month, this was the first time humans of Earth were able to hear it all the way through — all 12 bombastic, production-heavy tracks, the names of which were revealed last month — and, sadly and despite our hopes, “Welcome to the Jungle” didn’t turn out to be a Guns N’ Roses cover.
Highlights of the evening included Beyonce’s thrilling cameo in “Lift Off,” during which she sings about taking it “to the stars” before a supercool spaceship launch interlude, “3 … 2 … 1 … liftoff!” (did we mention that we were hearing this in a planetarium?!), the Will Ferrell/Blades Of Glory quote (”No one knows what it means, but it’s provocative!”) during the lurking, almost creepy “Niggas in Paris,” Jay-Z getting reflective in both the carnival-like “Who Gon Stop Me” and the horn-happy “New Day,” and, let’s face it, Bey’s denim short-shorts.
“Otis“– their ode to late Stax Records great Otis Redding — sounded even fresher amidst the hardness that characterized most of Watch the Throne, which moved topically from intimidating and declarative (Kanye sings about having “no ceiling” in “Who Gon Stop Me”) to socially conscious (”Murder to Excellence“).
But what saves it from being big for the sake of big is its depth; some songs seem destined for the dancefloor like the old-school scratch attack that arrived with Track 7: “That’s My Bitch,” while others border balladry, like “Sweet Baby Jesus,” which once more finds Kanye paying homage to his mother, and Jay-Z “pledging allegiance to his grandma,” proving once and for all that they might be kings, but their mommas still know best.
Watch the Throne hits stores on August 8th, and you can preorder it here.
Do you think Jay and Kanye’s team-up can possibly exceed the hype? Let us know in the comments below!
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