GENRES: Hip-Hop, Mainstream Hip-Hop
TOP TRACKS: Picasso Baby, Oceans, Somewhereinamerica, Versus, Beach is Better
Jay Z is arguably the most popular and commercially successfully Hip-hop artist of all time. Coming from humble beginnings as a drug dealer in the projects of Brooklyn, New York, Jay Z has made it just about as far as any rapper could possibly imagine. Right now Jay Z is worth about $500 million, he is a part owner of the Brooklyn Nets, he has his own Record label, and not to mention his newest hobby, Sports Agency.
Of course when things started to blow up for Jay Z a few years ago, many fans assumed it was the end of his career in music. For years Jay Z, if not loved, was respected as a talented MC who was notorious for bragging about his success through excessively complex and sometimes outlandish hyperbole. The one thing that has made his records like Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint, or The Black Album very successful has to be his production. Jay Z’s music has great production and that can’t be denied. Whether the beats are explosive like on “99 Problems” or more commercially appealing like on “Empire State of Mind”, the way Jay’s music sounds has given a large amount of core mainstream fans as well as the music “nerds” who feel that he is unarguably one of the best rappers of all time as his record and success can attest to.
Jay Z’s newest album Magna Carta… Holy Grail was marketed in a pretty new and unusual way. Samsung’s mobile company immediately bought 1 million copies of the album so that they could give it away to Samsung Galaxy users for free. This allowed MCHG to go platinum before anyone had even heard a track off of it. There were no singles to promote it. Only vaguely interpretive commercials with Jay Z and his collaborators in his million dollar studio talking about things that no one could care about. I was fairly surprised because there wasn’t really any hype on this album and every Jay Z album that I could remember had mountains of hype even if they really weren’t anything special. Honestly, Magna Carta… Holy Grail isn’t anything groundbreaking in respects to the rest of Jay Z’s discography and it almost seems to me that Jay Z was careless and hasty in the making of this album. Something that usually is very unlike him.
Immediately from the start, I was pretty impressed. Justin Timberlake’s collaboration on “Holy Grail” was excellent. His part during the slow, dramatic introduction was something new and I was excited to see where the track would go. However, all I got was over the top trap style hi hats with a generic beat, weak flow, and of course the horrible Nirvana reference that would have Kurt Cobain spinning in his grave. I was not impressed with this track and I felt like Jay Z is definitely capable of better things lyrically and musically.
However, I did love “Picasso Baby”. The beat is heavy and pretty rough just like “99 Problems”. You can tell Rick Rubin had his hand in this beat. Like I said the beat sounded really dope. Jay Z raps about something other than fame and money. I personally didn’t know he likes art but the message is kind of meaningless because it sounds like he’s doing it as a rich person’s hobby. The beat changes towards the middle of the song and that’s when it sounds REALLY great. This beat is awesome and it’s something I can genuinely enjoy. Doesn’t even matter if the message is hollow or pointless.
The next few tracks were everything that was wrong with this album. “Tom Ford” and “Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit” featuring Rick Ross were mindless, they were pointless and they just sounded very generic. Tom Ford’s beat isn’t special. Jay Z’s rapping is all nonsensical whether he’s talking about wine and Paris (again) or hashtags and 140 characters. Also “FUTW”. Fine Jay Z, I’ll let you be great. What does this track even mean. At this point in the album, I definitely felt that the production, lyrics and overall presentation of the album was rushed.
Two of my other favorites that kind of were the saving grace for this album were “Oceans” and “Somewhereinamerica”. Frank Ocean sounds incredible on “Oceans” and I have always thought he is the best at doing hooks for hip-hop artists. Also, Jay’s rapping here is a bit more on point. The instrumentation fits his stlye a bit more and overall it just felt right. Somewhereinamerica wasn’t amazing but the instrumentation was very cool and Jay Z had a pretty funny line about Instagram. Also, the shots at racism in America were very subtle as are most of Jay Z’s truly significant meanings in his tracks.
But once again, whenever Jay Z gets intimate or interesting he goes right back to being asinine and over the top with his bragging. For instance “Crown”. Coming into this album, there were a few topics I just KNEW Jay Z would brag about or at least bring up. These would be his deal with Samsung, his sports agency, and of course his daughter, Blue Ivy. On “Crown” he deals with the Samsung Deal and more obnoxiously the Roc Nation Sports agency by saying “Scott Boras you over baby, Robinson Cano you coming with me.” or even “It’s a new day hit up KD.” These are all things about Jay Z’s personal life that I don’t particularly care to hear about at all. I get it. His thing is bragging about how rich he is and his recent success has only caused him to do it even more on both The Blueprint 3 and this latest release, however it’s getting a bit tired. If he’s really as great as he says he is, then he should prove it. He should get serious and release music that’s worth listening to or else I won’t listen.
There also isn’t much pop appeal on MCHG. Maybe the opening track, “Heaven”, or even “Part II (On the Run)” with Beyonce but those pretty much seem like the only songs with even a shroud of radio playability. But even those would quite honestly be a bit of a stretch for pop radio. I also know that a lot of hip-hop die hards won’t really thoroughly enjoy anything that Jay Z puts out just because of his reputation. Because of this I really have to wonder what Jay Z was thinking with this new record. Did he do it just because of the Samsung deal? Just to rewrite the rules? If so I would say that marketing a mediocre album in a new way doesn’t make it any better.
Magna Carta… Holy Grail is a disappointment. It isn’t bad and in fact it’s pretty decent. However, the potential of what could have been will always cloud what is already on here. Maybe if Jay Z focused and did not rush as much, he would have a better record. There are great tracks like “Picasso Baby” and “Oceans” so I know that he is still capable of doing these kind of things. Also the short little interludes “Versus” and “Beach is Better” both sounded great and had they been longer and turned into actual concepts rather than mere snippets, this album could have greatly benefited.
I’m mainly disappointed because I feel as if Jay Z is turning to music as his side hobby when he’s tired of being an entrepreneur and that is never how it should be. I think that all great music must be genuine must be passionate and must have a clear driven purpose. Otherwise it is not truly great. For these reasons, we will never get another Reasonable Doubt or Blueprint. This isn’t because Jay Z is no longer capable of these kinds of projects but because he lacks the time and frankly he doesn’t really seem to care. And maybe this is a good thing. Jay Z has a had a great career and he should focus on his business pursuits completely rather than half assing this “music” thing that brought him to where he is today.