Artist: Jay Z
Album : Magna Carta…Holy Grail
Label: Roc Nation / S. Carter Enterprises / Universal
Release Date: 7/9/13
A hit rap album that interpolates Kurt Cobain and R.E.M. and features a sequel to “03 Bonnie and Clyde” is probably the last thing we expected when Jay Z (formerly written, ‘Jay-Z’) made his big announcement during Game 5 of the NBA Finals last month. The three minute ad spot featured Jay in the studio telling super producer’s Rich Rubin, Timbaland, Pharrell Williams, and Swizz Beatz, that “we need to write new rules,” while grabbing the attention of the nation.
Where Jay’s protégé, Kanye West, implements his desire to be groundbreaking and experimental in his music, Hov applies those qualities to his business and marketing plans which allows him to create a final project that is much more in-line with the music that made his fans support him to begin with. Although Jay chose a more traditional hip-hop route for Magna Carta…Holy Grail, a Kanye influence is present as we hear Jigga call himself a god or reference a long list of artists and designers. On fan favorite “Picasso Baby” Hov name-drops a line-up of historic artists for their ever-lasting fame that he hopes to maintain after his own career. He also returns to his own boastful swagger with lines such as “just for clarity my presence is charity” off of “Nickels and Dimes.” On the same track, he demonstrates his ability to incorporate mainstream moments like the line “Can’t see it taking food out my little monsters mouth, that will drive me gaga” without sounding like a pop album.
The album’s opener “Holy Grail” features Justin Timberlake, a Nirvana reprise, and cites Mike Tyson. There is nothing too deep or ground breaking about MCHG’s lyrical content. The production is nears excellence, as it should be with the impressive line-up of beat makers it has to offer. The Frank Ocean assisted “Oceans” discusses the lasting effects of slavery. “F**k Up The World” is also a more meaningful track with lyrics like “America tried to emasculate the greats, murder Malcolm, gave Cassius the shakes” along with Jay’s own story of his journey from struggling in the projects to being a powerful billionaire. With this being his first solo effort since 2009, Hova takes the opportunity to share his musings on his wife Beyonce, daughter Blue Ivy, his political opinions and religious views, and of course his place in the game.
As is expected Jay offers diverse flows and dual meaning bars which can be explored on different levels or taken at face value without losing their height of entertainment. The tracklist does have its lyrical high and low points and more consistency throughout would be appreciated from such a veteran of the rap game. At times Jay seems to take a back seat on his own album. This is definitely the case on “F**kWithMeYouKnowIGotIt” which opens with a Pimp C sample followed by what sounds like a Rick Ross song featuring Hov. The MMG boss contributes some of his better lyrics followed by a mediocre verse from Jay at the end.
“Beach is Better” is produced by Mike WiLL Made It, who seems to make nothing but hits. Jay lays quotable and entertaining lyrics such as “I brought sand to the beach, cause my beach is better, you can keep ya beach, cause that beach whatever” over the young Atlanta producer’s energetic beat but the track clocks in at less than a minute. Mike WiLL Made It has since revealed that the snippet may become a full song in the future. Another fun summer club record is “BBC” which is not what many hip-hop fans would hope for when they see a Jay Z – Nas collaboration. The former adversaries exchange verses between a chorus of Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Swizz Beats, Pharrell, and Timbaland’s vocals. The song falls short of expectations based off of the talented group of artists involved.
Even though Jay Z can buy her everything she wants and needs the birth of Blue has him feeling uneasy in his parenting abilities as he exhibits on “Blue” as he raps “Father never taught me how to be a father.” This may be the first time in years that fans are truly able to relate to the billionaire music mogul on a personal level.
It’s no secret that this album is the product of a business deal and I wonder if that compromised Jay’s efforts. Magna Carta provided fans with an experience, a new way of getting an album as well as content to share and discuss and even a scavenger hunt of sorts to unearth the album’s tracklist in NYC. Although the process had its glitches and MCGH isn’t Hov’s greatest album, it provided summer fun and good music for the hip-hop community and contributed to a record breaking month of number one charting hip-hop albums.
There are few rappers who can release new music in their 40s and sell even close to a million copies. Jay was able to effortlessly ensure he reached platinum status before the project’s release date. This feat requires innovation and Jay Z’s #newrules have certainly sparked innovation in the rap game. Magna Carta…Holy Grail is overall a great album for the summer but most likely will not maintain a classic status for more than its inventive marketing and distribution.
Purchase Magna Carta…Holy Grail on iTunes