Jay-Z⎪ Magna Carta Holy Grail ⎪ Roc Nation ⎪⎪ US Release Date: July 9, 2013
“I’m the modern day Pablo / Picasso baby…” Huh? So Kanye West has proclaimed himself a ‘god’ (“I Am a God“Yeezus) and Jay-Z is now likening himself to Pablo Picasso. Is there something in the air here or am I missing something? Why is it that it that hip-hop artists in 2013 see a need to proclaim themselves as somebody other than they really are? Is it a means of tapping new creativity or just bizarre? Maybe both.
First things first, it’s a bit unfair to compare two different albums by two distinctly different artists. Yeezus is not Magna Carta Holy Grail – that’s obvious. BUT, there are some similarities, if you can believe it. Jay-Z and Kanye West both release über secret albums (without a radio single) and both efforts incite critical divisiveness. Basically what I’m asserting is that Magna Carta Holy Grail is quite ‘different’ and doesn’t rank among Jay-Z’s best. Do I personally like Magna Carta Holy Grail? Eh… I’m mixed. It has its moments as well as its miscalculations. It’s one of Hov’s least consistent efforts from my perspective.
Magna Carta Holy Grail
“Holy Grail” initiates Magna Carta with heavy assistance from Justin Timberlake. And by heavy assistance by Timberlake, I mean a hella heavy dosage of JT. After a verse and hook, Jay-Z finally gets his moment in the spotlight, with differing production from his collaborator. Jay-Z has his moments (“Blue told me to remind you n***as / f**k that sh*t y’all talking about / I’m the n***a caught up in all these lights and cameras / but look what that sh*t did to Hammer…”), but he also leaves more to be desired. It doesn’t help that after two verses, Justin Timberlake takes over once more, making Jay-Z seem more of a guest than the featured artist. Whatever.
“Picasso Baby” is better, and perhaps a standout contextually, but that doesn’t make it a tour de force. Essentially, Jay-Z’s Picasso allusion ‘paints’ him as the modern legendary artist. He throws out lyrics referencing his elite status (“See me throning at the Met / Vogueing on these n***as / champagne on my breath…” via the second verse), but his most profound lyrical moments come on the third verse in which he expands his scope (“I never stuck my c**k in the Fox’s box but / damned if I didn’t open Pandora’s box / they try to slander your man on CNN and Fox / my Mirandas don’t stand a chance with cops…”). If only all of “Picasso Baby” was like the third verse… The production’s got a nice, old-school, east coast vibe.
“Tom Ford” is cool if for no other reason than being named after the fashion designer. Ford is honored with a solid hook that manages to once more reference one ubiquitous ‘molly’: “I don’t pop molly, I rock Tom Ford / International bring back the Concorde / Numbers don’t lie, check the scoreboard / Tom Ford, Tom Ford, Tom Ford.” It’s not prodigious, particularly a generalization like “Hands down got the best flow, sound I’m so special…”, but it’s ok. Similarly, “F**kWithMeYouKnowIGotIt” isn’t exactly ‘high IQ’ hip hop, particularly Rick Ross’s contributions. Rozay’s hook is a trip: “F**k with me, you know I got it…” Yep, that’s really life-changing Rozay. But Ross doesn’t let a golden opportunity to flip off Reebok lyrically: “Money talk, I speak fluent …Reeboks on, I just do it…” Four tracks in and Magna Carta Holy Grail is… um…still different.
“Oceans” finally gives Jay-Z a triumph. Frank Ocean continues to be a sound collaborator for Jay-Z (remember “No Church in the Wild” from Watch The Throne). This time, Frank delivers a wordy, but alluring hook that dabbles in racism (slavery) and socioeconomic status: “I see elephant tusk on the boar of a sailing lady / docked on the Ivory Coast / Mercedes in a row winding down the road / I hope my black skin don’t dirt this white tuxedo / before the Basquiat show and if so / well f**k it, f**k it / Because this water drown my family / this water mixed my blood / this water tells my story / this water knows it all / go ahead and spill some champagne in the water / go ahead and watch the sun blaze / on the waves of the ocean”. While homeboy delivers, Jay-Z steps up with some standout lines, my favorite being “…Only Christopher we acknowledge is Wallace / I don’t even like Washingtons in my pocket / Black card go hard when I’m shopping…” via the first verse. One of the top three songs, easily. Mad me want to swim.
“F.U.T.W.” doesn’t quite reach the same highs, but it’s one of the better showings. Jay-Z opts for more ‘depth’ at times, specifically thoughtful lyrics like “See most of my n***as died early twenties or late teens / I’m just trying to come from under the thumb of this regime…” or “I just want my shot to show my genius / stand on the top to hold my penis / America tried to emasculate the greats / Murder Malcolm, give Cassius the shakes…” But Hov still likes his bread when it’s all said and done: “Sipping D’USSE boy this ain’t your daddy yak / he in a Cadillac, Me? I’m in the Maybach…” SMH. #FUTW
“Somewhereinamerica” is either an extended interlude or a short track, depending on how you view it. The ‘Frank Sinatra’ reference is nice, but the highlight of this cut has to be “cause somewhere in America / Miley Cyrus is still ‘twerkin’” I’ll leave that at that. “Crown” finds Jay-Z going all Kanye on ‘em, evidenced by lyrics “You in the presence of a king / scratch that, you in the presence of a god…” (Verse 1) and “…b***h asked if I was God / F**k I’m supposed to say no?” (Verse 2). He follows up with more ‘god-fearing’: “I’m secular tell the hecklers seckle down / y’all religion creates division.” Well, at least Jay-Z believes in his self. As for my belief in “Heaven” the track – I appreciate the concept, but wouldn’t go so far as to call it a hit.
“Versus” is one of a couple of interludes that seem pointless. Still, I did have to laugh when I heard the oversimple “Your last sh*t ain’t better than my first sh*t / your best sh*t ain’t better than my worst sh*t.” Ain’t that some poo? Anyways, “Part II (On The Run)” has good intentions in depicting Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s relationship, but it’s bizarre! But, “My baby momma harder than a lot of you n***as” is a clever line. Still, is it just me or does Beyoncé sound uncharacteristic? “Beach is Better” is another interludes that has me exclaiming WTF!?! But Hov does manage to mention Beyoncé, so, it ain’t all bad? I’d marry her too!
Ah, homestretch. “BBC” is interesting. Most notably, it is another Nas and Jay-Z collaboration with assistance from Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, Swizz Beatz, Timbaland and Pharrell. Is this the track I expected from Nas or Jay-Z? That would be a resounding no. BUT…I kinda like it… I’ll say that very softly in an undertone. I still prefer “Black Republican”. “Jay-Z Blue” could be a grower, but from a couple of listens, it is a track with a bit too much to digest. The
message is heavy, accentuated by “Father never taught me how to be a father”. It’s just sorta hard to listen to. Oh and as for “La Familia” and “Nickels and Dimes”, I wouldn’t waste your time.
So… verdict time. Well now. I think I’m still digesting Magna Carta Holy Grail so my opinion could evolve. BUT, for right now, I’m mixed. This wasn’t the album I expected from Jay-Z. While I appreciate experimentation, I feel that the Jay-Z consistency I was expecting is missing here. I just think back to how good recent Jay-Z solo albums American Gangster and Blueprint 3 were, and I don’t see that same level on Magna Carta.