There is hardly an artist active in the popular music industry that has a career that can match the fame and success of Jay-Z’s. Not to say that there aren’t more talented musicians or more successful business people but Jay’s rag to riches story is one of the most well known tales to date. Throughout his discography, Jay has made two things perfectly clear: he is always striving for the next level and that he is his own biggest fan. Keeping this in mind, the circumstances surrounding the release of Magna Carta Holy Grail should come as a surprise to no one. In what many are calling an unprecedented venture, this new album was given free to the first 1,000,000 owners of the Magna Carta app on the newest Samsung Galaxy phones. This landmark deal secured platinum status from the RIAA but also jeers from those who accuse Hova of becoming more and more of a sell-out.
Examining the music of the album aside from all of the business and politics reveals a project of good quality but not nearly an example of the best Jay Z has to offer. Magna Carta has a much darker and more serious tone than more recent releases. While Blueprint 3 and Watch the Throne were more of a celebration of success and wealth, this newest release is more focused on the cost of having such success and the insecurities that linger when responsibilities begin to mount.
In fact the best songs on the album feature deeper lyrics from Jay-Z that give insight into his mindset as his life moves along. ‘Jay-Z Blue’ is the clearest example of this as Jay raps about the fear he feels towards being a good father and husband. ‘Heaven’ is a gut honest song on Hov’s beliefs on spirituality and the place religion has in his life and society. ‘Oceans’ is by far my favorite song on the album for the deep hook sung by Frank Ocean, solid lines from Jay and amazing beat that is nothing short of epic.
On the topic of beats, be assured that there are many hands involved with the top-notch production of the album with all efforts spearheaded by Timbaland and J-Roc. Beats are built off samples from a number of sources ranging from music to movies. The instrumentals are varied, moving and do a great job of setting the mood for the songs they support.
While Magna Carta does have a lot to offer listeners, it will undoubtedly disappoint many who are long time fans of Jay. The key problem unfortunately lies with Jay-Z himself. This is Hov at his least lyrical with some songs coming off as lazily written with the worst being ‘FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt’, a totally pointless track with Rick Ross. It is a shame that this is the case considering the quality of features he has with him on songs such as Justin Timberlake, Frank Ocean and Beyonce.
Magna Carta…Holy Grail is a portrait of Jay-Z at new point in his life. As he states in his songs, he never lets the opinions of others affect his drive to make new music, new deals and new avenues for success. Whether you are impressed with the quality of the songs he offers is up to you but know that Jay has remained the same driven man behind the sound.