Review Summary: Twerk Miley Miley Miley Twerk
As I write this, on my iPhone 5 while laying back on a pulled out bed, I'm traveling from Mumbai, India to some unpronounceable (and hard to spell) southern village on board a train...for 12 hours. This fact alone amazes me on so many levels, but add the fact that I'm listening to, and thoroughly enjoying, a 43 year old rappers album and you have a juxtaposition - a duality some might say - of past and present, privileged and unprivileged, fame and animosity, that's mirrored in its own way on this album. Now, my major complaint with most "reviews" of MC...HG so far have to do with their persistence in not dealing with what they're given. Instead, more often than not, these so called reviews focus on the context and the accompanying bias rather than the music. They focus on why the album isnt what they expected and not if it succeeds in what it attempted to deliver. This is an ever changing, ever evolving genre, and even though a title such as Magna Carta...Holy Grail might suggest a magnum opus, in the same way Yeezus might, it's OKAY if it isn't. More than anything, these two albums showcase established artists either adapting and expanding their skill set or attempting to innovate and it fundamentally simply isn't fair to judge these projects with such bias. Wondering what could've been instead of focusing on what actually is. So for the sake of judging the album on its merits alone Ill forgo the "formalities" that most reviews think are necessary. I won't talk about Hov making history with his deal with Samsung. I won't mention failed projects like kingdom come or bp3, or classics such reasonable doubt. I wont mention past lines such as "Im not a business man, Im a business, man" as an example of why MC...HG is shallow. Because none of this should (and doesn't) affect the tape that Hov gave us. It only makes YOUR, the so called critic's, bias very obvious, automatically making me worry for the legitimacy of anything else you have to say. Never write a review with an agenda. Those looking at this album through biased lenses see empty bravado but then fail to justify how they could deny ANYTHING on songs such as nickels and dimes. Is him saying he tried to give money back but that only led to his close friends getting high off it not enough for you" Is him saying he still has the die for his niggUHs mentality even though he loves his daughter not enough" Is him spelling Allah out in initials when talking about god body not enough" Is him being witty and tongue in cheek with the new Bugatti and counting money lines not enough" He literally tries flexing on countless different styles, and great, varied production, and succeeds almost every time. The "critiques" in your "reviews" can't be legitimate if they're as baseless as the rhymes you claim Jay Z is spitting. But enough of this, lets get on to the track by track.
Starting the album with an extended Justin Timberlake intro is pretty bold, mostly because I'm sure there are still those out there who deny the former NSync artist the talent he clearly possesses. Fresh of a great release of his own, JT croons about what seems like a one sided, unhealthy relationship. It all comes off as a bit too cliche and one note and thinking about it as how Hov probably meant it, as a metaphor for the rap game, is tired in its own way - but adds a bit more depth. The lines about "laundry in the streets", stealing "the food right out of my mouth" and "one day you're screaming you love me loud and the next day you're so cold" take on a double meaning and make sense in the context of the rest of the song. Appropriately titled "Holy Grail", this open title track deals with one half of the thesis of this album (see: Picasso Baby, the second track, for the second half of said thesis). The verses from Hov deal with the rise to fame and the accompanying hate, loss of privacy and jumbled priorities that come with achieving your holy grail. It's standard fare as far as fame lyrics go but two aspects of this song, aside from JT's spot on hook, that make this one of the best tracks on the album, are the jaw dropping beat drop and the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" rendition Jay and Justin attempt half way through. The production is fantastic and the latter feels inspired and is the start of a new trend (#newrules) of the rapper referencing and paying homage to greats in other genres. Gone are the days of referencing other rappers, because, as the man himself says, "What's higher than number one"" (#mylaugh). Instead he's Johnny Cash now, or Kurt Cobain, or losing his religion like REM. This is a great, great intro to the album - from the production (hear the "warning" on the background") to Hov's (still effortless) flow and the lyrics being standard fare for the most part don't effect it negatively in any way (plus there still are a few gems here and there such as "*** an IRS in my iris"). Also, how perfect is it that he starts the album with "Blue told me to remind you niggaz"...that baby is such a G with her basquiat and whatnot.
This song has a few aspects that immediately made me love it. The "aw *** it, I wanna *insert ridiculous amount of money here*" bits, the sluggish guitar and electronic infused beat and the switch up near the end come to mind. But more than that, it's probably the fact that it's so easy to misinterpret this record. I know it goes against my own philosophy to use outside context or bias when rating a song so I promise the final rating is what I think the song deserves - but Id be lying if I said that people totally missing the point of this track didnt make me love it even more (read: I'm a pretentious dick). Those quoting this song as an example of how Jay's raps are shallow on this album are probably the same ones quoting "I Am A God" as an example of how Kanye can't rap. Both are ludicrous and utterly misinformed opinions. This song serves as pt. II of the aforementioned thesis, this time dealing with what surrounds you when you're at the top rather than what you lost to get there. If it sounds like hallow bragging, it's because it is and that in and of itself adds depth to the verses. Especially when the beat switches up and Hov sheds that bravado (right after a fitting vocal sample asking Hov how much for a dub) to revert back to his "old self" and talk about how his "Miranda's don't stand a chance with cops". He wants a Picasso in his castle, he wants to be Picasso, he wants Mona Lisa, he wants millions no billions AW *** IT he wants a trillion because slowly but surely he's getting all of them and like wise men will tell you, the more you get the more you'll want. Besides the fitting hook and hard hitting instrumental/switch up, there are also just purely entertaining moments on this song such as Jay telling his daughter to lean on priceless art cause she owns it, coming through "With the Ye mask on" and "I PUT DOWN THE CANS AND THEY RAN AMUCK". It's not that this song doesn't have meaning. Like I said, its purpose is to outline the pinnacle he's reached in his life as a whole not just his career. But even disregarding that, if every song has to have meaning for you to enjoy then that's kind of messed up to begin with. And on top of that, who else is more fit to rap about Leonardo Da Vinci flows if not Hova"
Ahh here it is, the trap song. One of my favorite beats on the album, this hallow sounding trap snare electric modern trend influenced joint is the beginning of Hov's (not so) secret agenda on this album - to show that he's more than just a "legend", that he's going to be in this game for a while. And what better way to do that than by effortlessly jumping on various different and popular types of tracks. The hook (pretty much the equivalent of Im not trashy, I stay classy) and the overall atmosphere of the song makes me feel like this is Chris Tucker (by J Cole) but for adults. Unlike Cole however, Jay is more than qualified to flex about Parisians and checking the scoreboard. It's not empty bravado, it's honest if anything. His flow, something he explicitly (and hilariously) brags about on this track, is perfect not because it's the best thing ever like he puts it, but, like usual, it's effortless. Hov isn't Kendrick (see: BDKMV remix). He hasn't slaved over each word for the intricacy of the flow or the syllabics like Kendrick (or an earlier Em or even an earlier Hov) for a long time. Instead, it's how easily he rides and owns an instrumental that's impressive. This is even more apparent later on in the album. But if that's not enough, you have Hov biting MIA's flow for a fitting bridge about "H-town" and some great lines about modern day fads. Lines about twitter and tumblr (or Instagram) could come off as forced or corny but leave it to Hov to come up with "district of Columbia/guns on your tumblrs/*** hashtags and retweets niggUH/140 characters in these streets niggUH". As we'll see throughout the album, he's still clever, still witty and still wholly entertaining.
This is one of the lesser tracks on the album for sure but it's not nearly as underwhelming as some people have made it out to be. The track starts with a sample about how they're from Africa and aren't used to such nice things but that they came from kings, paving the way for Ross's slightly retarded ignant verse that in turn paves the way for Jay to drop one his best verses on the album. The production is filled with high snares and bouncing beeps and bloops but is also riddled with too much negative space. This is something that would be a definite flaw in other songs (and still is, slightly, here) but because of the presence Rick Ross and Jay Z possess, it seems fitting to have it so lackadaisical. There are plenty of entertaining moments during Ross's verse, such as confusing reeboks and nikes (give him a break, he is PURE NIGGUH), and "I don't bop I do the money dance" but I just wish he came more correct. He usually excels on high profile features (see: last years accident murderers or 2010's devil in a new dress (one of my favorite verses of the last decade) but here he simply just is. But it works in a way seeing as how Hov comes through with one of his most energetic performances, reworking a tired DeNiro wordplay (come money dance with the goodfellas), and a ***ing perfect Lucky Luciano scheme. It's short, concise and adds life to an other wise lazy free flowing track. HOV KEEP GETTIN THAT DENIRO GOT IT" EVEN IF A NIGGA GOTTA ROBERT, GET IT" I get it Hov and it's dope as ***.
This track is a great little song on its own, with Frank Ocean describing extravagant images of elephant tusks on a boat docked on the Ivory Coast, Mercedes cruising alongside the beaches and black men trying really hard to be classy in white suits (I hope my black skin don't taint this white tuxedo) on the hook itself. But following ***withme... It somehow falls a little flat for me. Maybe it's the sequencing, the transition from such an empty track to one brimming with Jay Z's metaphors and comparisons of the waters that brought his ancestors as slaves to the states (the same waters he now relaxes on with his expansive yacht and heaven-on-earth lifestyle) and Frank Ocean's typical, dare I say beautiful, singing, but I find it easier to listen to this song when it doesn't follow ***withme... But besides that there isn't much wrong with this. Lines such as "Only Christopher we acknowledge is Wallace" and "I crash through glass ceilings, I break through closed doors" are insightful and introspective in their own right. I just wish Hov did more with the metaphor he was setting up, but even then, if you listen closely, this song IS riddled with ferry, boat, yacht, water references and sets up the atmosphere really well. There is something really telling about hov sitting on his yacht listening to "Strange Fruit" even of it's just a line to fit the theme of the track. I think my main problem with this song is that nothin really stands out (a complaint that's actually pretty indicative of the album as a whole) but just as the album's highlights become more apparent on repeated listens, so do this tracks. "SWOOSH, that's the sound of the water...SWOOSH that's the sound of a baller"
"Don't be good my nigga be great/after that government cheese we eatin steak". Oh man this is one of my favorite songs of the year, without a doubt. Every thing about this track screams classic, but apparently really quietly seeing as how I almost completely looked over this joint my first time through. Now, about like a 100 listens into the album already, everything about this song, from the subtle, understated beat that twinkles along, Hov's "*** up the - UH" and the countless quotables ("My chain ready heavy don't let me get a ring") is ***ing perfect. "I feel like muh***in Cassius Clay right now" Hov claims at the start (a reference that isn't new for this rapper) and follows up on that statement by describing a victory lap/parade and going on to spit layered lines such as "High yellow sky dweller and the rose gold" and "if you front row everywhere you in the H.O.V.s". It's bravado mixed with meaning at its finest and, above all, it's more than believable. I could do without the penis line but I mean of Eminem gets to talk about his dick 24/7 while making *** music, I think Hov can get one pass when it's on the same song where he spits "1% of a billion more than niggas ever seen, still they wanna act like its a everyday thing...clean" And "Rumble young man rumble...you know a nigga trill as Michael Jackson's socks". How people can say he's lazy after songs like this (and heaven, and crown, and nickels and dimes) is beyond me. It's lazy listening if anything.
TWERK MILEY MILEY MILEY TWERK
Just kidding, but not really. This is a short, energetic, bouncing track (who's beat, I guess, IS sort of like the thrift shop joint but a lot more realized and full and less cartoony with pianos on top of the trumpets and whatever circus type *** is going on). The lyrics are scattershot but completely enticing and entertaining with some of the best moments on the album all jam packed into this two and a half minute song. Spitting about buying out his white neighbors (2chainz's scuuuuuuuuur in the background), what an Instagram was back in his day (#mylaugh) and a great line that pretty much sums up White America's still relevant fears about "black" hip hop culture (TWERK MILEY MILEY TWERK), Jay Z is all over the place and it couldn't be any more perfect. Plus Hov is apparently REALLY GOOD AT MATH (#mylaugh). I can't imagine anyone not cracking up at the one million, two million, three million 20 million bit...
Ugh okay. I know I should love this track's production and that some might think it's borderline hypocritical for me to love Yeezus but not like the production of the only track that's somewhat similar to that album, but, in all honesty, it sounds like a 16 year old made it (-__-) for the most part and the parts that are more flushed out were probably done after they purchased the beat from
whatever young girl made it. Lazy and typical snares are accompanied by an ugly sounding thudding bass and an even worse hook (*** on me" Really"). Where Tom Ford sounding unique, this sounds atypical. I do love when it strips down for the "Crown...bounce" parts but the rest of it doesn't do much for me. It's not "minimal" in the way tracks off Yeezus were (read: they weren't minimal for the sake of being minimal) and instead just annoys me to some degree. But Hov somehow makes me tolerate it by destroying the track with two great verses (not my favorite or what I think are the best but an argument could definitely be made for the second one). "You already know what I can do with the coke" he spits, "Drop it in the water, I made it disappear then reappear I had that bitch on a rope". And of course, my favorite, "These niggas shouldnt let me in/I ball so hard on ESPN/see my name come across on CNN/bout six minutes you gone see it again" and the way he says "niggas knifes is double edged" to sound like "Nas".
The best song on the album in my opinion. From two incredible verses to the Love Sosa flow he bites, to the REM "Losing my religion" sample he flips and the best hook I've heard all year (once again by JT), everything in this song is perfect. Even the fact that, according to the lyrics, JT was supposed to sing "Lie me down" and instead sung "knock me down" just works. Not mention the pulsating yet soothing beat created by the melodic keys and thudding drums in the background. Once again (seemingly a common trend on the album) this song, with its understated production as opposed to the other more grand beats on the album, allows for the best overall song. Besides spitting some seriously grown man bars ("this here is heretic/I be out in Marrakech") there is also one of the best examples of Hov's tongue in cheek wit (aw *** it you got me) and simple cleverness (spelling Allah (arm leg leg arm head) when talking about god body). But none of this compares to my favorite moment on the song and one of my favorite moments in rap all year - Hov biting love Sosa. In the already incredible second verse (secular till the hecklers seckle down) Hov sing/raps "God is mah chauffa/boy dey love Hova/from the south side of chi to Brooklyn where I growed up". These are the moments where I really believe he smokes the tree knowledge and drinks from a gold chalice...
Although I love the beat and overall idea of the song it's pretty out of place and being so short makes it pretty useless. What you get in the end is #mylaugh and "aw" x 10 with one good line thrown in (the truth in my verses versus your metaphors about what your net worth is). This all being about an old Wayne diss only adds to the irrelevancy.
Part II (On The Run)
The worst song on the album, undeniably. Not because Beyonce can't sing (she's very serviceable here) not because Jay Z is weak (he flows pretty well and some parts, such as "what you doin with them rap guys" and "push yo muh***in wig back, I did that" are entertaining) but because it's too long, doesn't go anywhere and is almost as pointless as versus cept it's like five times as long. I've been playing each song three or four times while writing these reviews but I didn't want/even need to play this again.
Beach Is Better
Oh LAWD this song. As short as versus but infinitely better. From the rapid fire lyrics (you can keep that beeech cause that beeech whateva) to the hilariously awesome "for as long you take to get ready you better look like hallie berry....OR BEYONCE", this is the perfect little interlude. Jay Z said during his legendary twitter q&a that this was so short cause that's how vacation usually feels for him and I guess that makes sense. But *** you make this longer. The beat is too ***ing good, high tempo and immediately enticing, and you can't just end a song with "Cant take this money with you/burnin *** up like Im Richard/niggaz askin IS THE OVEN ON""
It's always great to hear Nas relax and rap about unlaced Adidas and smoking weed in Ibiza. Couple that with Jay in top bragging form and flowing more try hard than usual (which for him still seems easy) and you have the only other purely bravado/flex track (the other being Picasso Baby but we already covered that) - this time however infused with this weirdly funky Latin/Spanish vibe. I'm a fan of the chorus (REAL NIGGAS FEEL DA HOOK) even though some people aren't. It's hectic, fun and kinda off but I can't help but go along with the "b boy drug deala look/billionaire" especially when Jay literally shakes his jewelry at me before his verse. Both these rappers are still relevant to this day, are still immensely talented and don't they deserve to make one lax joint" Or does everything have to be "Black Republicans" for you to enjoy it"
Jay Z Blue
This song took a minute to grow on me (as songs about personal relationships usually do for me) but once I came around to it, I noticed many things that separate this track from songs in the same plane, such as *insert some Eminem song here*. The thing with some Eminem songs about his daughter or wife (and there are a lot) is that when they don't have something extra to give it a timeless feel and make it universally relevant, they fade away and grow tiresome. Sure Eminem was unparalleled at making us interested in the very personal details of his life, but a lot of the songs that do so often fade into gimmicks or novelty. Now this doesn't just apply to Em (or all Eminem songs in that case since he undeniably has a few classic gems) but is more so a warning I think all rappers need to heed when making songs that are extremely personal or introspective. Music needs to be relatable (no that doesn't mean it has to specifically be about things we've all been through, just that the feelings and emotions that create the foundation for the track should be apparent and genuine). This is why Jay Z can rap about Picasso and I can still relate to the basic feelings of joy, success and achievement. On this track Jay Z not only express his woes about fatherhood in a relatable fashion (*** joint custody/I need a joint right now the thought alone ***s with me) but also adds focus to the actual music which many artists seem to overlook. The subtlety of this beat (the third and not the last time Ill use this descriptor) and the understated nature of the piano and the violin all allow the mommy dearest sample flip at the start (and the proceeding daddy dearest hook jay spits) and the Biggie sample (hinted at from the start by the "uhs") to really shine. This song is filled with Jay Z's insecurities as a father and although some of it is standard fare about how he never had a father and so he wasn't taught how to treat a lady, a lot of it is even more introspective and interesting. Even the standard lyrics are made more relevant in various ways, through the biggie sample for example (highlighting the roots for men such as jay z or biggie and the new roots (#newrules) for children such as blue). Take notes j cole, smh. But in the end it's those lines where Hov talks about how even if he's drug free he'll still have niggUH blood in him that are really indicative of his true fears. Is parenting something you inherit" If so, is his daughter really well off with him" He may want it to be like daddy dearest but is that viable" All this, coupled with the beat switch up, culminates in a very well made and very endearing song about the fears of being good enough (in a field that isn't rap). I only wish some of the rhymes and content in between the more meaningful bits weren't so simple.
Great beat (for the 14th time), a likable hook (you ain't ready yo you radio you ain't really ready) and some quotables (#factsonly) but this song really suffers from, um, being kinda pointless. It's just there and more often then not the repetitiveness is extremely grating. Although its really fun to hear Jay Z say "bruh" or "real *** CHEA", this is one of the only real useless tracks on the album. No real redeeming factor aside from the production and jay z doesn't seem to want to change that with his "verses". I understand songs like this have their place on an album (songs that are more anthems than anything) but they usually have SOMETHING to make it worthwhile. This and Part II are the only two songs I'd ever skip on this album.
Nickels and Dimes
In retrospect, I can't think of a better way to end the album than through a track whose sole purpose is the amalgamation of all the various aspects of a grown Hova. The fame (Johnny Cash I'm a real g/I cut myself today to see if I still bleed/success is so sublime I gotta do that from time to time), the bravado that stems from the hustle he came from (pardon my hubris/Stanley Kubrick/with eyes wide shut I could push two bricks), and the jumbled priorities (Sometimes I feel survivors guilt/I gave some money too this guy he got high as hell). He intertwines all aspects of the album effortlessly on this final track while shedding light on some new tidbits of knowledge that are surprisingly very insightful (purest form of giving is anonymous to anonymous) and fears that clearly highlight the double edged knife that is his entire life (the fact that he still feels like he could die for his niggas even with a daughter he loves more than life). All of this is supported by a beautiful sample, one that people say carries the song, but if anyone pays attention for more than one second it becomes clear that the content is as strong as ever.
8.375/10 = 8.4/10
As I guessed, it's slightly lower than Yeezus for me (8.7) but the more I listen to it the more it becomes one of my favorite releases of the year.