In this digital world, we rarely ever get to anticipate an album anymore. For the second release in a row, Jay-Z has brought back that old feeling. No leaks following a sublime marketing campaign that has already netted Mr. Carter 1 million sales at $5 apiece (according to the Wall Street Journal) that had Jigga engaging tomorrow’s listeners with a Samsung app that previewed his lyrics and behind the scenes videos with Magna Carta Holy Grail‘s producers. Previewing the album art next to a copy of the original Magna Carta (incredibly fly shit) was the cherry on top of a flawless release plan. Jay-Z has indeed turned the rap business into an art. The only thing left was the execution of the actual art of rap music.
Magna Carta Holy Grail will hopefully be remembered for the resurrection of Timbaland. After a subpar performance on Blueprint 3 and recent showings, Timbo was all but ready to be put out to pasture. His work on this album may be remembered as the crowning achievement of a storied career. The sound of these tracks is truly next level shit, muddied digital backgrounds that flirt with distortion and dithering landscapes. Every track flawlessly composed with crisp, clean breaks and bridges that ebb and flow in a sea of whimsical, ambient atmospherics and vocal echoing wails. Jay-Z could have rhymed the ABCs or filibustered this album and it would still wipe out most of the market right now. Jay-Z did more than that, but it’s clear that lyrically and technique-wise, he doesn’t approach his former levels of mic supremacy.
There are some real gems on Magna Carta holy Grail. Part II (On the Run) is brilliant R&B and the most synergistic pairing of Jay-Z and Beyonce ever. They are both necessary for this track; no Crazy in Love version without Jigga, no disposable Bey on the hook. BBC features a slick performance, Swizz yelling from the periphery like young Diddy, a fun hook and some help from Pharrell on the boards. Jigga is at home on this and his flow is sublime and well-timed to this while opening his verse with a nod to Ma$e. It’s the most natural he sounds on the entire album. Nickels and Dimes closes the set with an 80s Euro synth base for a feel similar to Kingdom Come’s Beach Chair without the annoying Chris Martin.
Adrian Younge, fresh off Ghsotface’s 12 Reasons to Die, joins Timbo on Picasso Baby, a groovy but done before by Jay-Z song. the song features an envigorating break that takes you back to when Primo would change beats in the middle of a Jay-Z song. Timbaland and The Dream ally for a pair of tracks, opening salvo Holy Grail and Heaven, both featuring a energized Justin Timberlake on the hook. the former features a lyrically sharp Jay-Z with a faulty flow that deserts him on the first verse, the latter full of lines and allegory designed to fan the flames of Illuminati hunters and full of blasphemous assertions (“Smoked the tree of knowledge”).
Tom Ford wastes a futuristic Timbo gem on a throwaway concept. Fuckwitmeyouknowigotit wastes a Rick Ross guest spot on D-boy faux trap rap that Jay-Z should be beyond by now. Neither rapper delivers a memorable verse, which is surprising when you consider their previous collaborations.
Jay tries to get deep on Oceans featuring Frank Ocean singing with an island tinge but is out of his element and the dichotomy he tries to draw between previous poverty and hardship and his accomplishment is weak. The hook is dreadful. Save the babies Hova also makes an appearance on Jay-Z Blue, which features a cameo from Biggie courtesy of vocals and borrowed homage. A vocal sample of Faye Dunnaway from Mommy Dearest makes a song about children creepy, even as Jay-Z talks daddy dearest.
In his prime, Jay-Z was arguably the best best rapper alive. His flow hugged the track like a Dwyane Wade pre-game outfit and when he sticks to topics of familiarity, his double entendres, connectivity and execution are all but flawless. When he steps outside of his wheelhouse, he is aurally uncomfortable. His flow is uneven and nowhere near as fluid; often off-balance and off beat, complete with shoehorning rhymes into tight spaces. He also lacks that conviction that made his word irreproachable in assertion. Now he’s more living off his history, but that’s okay. He does enough to maintain relevance in a fickle market and that appears to be the aim of Hov 2.0.
In the end, Magna Carta Holy Grail features a flawless commercial execution, a sublime return to greatness from one of the greatest producers of all time and a solid but unspectacular performance from the marquee artist. There are strong moments on the album when Jay-Z sounds great and others that eerily resemble Kingdom Come where Jigga’s lack of conviction on songs outside of his comfort zone, even when the concepts are good, leave him sounding awkward. Chalk this album up as another win for Jay-Z (who dropped another good and likely #1 album maintaining his relevance) and a loss for fans who remember where he’s truly from(where you can’t put your vest away and say you’ll wear it tomorrow, cause the day after we’ll be saying, “Damn, I was just with him yesterday.”). Perhaps those n***as should buy his old albums.
Out of 5
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