As long time collaborators, Jay Z and Kanye West solidified their working relationship in 2011 with the release of their debut project, Watch the Throne, which expanded from an EP into a full-fledged album after having been worked on for over a year.
Both a commercial and critical success – serving as Jay Z’s 12th number-one album and West’s fifth number-one album in the U.S. – the project went on to be nominated for Grammy Awards for Best Rap Album and Best Recording Package, Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song (winning the former), and a year later scored additional wins/nominations with the song “Ni**as in Paris” for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song, and “No Church in the Wild” taking home the award for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.
While contemporary and commercially viable hip-hop releases have always relied on a sense of consumerism to push popular street narratives that illustrate a “rags to riches” ascent, Watch the Throne fanned the flames with a style of “luxury rap” that felt more akin to a Sotheby’s auction catalog than anything else.
With notable mentions of brands like Hermés, Audemars Piguet, Rolex, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Maison Martin Margiela, Christian Louboutin, Dries Van Noten, Lanvin, COMME des GARÇONS and more, it should come as little surprise that Spin noted of the album, “The elitism, the narcissism, the relentless capitalism, [and] the smug yet undeniable greatness.”
Perhaps the greatest display of Jay Z and Kanye West’s devil-may-care attitudes came when they delivered the Spike Jonze-directed visuals for “Otis.” Although the video itself felt decidedly more cinéma vérité when viewed against hip-hop music video aesthetics of the early 2000s, the duo’s inclusion and subsequent deconstruction of a 2004 Maybach 57 felt both like we were in on an inside joke and that the joke was also on us as well.
When one purchases a $350,000 USD Maybach, they’re promised certain amenities for a livery vehicle unmatched by peers like Rolls-Royce and Bentley – including a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V12, 0 to 60 mph acceleration in about 5.1 seconds (despite weighing 6,000 pounds), front and rear seat massage, 21-speaker premium sound system, and night vision.
From the outset of the Spike Jonze video, the viewer understood that the visual appeal of such a car was much more impactful if the layers of elitism were literally stripped away while Otis Redding ironically crooned lines from “Try a Little Tenderness.”
Armed with a blowtorch and Sawzall, the Maybach is instantaneously transformed into a Frankenstein-esque muscle car indicative of something that would have been suitable for the terrain in Mad Max.
“Otis” was shot in between two locations; with the car fabrication occurring at Shelly Ward Industries in North Hollywood while the stunt sequences were shot at Downey Studios in Downey, California.
“Just another day at the office,” said Jayson Dumenigo, the Stunt Coordinator for the music video, whose notable credits include Furious 7 and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. “Kanye and Jay Z were great to work with and the models were very happy to be a part of things.”
While car modifications are certainly not a new or underutilized aspect of Hollywood theatrics, Dumenigo did note certain unique aspects of the music video shoot, saying, “The doors were removed. For a stunt coordinator that is going to have ‘sensitive cargo’ that defiantly was something that stood out. We were planning on doing a 360 with the car as well as sliding it. Finding a way to keep everyone in and safe was the on going challenge. We also had a fire element that was being used as an ‘after burner’ turbo effect. The lack of protection was an issue we had to address. We brought in the very qualified Samuel Hubinette to do the 360 with Jay and the girls. Everything else Kanye did himself. Due to insurance concerns we had to bring in the very best driver in the world to accomplish this. Samuel was that guy. Spike wanted to have a single camera in the car and wanted to see Jay during the spin. Those cars aren’t designed to break traction so it meant we had to disable the computers.”
Shelly Ward Industries was tasked with delivering a car that satisfied the visual tastes of Spike Jonze, Kanye West and Jay Z. Notable and varied works completed by SWE in the past included crafting “Kit” in the Nightrider series and builds for the BMW Short Film Series, Jeff Gordon and more during their several decades specializing in Hollywood-centric fare.
Due to a number of creative changes that severely altered the timeline, SWE was only given 48 hours to source, purchase and modify the Maybach which would be seen in “Otis.”
Kimberlee Augustine, a spokesperson for SWE, recalls the music video in detail, saying, “The vehicle’s design was a collaborative effort between the director (Jonze) and Shelly Ward. The director created a verbal picture of what he wanted the vehicle to look like and Shelly began to build his interpretation of the design. During the fabrication process, there were four ‘design meetings’ where the director would check in on he progress and provide additional input.”
When asked about the difficulties they encountered, Augustine replied, “The extreme shortage of time in which to complete the fabrication [was the greatest challenge]. Another challenge was the work stoppage during the ‘design meetings.’ We had a fabrication crew of eight standing idle during the meetings, only to be rushed back to full speed implementing changes resulting from the design meeting.”
In March 2012, the heavily modified Maybach was put up for auction at Phillips de Pury & Company and marketed as a piece of contemporary art rather than an automobile with aftermarket modifications.
“Jay Z and Kanye West are towering figures in contemporary culture,” said Simon de Pury, Chairman, Phillips de Pury & Company. “They have greatly contributed to the artificial barriers between art, music, fashion and cinema to come down. Their video for ‘Otis’ became an instant classic. The Maybach they have transformed for it has the starring role.”
Despite retailing for $350,000 USD, estimates for the auction placed the value of the Maybach somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000-150,000 USD. A portion of the proceeds would go to Save the Children – the leading independent organization creating lasting change in the lives of children in need around the world.
“The rains have arrived in some areas of East Africa, but the crisis is far from over,” said Carolyn Miles, President and CEO, Save the Children. “It will take many months for farmers and families to replenish herds and replant and harvest crops. The funds raised from auctioning off the ‘Otis” car are greatly needed to help sustain families over the next several months. We are grateful to Jay Z and Kanye West for offering up pop culture history to do good for children in Africa.”
Despite the car’s cultural significance in music and the goodwill gesture intended for the profits, the Maybach only fetched $60,000 USD at auction when it was sold in March 8, 2012.