“Look At Me”: An Oral History of Watch the Throne

Abe Beame hacked the email of a culture writer from GQ to bring you this from September’s issue. Sean “Jay-Z” Carter: I remember it was like four o’clock in the morning. I was in Hawaii like...
By    August 9, 2011

Abe Beame hacked the email of a culture writer from GQ to bring you this from September’s issue.

Sean “Jay-Z” Carter: I remember it was like four o’clock in the morning. I was in Hawaii like a year ago and I get this wild text from Kanye, I still have it in my phone, hold up: “YO JAY, I WANT TO MAKE AN ALBUM ABOUT EXORBITANT WEALTH AND THE FALSE PROMISE THAT IS THE AMERICAN DREAM, COMBINING WORLD WEARY NAVEL GAZING WITH ATMOSPHERIC SHIT TALK, THE LIKES OF WHICH RAP MUSIC HAS NEVER SEEN BEFORE.”

I was in the booth at the time recording my verse on “So Appalled.” Kanye was sitting behind the boards getting a back rub from Big Sean, staring at his phone refusing to make eye contact with me. In the middle of the next take, the beat cut out and “Big Brother” started blasting through the entire studio. I guess you could call that the beginning of the process.

Spike Jonze: Not a lot of people know this, but Kanye West actually wrote all the dialogue for James Gandolfini’s character in “Where the Wild Things Are”.

Frank Ocean: Everyone was freaking out about the album leaking, it didn’t seem like they cared about the actual album leaking, but what Kanye would do if it happened. Apparently, when “Mama’s Boyfriend” came out with a different beat, Kanye was so distraught he flew to Bangkok, got a rickshaw to the hood and started strangling random homeless women, alternating between calling them “Alexis” and “Amber”. Plain Pat says you can buy ANYTHING there.

Jonze: I remember when we were making the Absolute commercial in L.A., Kanye kept taking the Kanye tablets, staring in the mirror and repeating “It’s not working.” After 20 minutes, we convinced a P.A. to go over and try to get him to focus for a take. He screamed and ran off the set in tears. An hour and 20 minutes later I got a picture text from him on the street in Bangkok, in the text it said “See you Monday”. That shoot went $100,000 over budget. What were we talking about again?

Otis Redding: I’ve been dead for 44 years, but when Kanye West calls and asks you to come to Hawaii, you don’t say no, just ask Curtis.

Beyonce Knowles: My first day in the studio for “Lift Off,” Kanye comes up to me in between takes and shows me his new tattoo, it’s my silhouette in big bold lines on one ass cheek and Taylor Swift’s in thin light lines on the other. There’s a “greater than” sign favoring me on the small of his back. He told me George Condo drew it by hand. It was all downhill from there.

Consequence: I wrote, produced, rapped and mixed the entire album. Fuck Pusha-T.

Mike Dean: Kanye still thinks there’s a song called “Wiz Khalifa’s Dick is Smaller than Mine” on the bonus version of the album. I’m laying low in Houston for the next few months till this all blows over. Jay actually had a verse on it, believe it or not.

Carter: Kanye pretty much does that “More Douchebag” thing from “Runaway” on every song that involves talking shit these days. He even has a big flashing sign in the booth that spells it out in lights, on some Vegas shit. He was doing it to me mid-verse and I had to stop and yell “Did you not just hear me say I planked on a million dollars!”

Kid Cudi: Oh, you recording? Good. (ed. note: leans towards digital recorder) FUCK that dude. Who the FUCK is Frank Ocean? Do you know how much actual Novacane I took before knocking out “Wild’n Cuz I’m Young”? I’m going to hang Wizard’s first platinum record next to my best supporting actor Emmy and this dude is gonna suck my dick for a hook.

Matt Stone: The Tony awards were on a ten minute time delay. Kanye West stormed the stage during our acceptance speech in a “Gay fish” t-shirt and claimed “Motherfucker with the Hat” was robbed and Bobby Cannavale is the ‘best of all time’. We were accepting for ‘Best Musical’.

Rick Ross: Kanye West is one of the most humble, relaxed artists I’ve ever been around, a pleasure to work with.

Ocean: I mean, full body cavity searches to enter or leave the studio, even for Kanye.

Mr. Hudson: No, I still don’t get it. One night after a show in Liverpool with the Library, and this guy wearing Martin Lawrence’s outfit in “You So Crazy” approaches me, takes off his Lavar Burton sunglasses and says “One day you’re going to be more famous than I am.” Next thing I know I’m singing hooks for Jay-Z. I don’t even like Jay-Z.

Justin Vernon: I told people “Perth” was about Heath Ledger, it was actually about my experience working on “Lost in the World”.

Swizz Beats: You know that scene in “This Is It” where Mike is complaining about his earpiece and it’s nearly impossible to figure out what the fuck he’s talking about? That was on loop the entire time I was in the studio with them. Also, Kanye insisted on personally conducting Alicia’s cavity search.

Big Sean: Kanye has forbade me from commenting on the album.

Brent Bergstrom, culture blogger, college graduate: To call the listening session in the planetarium the greatest moment of my entire life would be a gross understatement. It was like Monica Vitti was going down on my soul, like Roberto Rosselini was joining me for a glass of Franzia (don’t believe what wine scores or sommeliers claim: the world’s most subtle and inviting vintage) (ed note: Mr. Bergstroms comments were recorded over the phone, he dictated all notation i.e. “parenthesy, colon, etc.) on Pont Alexandre III.

It was like being on Woody Allen’s shoulder as he wrote his greatest work, Matchpoint, like helping Da Vinci put the finishing touches on “St. Jerome in the Wilderness”, like being the microphone through which Spaceghostpurp gave the world “Captain Planet”. It was an existence shattering experience. Either a rift has opened in the space time continuum or this document is two humble, hardworking young men’s gifts to humanity around which we should build a new religion and society.

Rza: I was like “Nina Simone? I was sampling O.V. Wright when I was 19, don’t you think “Feelin Good” is a little obvious?” Then he gave me a check for three mill just to put my name on it, then I thought about the 8 Diagrams reviews……..

Dean: We were in the process of mixing down “One Day”, and with absolutely no context Kanye turns to me and says his favorite character from the Wire is Namond Brice.

Ocean: We were working through the melody on the “Made in America” hook when Kanye suddenly throws a shot of Grand Marnier in my face and starts screaming “He’s recording my shit with his eyes!” It took Pusha, Rick Ross and GLC to get him out of the studio.

Jonze: Charlie Kaufman wrote a vehicle for Kanye, he rejected it on the basis that it “hit too close to home”. It was called “Synedoche, New York”.

Voletta Wallace: Watch the who? If you speak to Sean can you please ask him to respond to my lawyer’s request for some damn royalties? You’re a Hip Hop writer? Let me ask you this, how many of my son’s lines HASN’T he used?

Dean: Kanye uses the word “Drake” in the same manner the smurfs use the word “smurf”. For example: “I don’t know about HAM as a lead single Kanye”, “You’ve gotta be Draking me. That Drake is Draking crack.” We also capped the album by destroying a pinata fashioned after Drake’s head that was filled with airplane bottle of Armadale.

Carter: This is off the record right?

Ocean: Still, easier than working with Tyler.

Kanye West refused to participate in this article.

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