Exactly what kind of venue would suit hip-hop heavyweights Jay-Z and Kanye West, two artists of otherworldly talent, as they unveiled their feverishly anticipated Watch The Throne collaboration? A planetarium, of course. Hova and Yeezy played host to a star-studded listening party at New York’s Rose Center For Earth And Space at the Natural History Museum, where an eclectic mix of journalists, models, industry types and stars gathered, sipping champagne and noshing on mini lobster rolls. And we were there. So what did The Throne sound like? Our complete breakdown below.
On hand were heavy hitters like Warner Music Group CEO Lyor Cohen and Gayle King (of Oprah’s best-friend fame), as were staples of the hip-hop kingdom Busta Rhymes and 88-Keys, along with Ryan Leslie, Beyonce, Kelly Rowland, and (yes!) even Jay-Z and Kanye showed (despite rumors that they’ve been feuding). 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 movie quote (“No one knows what it means, but it’s provocative!”) during the lurking track “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 fresher than ever 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.