MUSIC WORLD: My Review of “Magna Carta Holy Grail”
The last solo Jay-Z album was 2009’s Blueprint III. In between, he’s dropped Watch the Throne with Kanye West and been featured on a few more G.O.O.D. Music offerings. Jay-Z gave us about a month to accept the fact that he was dropping an album out of nowhere. With a blockbuster announcement during the NBA Finals in the form of an extended commercial featuring Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, Pharrell, and Rick Rubin, Jay ignited the interest of fans like only he can. Ushering in #NewRules, Jay proclaimed his album would be dropped to Samsung users exclusively a few days before the general release. He even forced the RIAA to change how they certify an album as platinum. Despite the presumed exclusivity to Samsung users, most of the public was able to secure the album the same day. Check my review below.
Naming an album Magna Carta Holy Grail seems right in vein with the theme of Watch The Throne, but this is a very different album. Jay-Z is proud to be Blue Ivy’s father. He’s happy with his wife, Beyonce. And he’s a billionaire. But the album is decidedly a bit deeper than that. With no “traditional” promotion- meaning no singles or music videos, few artists could conjure the same organic interest. Kanye West comes to mind. As does Beyonce who’s on a full world tour performing songs we’ve been listening to for three years. Let me start by saying, the production is the true standout. Timbaland served as an executive producer of the project. And if you thought Timbaland was having a good year with the release of The 20/20 Experience, this just catapulted him as the go-to producer of the year. Check him discussing his role in the project, below.
The album contains 16 tracks, no bonuses. The first half of the album is much more enjoyable to listen to, in my opinion. “Holy Grail” features a gritty Justin Timberlake honing in on his southern roots crooning like he’s singing the blues. This story isn’t about the blues of being broke or losing the love of your life though. Instead, Jay and Justin are reflecting on the pitfalls (and peaks) of being famous. And rich. A little Nirvana helps to drive that theme home. Jay admitted to not owning a Picasso, but he can dream and spit his art shit like the best of them, as evidenced on “Picasso Baby.” The next track, “Tom Ford,” could easily transition to radio plays, including Beyonce‘s whispered ad-libs and Timbaland’s almost signature beat change. Listen below.
(Editor’s Note: Beyonce’s adlibs are credited as “Third World Trill.” Hilarity.)
One of the most infectious tracks on the album features Rick Ross. “FuckwithmeyouknowIgotit” opens with a declaration from an uncredited contributor about Black history and the culture’s desire to have gold and “shiny things.” Because of this opening, the track feels abbreviated. “Oceans” was reportedly recorded two years ago. Which would make sense since Frank Ocean is included and he’s been noticeably absent in the past year and a half. This is the album’s first appearance by Pharrell as a producer. The overall theme of the track explores Jay’s visceral thoughts in regards to our history and The Middle Passage v. his current success. These are the Jay tracks that I enjoy. On the surface, it seems like your standard shit talking affair. Then you tune in and listen to Frank Ocean singing for his life and it clicks.
The next three tracks, (F.U.T.W., SomewhereInamerica, Crown) all feature Jay discussing how it feels to be wealthy when he started from the projects. Oh, and he makes fun of how scary that is to 1% of America. In the first “interlude” of the album, Jay hilariously tells Miley Cyrus to twerk even though high society is looking down on him for his new money. “Crown” sounds the most like a track Kanye would be featured on (or Travis $cott, if you’re paying attention). We all know it was produced by 16 year old producer WondaGurl by now. The auto tune and haunting feel of the track could’ve slid right in Yeezus (or Owl Pharaoh). Skip a track and an interlude and you have “Part II (On the Run)” featuring Beyonce. This tracks serves as the 10 years later follow-up to “03 Bonnie and Clyde.” Though we’re all still waiting for a new Beyonce album, she’s busy crooning about her love for Jay and how she’d hold his heart and his gun. And I believe her. It was rumored this track was originally going to be featured on her album, but it works here. It’s a feel good track that comes at just the right time. Check it below.
Easily one of my favorite sounding tracks is only 56 seconds long. Mike Will Made It produced it and features lines like, “Girl why you never ready, for as long as you took You better look like Halle Berry. Or Beyonce” and “I brought sand to the beach, cause my beach is better.” And then “BBC” happened. I get it. They’re having fun. Nas randomly shows up. But it doesn’t fit for me. The next three tracks are the most personally introspective of the entire album. One discusses his struggles as a fatherless child who finds himself a father. The other discusses his pressure to be successful and take care of his entire family. The last track on the album follows both themes. It’s a familiar Jay that harkens back to pre-billionaire Jay with problems and concerns we can all relate to. Listen to my favorite interlude “Beach is Better,” below.
In the current state of music with reviews being boiled down to Twitter posts, if an album isn’t a classic upon first listen, it’s garbage. Let me start by saying that most albums can’t be deemed classic within a year of being released, much less within a few hours. good kid, m.A.A.d city is the only recent album that I feel was deserving of this praise. That being said, Magna Carta Holy Grail is a good album. One of Jay’s best? Nah. Better than your favorite rapper’s though? Probably. As his 12th studio album, I don’t think this is one to be ashamed of (see: most of Kingdom Come, Blueprint 2). With that being said, I still find that the true highlight of the album is the sound and production, not the content. Kanye West is noticeably absent, as was Jay-Z on on Yeezus. During his Twitter takeover yesterday, Jay hinted at Watch the Thorone 2 coming soon. Thank God… or Hov… or Yeezus. Whatever.
Standout tracks: Holy Grail, Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit, Oceans, Part II, Beach is Better
Posted on July 9, 2013, in ALBUM REVIEWS and tagged Album Reviews, Beyonce, Frank Ocean, Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake, Magna Carta Holy Grail, Mike Will Made It, Pharrell, Rick Ross, Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, WondaGurl. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.