ALBUM Magna Carta… Holy Grail
RELEASE DATE 4.7.2013
7.3 | 10
“I’m a business, man,” Jay-Z once rapped some eight years ago. Now he’s a full-blown empire, buying into the New Jersey Nets long enough for them to become the Brooklyn Nets, while also becoming a sports agent to stars such as Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees and Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s also, as the whole word knows, teaming up with Samsung to release his 11th solo studio album for a nice sum of money to the tune of $5,000,000. With such a large production, featuring everyone from Rick Ross and Nas to Frank Ocean and Justin Timberlake, with Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Swizz Beatz, Timbaland and Everyone’s Favorite Artist (aka Pharrell) all showing up in some capacity, the value was always going to be thrown into question. So does the album hold up to the ginormous hype surrounding the release? Well, Magna Carta… Holy Grail has all the grace of a summer movie blockbuster, but MCHG is at times able to cover up its blemishes through notable contributions by its features and produces, and Jay-Z drops some notable verses throughout the proceedings. All in all, Jay-Z’s latest tip-toes the line between competent and cringeworthy, between #newrules and #sametricks.
Album opener “Magna Carta” starts with a far-too-overdramatic Justin Timberlake crooning for about a minute too long, sinking the ship before Jay can even board. “Picasso Baby” is much more redeemable, featuring solid production from the resurgent Timbaland, while “Tom Ford”’s intriguing metallic timbre is largely undone by Jay-Z rapping “I don’t pop Molly / I rock Tom Ford” enough to strip it of any humor it may once have had. Elsewhere, Jay shouts out Miley Cyrus and her “twerking” non-controversy, a tongue-in-cheek nod at her 2009 hit “Party In The USA.” An out-of-left-field sample of the movie Mommy Dearest is thrown into “Jay Z Blue,” acting as a way to bring levity to Jay’s fears of failing as a father. It’s a moment like “Blue” that makes the majority of the album’s lyrical content surrounding just how many stacks Mr. Carter has obtained more forgivable.
The two best moments here come on the all-star assisted “BBC,” featuring Nas on the first verse, and a backing chorus of Timbaland, Beyoncé, JT, Swizz, and Pharrell. The Latin-tinged production recalls the inescapable “Blurred Lines” from Robin Thicke, and could no doubt end up topping the charts if given the single treatment. But perhaps the moment that leaves the biggest impression is Frank Ocean’s contribution to the album on “Oceans.” His vocal performance is stellar, adding additional heartbreak to an already devastating line such as “I hope my black skin don’t dirt this white tuxedo.”
In a lot of ways, Jay-Z announcing during Game 5 of the NBA Finals the imminent release of his 15th studio album, Magna Carta… Holy Grail made a ton of sense. That series featured the annually threatening Spurs of San Antonio and the star-studded Miami Heat. Like the Spurs, Jay has been able to stay relevant for the past 15+ years while constantly attracting the biggest names in music to help him achieve his goal (i.e. Miami Heat). But even those teams could tell you staying on top is never easy.