When asked to describe his new album before its release, Jay-Z said it was “fighting for fourth best.” This is odd, of course, since artists usually try to hype up their new release for more interest resulting in better sales. Sometimes the artist may actually think it’s their “best” album, or “most creative” album, or worst of all, their ”return-to-roots” album; but Jay-Z knows it’s not. He knows that Reasonable Doubt
, The Blueprint
, and The Black Album
are his crown jewels and doesn’t intend to fool people into thinking his newest full-length Magna Carta… Holy Grail
is anything other than just another Jay-Z album. While I don’t agree that it’s his fourth best (I enjoyed a good amount of American Gangster
), it’s certainly a step in the right direction from The Blueprint 3
and it contains a few choice cuts that will please fans of both hip hop and pop alike.
‘Holy Grail’ is the perfect way to open the album. It features Justin Timberlake and he really steals the show here with his angelic voice soaring through the chorus with the most infectious hook on the album, and Timbaland, who provides most of the production on the album, lays down a solid beat for Jay-Z’s less-than-stellar verses (which isn’t surprising since the man hasn’t put any effort in writing for about a decade). ‘Picasso Baby’ and ‘Tom Ford’ are both production-heavy tracks, the former having a bombastic funk groove and the latter a robotic feel that wouldn’t sound out of place on Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80
. Another track pick ‘Oceans’ features the very talented Frank Ocean singing one of the album’s better hooks. However, the only time the album comes close to reaching the heights of ‘Holy Grail’ is near the end of the album on ‘Part II (On the Run)’. Despite lyrically being a cheesy love ballad, it’s one of the few instances on Magna Carta…
where each voice – the beautiful piano loop, the entrancing layered harmonies by Beyoncé, the overall ethereal atmosphere – flows together seamlessly.
Timbaland really is the saving grace here. His talent for producing was obvious after The 20/20 Experience
, but here he successfully harnesses his skills in the hip hop realm to create a wide variety of atmospheres for Jay-Z to defecate on, making even the more lyrically forgettable songs sound damn good (F.U.T.W., Beach Is Better). Of course Magna Carta…
has its fair share of mediocrity, which ranges from a couple forgettable jam sessions (‘Versus’ and ‘BBC’, the latter has a Nas feature that’s over as soon as it begins), the downright annoying ‘Heaven’ and ‘FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt’, and to the lyrically touching yet abominable ‘JAY Z Blue’. No one wants to hear you rap about being a father, Jay-Z. No one
The real problem here is Jay-Z, and has been for the past decade or so. He’s a hip hop icon, absolutely, and he practically conquered the music industry single handedly as one of the most financially successful rappers ever. But that’s just it – he’s a businessman, not a rapper. All he raps about anymore is usually either gloating about his fame (“I just want a Picasso in my casa, no, my castle/I’m a hassa, no, I’m an asshole/I’m never satisfied, can’t knock my hustle/I wanna Rothko, no, I want a brothel”) or complaining about it (“Caught up in all these lights and cameras/But look what that shit did to Hammer/Goddammit I like it/Bright lights is enticing but look what it did to Tyson”). He’s certainly able to come out with great material (see Watch the Throne
), but that’s just because with his fortune he can get basically any creative mind together to make a fantastic product, and it brings the question if Jay-Z would be better off spending the rest of his career behind the scenes rather than on the front lines.
Part II (On the Run)
Nickels and Dimes