The combination seems unbeatable: Jay-Z and Kanye West teaming up over a blazing Otis Redding sample.
But “Otis,” a new digital single (streaming HERE) from the forthcoming West/Jay-Z album, “Watch the Throne,” is a bit of a letdown.
A snippet of Redding’s 1966 soul classic “Try a Little Tenderness” kicks it off and Jay-Z and West then get busy trading verses about how incredibly large they’re living.
“I invented swag, poppin’ bottles, puttin’ supermodels in a cab,” Jay-Z declares. “I guess I got my swagga back.”
West scores points for dropping in a reference to Greek mythology (or is he nodding to the French design house?): “Luxury rap/The Hermes of verses/Sophisticated ignorance/Write my curses in cursive.”
But the references to luxury cars and private jets quickly lose their escapist luster, grossly out of step with a summer in which joblessness and foreclosure are becoming all too common for many Americans.
Just as disappointing is that the Redding sample – a thrilling burst of agitated vocals, classic Memphis horns, organ and drums – never goes anywhere. It plays underneath all three minutes of the vocal back-and-forth in a continuous loop. In that respect it recalls some of the more unimaginative hip-hop productions of the ‘90s when far less talented performers, from Vanilla Ice to Puff Daddy, rapped over obvious and overblown samples from previous hit songs. West as a producer is capable of much stronger work.
“Watch the Throne” – brimming with collaborators, including Beyoncé, Frank Ocean and Mr. Hudson -- is to be released digitally on Aug. 1.