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Leave it to hip-hop’s smoothest star to break up the tension in a crowded room.
“Why don’t you sit on the floor,” Jay-Z, clad in a Yankees cap, white v-neck tee, and matching shell-toe Adidas, asked the few people lingering around the entrance to his Mercer Hotel suite in Manhattan’s Soho last night. “We can make it like camp.” The revered rhymer invited friends and a select few journalists for an early listen of Watch the Throne, his long-awaited full-length collaboration with Kanye West (who was notably absent from the evening).
The room—one of many Jay and ‘Ye had transformed into a full-blown recording studio at the luxury New York inn since the beginning of the year—is still decked out with equipment: an MPC drum machine here, keyboards and microphones there. The duo is still buffing and polishing Throne, so we were asked not to quote any lyrics, since they might change before the release date. (Still to be determined, but Jay promises “soon.”)
Simply put: Throne proves to be a masterpiece. No exaggeration. Though it was mostly crafted here in New York, songs were also written in Paris, Australia, and Bath, England. The influences of the international locales are evident, but its the true grit of New York’s hip-hop spirit that truly shines through.And though the title suggests pomposity and majesty, Throne is lyrically well-balanced and accessible. There are opulent raps dripping with swag for sure, but also plenty that smack of militancy, worry, and grief.
Speaking of grief, Jay diffused any notions of conflict between he and Kanye, offering up instead an anecdote that made West seem downright generous. Back in 2009, Jay told West that “Run This Town” would be the first single off of Blueprint 3. West, who produced the track and offered some verse for it, opposed: He said he’d just attended a barbecue where “Town” played, but didn’t get a big response.Jay’s “Empire State of Mind” would be a better look, Kanye insisted.
Jay ended going with “Town” first, followed by his now-ubiquitous New York anthem. They both were smashes. But Jay said that the story exemplified West’s drive to win—even if it means sacrificing his own ego. “He’s difficult to work with for specific, well-intentioned reasons,” Jay said.
Below is a track-by-track description of Throne’s cuts. Mind you, all titles given (and some weren’t) are subject to change.
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