Jay-Z – Magna Carta Holy Grail
Buy: Magna Carta… Holy Grail
If you’ve been following Jay-Z’s publicity campaign for this album you’ll know he’s big on establishing ‘new rules’ for the music industry. As well as helping to align this release with Kanye’s ‘challenging’ Yeezus, these ‘new rules’ also amount to him selling off a million digital copies of the album to Samsung, co-ordinating a social media treasure hunt for his lyrics and unveiling the artwork alongside the real Magna Carta.
While that has all made for some good headlines, when you actually think about it there’s nothing that new or original about a hip-hop star teaming up with a corporate sponsor or conducting a bit of viral marketing. The Samsung deal was really just Jay-Z the businessman whoring out his ‘brand value’ to the highest corporate bidder – enabling him to make some money before the inevitable album leak. I bring all this up not to have a dig at Jay-Z, but because the comfort zone of his businessman persona is what dominates Magna Carta Holy Grail
Whether you like Yeezus or not, after hearing it you could be in no doubt about Kanye’s artistic credentials. In contrast Magna Carta Holy Grail comes across as an insipid and formulaic hip-hop album, with Jay-Z phoning in standard verses about him being ever so rich, famous and successful. So rather than being the bold and exciting new direction his publicity campaign led us to believe, Magna Carta… is actually a run of the mill Jay-Z album.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing though – Jay-Z hasn’t got to the top of the hip-hop game for nothing – but it is a bit of a let-down that the pre-eminent MC of his generation can’t find anything better to say about the world than how successful he is. Instead of biting social commentary about Egypt and Syria or some criticism of PRISM, for example, we get songs about his love for designer clothes (‘Tom Ford’), his growing art collection (‘Picasso Baby’), Miley Cyrus twerking (‘Somewhere In America’) and his daddy issues (‘Jay-Z Blue’).
It’s perhaps telling that Jay-Z gives a lot of album time over to contributors on Magna Carta… Justin Timberlake even opens the album with a saccharine verse on ‘Holy Grail’, with Jigga’s only noticeable involvement coming with his appropriation of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. Rick Ross gets to do his usual intense ‘balling’ on ‘FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt’ before Frank Ocean is allowed to steal the whole album with his turn on the slave-trade bashing ‘Oceans’. It’s no surprise that lyrically Jay-Z is at his best on this track – ‘Only Christopher we acknowledge is Wallace / I don’t even like Washington’s in my pocket’ – obviously finding some creative juice when focusing on such a strong and powerful issue. It’s just a shame he doesn’t attempt to reach those heights more often.