Jay-Z – Magna Carta…Holy Grail album review

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.

Rocawear announces partnership with New York Yankees

ROCAWEAR ANNOUNCES PARTNERSHIP WITH THE NEW YORK YANKEES

Rocawear announced today a sponsorship with 27 time World Series Champions, the New York Yankees. For the 2012 season, Rocawear will have branded signage in Yankee stadium and integrated promotions throughout the season.

Jameel Spencer, EVP Marketing, men’s division, Iconix Brand Group, Inc., commented, “Jay-Z has been a long-time fan of the Yankees, regularly attends games and has even included his favorite team in song lyrics, so this was a natural partnership. Rocawear, along with Jay-Z are very excited to be working with the Yankees for the 2012 season. We feel another championship in ‘12!”

Rocawear Presents: JAY-Z From “Marcy to Barclays” Commercial

Rocawear Presents: JAY-Z From “Marcy to Barclays” Commercial

The first ever Rocawear commercial is a retrospective of Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter’s journey as a kid growing up in the humble projects of Brooklyn aspiring to make music and eventually making history. On that journey, the first business beyond music was the birth of Rocawear. Carter’s Rocawear brand represents his prowess as a business man who continues to challenge himself to be more than merely a musician. In the spot, Jay explains “ My goal was to have one gold album and that was it. And then it became, I want to show that an artist can ascend to the executive ranks.” Ultimately it has been Jay-Z’s ability to inspire his customers that has afforded Rocawear over 10 years as the number one brand in its’ space. Carter continues, “Rocawear just keeps reinventing itself and redefining itself every single day.”

Watch The Throne Tour – Kanye West & Jay-Z in Montreal

Yesterday, amidst a crowd of 15,000 fans, two of the biggest names in hip-hop took the stage for a two-hour and forty minute marathon of rhymes and beats. As Ye and Jay rose above the crowd on fourteen foot platform covered in LEDs, you could tell this show would be one for the ages. Spitting their verses on “H.A.M.” from their respective “thrones,” and moving right into “Who Gon Stop Me” without a pause. And then joining each other on one stage to belt out their lead single with pyrotechnics and lasers spazzing all over the Bell Centre: “Otis.”

Did I mention this was only the first ten minutes of the show?

The Throne worked through a large chunk of their new album, and then started taking turns on their solo tracks. Hova was right at it with “Where I’m From,” “Nigga What? Nigga Who?” and coming back later on for “Hard Knock Life” and “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).” It seemed to me like Jay wanted a lot of the stage time to be given to Kanye – who was sporting a skirt/kilt and leather leggings for the better half of the night. For every Jay-Z song, there were three Yeezy songs. While I don’t mind the imbalance, as I’m a bigger fan of Ye than Jay (crucify me now – you have my permission), it still seemed strange to me.

Regardless, Kanye was flawless when it came to renditions of “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” (that had a laser light show reminiscent of his Glow in the Dark tour) “Jesus Walks,” “Touch the Sky,” and “Good Life.” Heck, the songs I’ve listed are just the tip of the iceberg. The duo went through about forty tracks in total, and Kanye even got the chance to do his eight minute version of “Runaway,” as well as  a powerful sing-a-long to finish off “Heartless.” All while standing on a raised platform, of course… in a kilt.

They got through the majority of their new album. “New Day” was definitely a highlight, with the two rappers just sitting on the stage, spitting their rhymes about being fathers one day soon. And when it came time to finishing off the night, “Niggas in Paris'” Blades of Glory sample came through the speakers – the crowd went off! And when they were finished? Again. Went off for the encore. Came back on. Guess what? They played it again. And when it was done? Jay yelled, “AGAIN!” And finally… one more time. Unless my ability to count was lost, they played “Niggas in Paris” five times. And you know what? The majority of us didn’t mind one bit, dancing and bumping to it like it was the first time it had been played. Every. Single. Time. The Bell Centre hasn’t been so electrified by a hip-hop crowd in a while.

Egotistical much? Yeah, but a well-executed show no doubt. They gave the fans more than their money’s worth in lasers, lights and pyrotechnics. I have no idea if another tour like this will hit your town after this leg, especially with Jay’s baby on the way. If you can make it out to a show, despite the pricey tickets, it’ll be well worth your time. That shit cray.

Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch the Throne review

Православни икониIn a collaboration that almost seems mythical, two of rap’s biggest moguls –and personalities– have come together to create a grandiose album that is, for better or worse, turning a lot of heads. Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne dropped on August 8th, and, much like the current political climate of the time, it seems the American mainstream public couldn’t be more divided about its response. When two of rap’s most controversial idols join forces, bringing their egos along, it’s safe to say that the product will be either loved or hated with no in-between. Somehow I sensed it would be this way for Watch the Throne, and now that I’ve heard the album, analyzed it, I know where I stand.

I want to start by saying that I’ve loyally been with Jay-Z and Kanye from both of their beginnings. In middle school, I came of age listening to Jay-Z’s “Coming of Age” off Reasonable Doubt, and Kanye’s “Slow Jamz” and “Get ‘Em High” off The College Dropout were my high school and college anthems, respectively. I’ll always carry the bond I was first making with rap because of Jay-Z and Kanye’s footprints on the industry.

In some ways, Watch the Throne represents the best of Jay and Kanye. The beats are catchy and varietal, like the rumbling, glitchy one on “Gotta Have It,” or the piano-influenced melody on “Primetime.” Lyrics-wise, I’ll be the first one to concede the metaphor and analogy power on this album. Both Jay-Z and Kanye’s ability to spit witty verses with ease has kept them at the forefront of an industry that thrives on one-upping the competitor. Watch the Throne isn’t lacking in this area.

But underneath the glossy beats that were likely made with some of the most expensive recording hardware money can buy, behind the slick witticisms, is there something more? Something that provokes us to examine an issue more closely, or that helps us to see one more clearly?

There isn’t. Watch the Throne is theatrical narcissism and flamboyant vanity wrapped in pretty packaging. Grand advertisements of wealth and power flourish on the record, as in the song “That’s My Bitch,” where Kanye declares, “I paid for them titties, get your own, It ain’t safe in the city, watch the throne.” Or like in “Murder to Excellence,” which is seemingly supposed to be a tribute to Danroy Henry — a Pace University wide receiver who was shot and killed by police — but instead boasts lines like, “Black excellence, opulence, decadence, tuxes next to the president, I’m present, I dress in Dries and other boutique stores in Paris.” I wonder if it makes any difference to the Henry family that Jay-Z associates with the President or that he wears high fashion. I doubt it.

Perhaps the most egregious offense on the record presents itself on the track “Otis.” The song pays tribute to the late Otis Redding, or the man better known as the King of Soul. It begins with a sample of Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” and then evolves into a rapid beat with Jay-Z rapping about popping bottles, supermodels, and his Rolexes. The video for “Otis” begins with a shot of a Maybach and continues with Jay and Kanye rapping in front of the American flag. How does any of this relate to Otis Redding? you ask. As far as I can see, it doesn’t. Aside from the stolen beat, “Otis” has nothing to do with Otis Redding. Otis Redding is merely the pawn in a track designed to sneakily capture a wider fan base. “Otis” couldn’t be less representative of the life or musical career of its namesake.

Over the years I’ve seen Jay-Z and Kanye rise up from humble beginnings to become the world’s most famous rappers. And in the process I’ve watched both artists buy into the glamour, glitz, and bawdiness that mainstream rap is today. I do realize I risk upsetting many by this honest account of Watch the Throne, but I can’t jump on the bandwagon. The album disappoints on so many levels. Watch the Throne is the direct antithesis of what rap was created for, what it originally grew out of. It’s a slap in the face to the progress that has been made in racial equality. And, most offensively, it’s a flagrant flaunting of wealth in the face people who don’t have it—many of whom ironically comprise a significant portion of Jay-Z and Kanye’s fan base.

If I had to pick one word to describe Watch the Throne, I’d choose irresponsible. It’s the perfect example of two otherwise talented artists who have let fame and power take over their music. It’s the result of two media moguls misusing their eminence and promoting dangerous ideas to society. What we’re left with is a record devoid of meaning, and one that, if not for the hype, would probably be soon forgotten.