In the run-up to yesterday’s release of Watch The Throne, the project’s first official single, the Otis Redding-sampling “Otis,” was re-done and freestyled over by many a rapper. So to tide you over until the physical version of Watch The Throne (packaged with a bonus CD-ROM containing a vector graphics screen-saver of the planets and stars) becomes available to buy on Friday, here’s a rundown of hip-hop’s best “Otis” freestyles and flips.
10. Ne-Yo, “Otis Freestyle”
“I don’t normally do this—I am not a rapper,” warns r&b warbler Ne-Yo at the start of his take on “Otis.” He’s not wrong, as he proves with his remarkably clumsy opening gambit of, “I don’t have swag/ They have yet to invent a word for what I have.” In fairness, Shaffer Smith’s flow does pick up a little as his rhyme progresses, and he actually seems to know a thing or two about the type of fancy sports cars that would impress ‘Ye. But ending the proceedings by quipping “I thought I was a thug for a minute” isn’t enough to exonerate the first track from his upcoming mixtape experiment.
9. Jadakiss & Styles P, “Otis Freestyle”
Jada might be one of rap’s cameo kings, but D-Block’s finest’s flip of “Otis” showcases only a workmanlike performance from the Yonkers yapper. When he tells the young folk to “go to your room and do your chores” and references “the Biggie days,” he comes off like a grumpy, out-of-touch old man, while his rhyme partner Styles P’s best moment might be laughing at his own punchlines. Sure, there’s some slick back-and-forth interplay between the two, mirroring Jay and Kanye’s original performance, but the middling impact of the rhymes is summed up by Jada’s admission, “I ain’t watching the throne but I got my eye on it.” Label this a chronic lack of ambition all around.
8. Papoose, “Otis Freestyle”
And in one fell swoop all is right again with NYC hip-hop, as the city’s one-time touted savior emerges from a period exiled in the utter wilderness to drop the rhyme that puts Big Apple rhyming back on top of the world. Well, not quite, but in fairness ol’ lollipop head does rap with more vigor than most over the “Otis” beat, and even goes the extra step of filming a video to animate street-wrought boasts like, “I serve my beef with shells like a fuckin’ taco.” Bragging about sipping Dom Perignon, having paid (not leased) for all his cars, and living in a crib as big as Kilimanjaro also suggests that Pap managed to splash most of that million-dollar advance Jive Records deposited in his bank account (although if he still resides in Brooklyn there’s a chance he might not have the correct permit for an abode quite that sizable). So, yeah, Streetsweepers!
7. Heltah Skeltah, “Otis (G-Mix)”
Demonstrating that middle-aged-man rap has legs, Boot Camp Clik mainstays Sean Price and Rock keep faith in their ’93 flows and trade rhymes in their usual entertainingly uncouth way. High punch-line points include Price’s admission that “Obama is the pres but a nigga voted for none of them” and Rock’s vow to show the usual imaginary foe “the difference between ice-picks and FaceBook poking.” Price also racks up another other alias: Sean-ye Fresh.
6. Busta Rhymes & DMX, “Otis (Freestyle)”
Explosions! Barking noises! Rapid-fire use of the word “Yo!” Alarming heavy breathing that would be more appropriate in an episode of Law & Order: SVU! Yep, it’s two hyper-energetic rap mentalists in the same room, with a fresh-out-of-chokey DMX intent on reminding the world that “I am the streets!” For his part Busta’s in violent mode, sounding like he still isn’t over the whole stop snitchin’ thing and quietly explaining how he’s “wanted for lots of murders lately.” Bussa Bus may just be talking about his voice with that last one, but somebody might want to call Detective Benson.
5. Skyzoo, “Boat Check In (Otis Freestyle)”
Displaying more respect to Redding than others, Brooklyn’s Skyzoo’s begins with a tasteful “R.I.P.” shout-out, and starts and ends his rhyme with a reference to “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.” In between that, he veers between recapping his formative years and aiming to amass “the Jay money, flossy shit” while also weaving in rap referential lyrics like “livin’ proof like I made it out of group home.” Alas, despite the title, the song doesn’t then turn into a conceptual ditty based around using Foursquare to check into Smith Street’s one-time greatest bar, but Sky does let ’em know that “I don’t do it for me—I do it for the liquor store.” Bottoms up!
4. Young Chris & Freeway, “Otis Freestyle”
On the plus side: Freeway attempts to start what may be the first ever beard-centric dis war (presuming he’s somewhat going at Rick Ross before his first verse is out), Young Chris borrows a chorus line from Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl,” and both disgruntled ex-Roc-A-Fella rappers spit with conviction and coin a bag of quotables. On the downside: The video will cause motion sickness.
3. The Game, “Uncle Otis”
It’s easy to criticize rap’s dismaster general for the many and often random rap shots he fires out on his answer record to Jay and ‘Ye’s “Otis”—including Odd Future oik Tyler and professional cat fanatic turned amateur rapper Kreayshawn—but at least The Game is one of the few rappers not prepared to acquiesce to the idea that Uncle Shawn should be granted some sort of critical immunity and be placed up on a pedestal beyond criticism. For that, he gets props. It’s just a shame that Game’s barbs here aren’t that cutting—he might have provoked an actual reaction from Jay if he’d made him the singular target of the track. Still, Compton’s prodigy has more rap cojones than most, and “Uncle Otis” entertains like a hip-hop Hollywood action movie.
2. Skillz, “Yeah, So What (Otis Freestyle)”
Rap rumor-mongering has tried to position ghost-writer exemplar Skillz’s fierce freestyle as going at Jay, but there’s probably more tangible drama to be mined from the later barb, “If I ain’t the best from Virginia, then god dammit, who is?/ I give you just enough time/ To formulate and get one name in your mind/ You got that name? Oh, that’s how y’all feel?/ Well he’s alright but he’s not Skillz.” Whatever name pops into your head, Skillz attacks the beat hard on a straight-up freestyle flip, with the Gang Starr drop a smart addition to the mix.
1. Chuck D, “Know This”
Pay attention, young rap whippersnappers: A 51-year-old man has dropped the most persuasive take on “Otis,” reversing Jay and ‘Ye’s shopping-list lyrics into a state of the nation address, using actual facts (and, er, Internet abbreviations) to convey “a polite respect call to the troops.” Chuck’s raps are short and to the point, his voice still resonates with major impact, the soul sample fits the humanitarian angle, and less the song’s sentiment goes over your head the video even includes the lyrics running across the bottom of the screen. Let the t-shirt presses start-up early: “Chuck D For President!”