This song by American rappers Jay-Z and Kanye West is a track from their collaborative studio album, Watch The Throne. The track was premiered on July 20, 2011, on Funkmaster Flex's Hot 97 radio show.
The hard-hitting soul drenched track opens with a slowed down vocal sample of '60s soul legend Otis Redding's 1966 hit "Try A Little Tenderness." We then hear the two stars trading bars in which they flaunt their personal and professional success as a chopped up sample from the same song serves as their percussive beat.
West's line, "I made 'Jesus Walks' I'm never going to hell," is a reference to his 2003 hit "Jesus Walks."
Redding's daughter, Karla Redding-Andrews, discussed the clearing of the sample during an interview with Billboard magazine on July 24, 2011: "We first heard about the song in early July, end of June. Concord Music Group has the masters and Bill Belmont and Michele Smith from Concord brought it to us. There was a back and forth about whether the name of the song would be 'Otis' or 'Otis Redding.' And we just wanted to make sure lyrics and references in the song worked with the legacy of my father. To have two current, legendary artists use the legendary music of Otis Redding-we were quite honored."
West previously sampled Redding on his Late Registration track "Gone." In that instance he borrowed from the soul legend's "It's Too Late."
Bu Thiam, Def Jam VP of A&R, was with Kanye and Jay throughout the recording process and saw how the duo came up with several of the Watch The Throne tracks. He recalled the story of this song: "[Kanye] was late for his flight, we were in the studio working all day and he was late for his flight. As we were leaving he was like, 'Yo hold on for a second.' So he drops his bags and goes to the MPC [beat machine] and his assistant is rushing him and he's just f----ing with [the beat]. What's so crazy is the whole time he's doing that Jay is writing his verses in his head. But Jay is watching the [NBA] playoffs, I think it was the championship; Miami and Dallas. So Jay is watching the playoffs. I'm not even thinking Jay is paying attention to what 'Ye is doing and by the time he is finished it's like 'I invented swag ...' And I'm like, 'What the f--- just happened?' "
Jay-Z shared the meaning behind the Watch The Throne album title during an interview with Lorenzo "Ice Tea" Thomas on Miami's radio station 99 Jamz: "It's just protecting the music and the culture. It's people that's in the forefront of the music. 'Watch the Throne,' like protect it. You just watch how popular music shift, and how hip-hop basically replaced rock & roll as the youth music. The same thing can happen to hip-hop. It can be replaced by other forms of music. So it's making sure that we put the effort into making the best product so we can contend with all this other music, with dance music that's dominating the charts right now and indie music that's dominating the festivals."
Watch The Throne broke the US iTunes Store's one-week sales record when it sold nearly 290,000 downloads via the retailer in its debut week. The previous one-week iTunes record was set in 2008 when Coldplay's Viva La Vida album shifted 282,000 in its first week.
Less than three weeks later, the U.S. iTunes Store's single-week album sales record was broken again when Lil Wayne's Tha Carter IV sold over 300,000 downloads via iTunes in its first four days of release.
The Spike Jonze directed music promo won Video of the Year at the 2012 BET Awards.
The word swagger has been used as a noun to mean "braggadocio" in rap since at least the early '90s. Jay-Z claims on this song to have come up with the shortened term "Swag," when he boasts, "I invented swag." He is most likely right as it is thought the first usage of "swag" was on Jay's 2003 The Black Album where he used the shortened term on both "Public Service Announcement" ("Check out my swag' yo, I walk like a ballplayer") and "December 4" ("My self-esteem went through the roof, man. I got my swag").