“Otis” by Jay-Z and Kanye West (ft. Otis Redding)

Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Otis” samples an old romance tune by the late Otis Redding entitled “Try a Little Tenderness” (1966), from which the lyrics of the intro are derived. But said lyrics do not have any meaningful relevance to Otis at large. Rather, the homeys utilized it because it sounds cool. 

And apparently, they decided to name this song “Otis” in honor of Otis Redding (1941-1967). Otis is a legendary performer posthumously who didn’t live long enough to witness his own superstardom.

Jay-Z

But again, this song has nothing to do with Otis Redding per se as far as we can tell. Rather, the highlight of the track is the type of braggadocio only artists as big as Jay-Z and Kanye can pull off realistically. 

First instance, in the first verse, Jigga presents himself as the musician who pretty much started the whole mega-rich rapper fad. And as an example to prove the point he references an exotic watch brand, Hublot, which he wears that most listeners probably never heard of. 

But sure enough when you look it up, a single piece costs significantly more than many of us earn in a year. So it’s like the main point the rapper wants to get through via this passage is that he’s rich and chillin’.

Kanye West

And the next verse, in which Kanye serves as the vocalist, features this same type of rich-based bragging. But he primarily uses this segment to reinstate his and his Jay-Z’s A list standing in the game. Or as he implies, other artists have gotten ‘recklessly’ bold in their absence. So now, they’re about to reassert their boss status in the industry, with this song being part of said initiative.

“Otis” is fundamentally Braggadocio

By the time the third verse rolls around, as held down Jay-Z, it is now evident that stylisticially this song is a back-and-forth, whereas he and Kanye trade short verses most notably features the vocalists gasconading. For instance, this time around, Jigga is able to put forth being so rich that he’s “never going to jail”. 

Or as presented, he can flee the country and relocate to a completely different part of the world at a moment’ s notice. And just as Jigga is not afraid of “jail”, Kanye likewise does not fear being cast into “hell”. And the reason, as he stated in the fourth verse, is that he’s the creator of “Jesus Walks” (2004). 

So basically, he touts a spiritual superiority just as much as a financial one. For example, as with Jigga apparently, Yeezy also possesses worldwide travel experiences. And he uses that unenviable reality to taunt his adversaries – or whoever he may have an issue with – that they conversely “ain’t been nowhere”.

Then, Jay-Z commences the fifth verse by making a couple of Latin American-inspired references to his wealth. And once again, climaxing the passage is this expression of overwhelmings confidence.

Conclusion

And finally is Yeezy’s third verse, which will be the sixth overall. He reasserts that the notion he and Jigga decided to drop a track like this is to remind all the “lames” who think they’re running things in their absence that such is not the case. 

And that is because if it came down to a wealth-measuring contest, which is very much the standard of success in the world of hip-hop, than virtually no one can hang with Jay-Z and Kanye West. And it is the well-known truth of that statement which always makes track such as this by artists such these take on an extra dimension of realism. 

So at the end of the day, it probably isn’t necessary for the aforementioned sample to fit into the overall narrative of Otis anyway, as the main point of the piece comes through quite clear nonetheless. And that is the featured vocalists are richer and more-powerful than you, a message which is most-pointedly directed, presumably, at their hip-hop peers.

Lyrics of "Otis"

“Otis” Facts

Primary Artist(s): Jay-Z and Kanye West
Featured Artist(s): Otis Redding
Album/EP: “Watch the Throne” 

Was “Otis” a single release?

Yes. It was a single from the album, “Watch the Throne” (Jay-Z and West’s first collaborative album).

Writing 

“Otis” was written by:

  • Kanye West
  • Jay-Z
  • James Brown
  • Jimmy Campbell
  • Reg Connelly
  • Roy Hammond
  • J. Roach
  • Kirk Robinson
  • Harry Woods

Production: The song was produced by Kanye West.

Genre(s): Hip hop

Release: July 20 of 2011

Awards/Honors

At the Grammys in 2012, “Otis” was nominated for the “Best Rap Song” award but lost to “All of the Lights” by Kanye West, Rihanna, Kid Cudi and Fergie. The following songs competed in that category:

  • Black and Yellow” (Wiz Khalifa)
  • I Need a Doctor” (Dr. Dre, Eminem and Skylar Grey)
  • “Look at Me Now” (Chris Brown, Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne)
  • “The Show Goes On” (Lupe Fiasco)

It, however, won an award for the Best Rap Performance in the same year. It beat the following nominees:

  • Chris Brown featuring Lil Wayne & Busta Rhymes “Look at Me Now”
  • Lupe Fiasco “The Show Goes On”
  • Nicki Minaj featuring Drake “Moment 4 Life”
  • Wiz Khalifa “Black and Yellow”

Other Facts

A four out of five star rating was given to the song by Vozick-Levinson of Rolling Stone.

According to Lenny Santiago of Roc Nation, Kanye West produced the beat for “Otis” within 20 minutes.

Chart Performance

  • Belgium (5)
  • UK R&B (10)
  • US (12)

Sampling

  • Kanye West and Chance the Rapper – “Ultralight Beam” (2016)
  • The Game – “Daytona 500 (500 Bars)” (2011)
  • A Skillz – “Otis” (2011)
  • Papoose – “Otis” (2011)
  • RiFF RaFF – “Otis Freestyle” (2011)
  • Cookin’ Soul – “Otis” (2011)
Otis

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