Kanye West and Jay-Z’s “Otis” vs De La Soul’s “Eye Know”- Which Otis Redding sample wins out?
Kanye West and Jay-Z’s new album, Watch the Throne, out yesterday, features a song called “Otis” in which the two sample “Try a Little Tenderness,” a song by the legendary soul singer Otis Redding. When I saw the name “Otis,” I immediately got excited: I love Otis Redding, and I was expecting a number similar to West’s “Gold Digger.” I hoped the artists would interact with a classic soul sample in a rhythmic way, allowing us to dance to the legendary music in a way we never could before, while still appreciating it for what it is. But unlike “Gold Digger,” in “Otis” West and Jay-Z don’t interact with and utilize the “Try a Little Tenderness” sample. Instead, they rap over it, almost as if they’re competing with it. The hugely popular song is whittled down to small bursts of noise from Redding which makes it seem as if Redding is egging on West and Jay-Z as they brag about themselves alternately. The song isn’t exactly melodic, and is almost hard to listen to. That’s not to say that their rhymes aren’t impressive. My personal favorites: “I made “Jesus Walks” I’m never going to hell/Couture level flow, it’s never going on sale,” from West and “Photo shoot fresh, looking like wealth/I’m about to call the paparazzi on myself,” from Jay-Z. While it’s hard not to appreacite the lyrics, I was waiting for a pause in the persistent self-praise where the Redding sample would be allowed to come into itself and add something danceable to the track. That moment never comes- there isn’t even a chorus in “Otis.” The sample is never allowed to progress further than “Squeeze her/Don’t tease her/Never leave her,” and then returns to bursts of incomprehensible noise nearly drowned out by the two rappers. The “king of soul” is reduced to a looped, cut-off sample in the background.
The hip hop group De La Soul sampled Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” in their song “Eye Know” on their album 3 Feet High and Rising in 1989. The sample is an instrumental one, weaving the classic baseline and whistling melody of Redding’s song throughout the track in a seamless, pleasant way that adds something special to the song, creating a unique whole. While “Otis” sounds as if all three artists involved are fighting over each other to be heard, “Eye Know” allows each component of the music to complement each other in a smooth, enjoyable way. The classic soul song with the then-modern rapping work together, and I can bob my head to the song as I listen to it in my car on a sunny day. When I listen to “Eye Know,” I don’t really pay attention to the lyrics. For me the song is about the music, the way the sounds all work together to create something fun, melodic, and sensorily pleasing. The Redding sample doesn’t fade into the background, and it doesn’t over shine the hip hoppers either. Instead it fits in perfectly to create a melodic masterpiece. Although “Eye Know” doesn’t showcase Redding’s soulful crooning, the unmistakable melody still does his legendary musicality justice.
Because of its effortless incorporation of diverse parts to make a better whole, my personal preference is for “Eye Know.” Here are links to the two songs so you can decide for yourself.
“Otis” by Jay-Z and Kanye West
“Eye Know” by De La Soul