First, let me start off by apologizing to Jay-Z on behalf of Kanye West. Is it fair to Magna Carta Holy Grail that Yeezus came before it? Can Jay’s latest even be considered comparable to Ye’s, besides the fact that one artist is the undisputed protégée of the other? The answer to both of these questions is no, but that doesn’t mean that Magna Carta Holy Grail doesn’t suffer because of them. While the newest addition to the ever-evolving history that is Jay-Z’s discography has its many downfalls– among them a lack of clear focus and, at times, an over-reaching sense of superiority– its very worst offense seems to be poor timing.
When Jay-Z is at his humblest, Magna Carta Holy Grail is at its best. Ridiculous as it may be to hear Kanye West proclaim “I am a God,” it’s still a statement meant to be taken seriously; maybe it has something to do with the shaky, tortured persona he presents on Yeezus, an album that trumps MCHG on a lot of different levels. From Leonardo da Vinci and Riccardo Tisci to Andy Warhol (all on “Picasso Baby”), Jay spends what feels like an unnecessary amount of of time and energy dropping names throughout most of the album. On the other hand, sometimes it’s fun, like on the scratchy, twisted minimalism of “Tom Ford.” The track is ballsy without being over-the-top, perfectly paced, and flows simply and smoothly throughout. “I don’t pop Molly, I rock Tom Ford,” Hov repeats, and it only gets better each time.
At 43 years old, Shawn Carter is not just a devoted husband and new father, but also an American cultural icon; did the phrase “power couple” even exist before the union of Jay-Z and Beyonce? For years, Jay’s status as Rap King has remained unchallenged, even more so after his glory days of releases like Reasonable Doubt and The Blueprint. He wields this power not just on aptly-titled tracks like “Crown,” but also in his choice of collaborators: Pharrell, Frank Ocean, Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, Nas, and yes, even Mrs. Carter herself. In fact, it isn’t Jay’s, but J.T.’s voice that commences Magna Carta Holy Grail on smooth opener “Holy Grail.” Beyonce makes several appearances throughout, but her ethereal melodies work especially well alongside the shimmering synths of “Part II (On the Run).” Unfortunately, things hit a major snag with tracks like “BBC.” While the Timbaland beat is pure dance party waiting to happen, Pharell’s countless silly declarations such as, “My whole life is leisure,” often come across as insincere. As a result, the song is an ode to the 1%, most of whom probably aren’t running out to buy the latest Jay-Z album.
Of course, let’s not forget that Jay-Z isn’t just the King of Rap, or the King of Brooklyn, but also the King of All Media. He may take sincere stabs at earnestness by adding his daughter into the equation on tracks like “Jay Z Blue;” at the same time, these tracks make up an album that was launched by a hefty lump sum courtesy of Samsung. Do you think Blue Ivy has learned to say “ka-ching” just yet?
So while Yeezus may be the only deity still fresh on everyone’s minds, Magna Carta Holy Grail isn’t a bad attempt at supremacy, so much as it’s a slightly scattered one. Regardless, let history show that Magna Carta Holy Grail is still a chapter in the life of a great, important artist. Maybe not Jay-Z’s best chapter, but one that’s still well worthy of inclusion.
3 / 5 bars