Song by Song Album Review: Magna Carta Holy Grail

Jay-Z-in-Magna-Carta-Holy-Grail-Commercial-Wallpaper (1)

Another delayed review, but in all honesty it took me some time just to listen to this album and even try to get into it. Let’s get right to the songs.

1. Holy Grail –  The first single off the album, appropriately so. Justin’s hook (obligatory trade for “Suit and Tie”, if nothing more) immediately sends this track to the top of the pop charts, and when the beat drops for the first verse, it’s pretty damn sick. Nirvana fans will appreciate Jay’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” reference.

2. Picasso Baby – Similar to the “structure” of music from both Watch the Throne and The 20/20 Experience, the beat of “Picasso Baby” changes up mid-song, but with positive reception. The attention spans of Americans are constantly decreasing, so a song that mixes similar interesting beats to create multiple little songs into one piece is attractive to many. Jay compares himself to Pablo Picasso in the song, but the raps don’t stick for me.

3. Tom Ford – I think my man Lil Dicky put it best in one of his tweets: “I don’t pop molly or rock Tom Ford”. I personally had never even heard of Tom Ford before I heard of this song. I think it’s cool that he’s separating himself from other rappers by being a businessman and a father instead of a partier, but some of these lyrical concepts are only relatable to the big spenders. The beat on this song is unimpressive.

4. Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit – I’ve started to enjoy Rock Ross more, but only for his vocal sound. Few of his original songs/lyrics have sucked me in yet. His feature on this song works quite similarly. Jay Z’s verse doesn’t do anything for me either, and the beat is again unimpressive. I’ve heard arrangements like this in rap before.

5. Oceans – I’ve been really high on Frank Ocean’s album channel ORANGE this summer, so anything the man touches is gold to me. His hook on this song is definitely not his best, but it somehow  makes this whole song better. It’s as if his voice influenced what the beat was going to sound like (and maybe it did). The beat uses a lot more actual instruments (or recorded instrument sounds) and because of this reminds me of Jay Z hits that I actually enjoy a lot, like “99 Problems” and “Empire State of Mind”. Hova’s flow on this track sounds so much better too, but maybe that’s a personal preference.

6. F.U.T.W. – I actually like Jay’s lyrics on this one. The droning horn in the background kind of ruins the track for me though. Somebody lay a hard beat behind these lyrics.

7. Somewhereinamerica – The trumpet(?) sounds really 50s and out of place at first, but when the piano comes in, it really completes the music. It’s rap over classic sounds like these that figuratively turns me on when it come to Jay’s music. He lays down a good verse on this one too. I don’t get the deal with combining all the words in the song title together (this being the second time on the album), but what I do get is that somewhere in America, Miley Cyrus is still twerkin’.

MileyTwerk

8. Crown – Jay Z raps about how awesome he is, as most rappers do. His level of success actually backs it up though. Again, I don’t care for the beat, nor the “Deeez ni**az try to shit on me” line.

9. Heaven – The sample and music at the beginning of this song is lame and kind of annoying. I feel like the sample plays longer than Jay raps on this track. There’s nothing else for me to say, it’s just not good.

10. Versus – This song is less than a minute long, but that was still enough time for me to dislike it. Again, it just doesn’t sound good. Not impressionable.

11. Part II (On the Run) – It’s pretty hard to fuck up a duet with your wife who is as equally musically talented and successful as you are. The piano and percussion behind B’s voice work well together, and are what shine on the track. Jay pretty much gets lost in the background for me.

12. Beach is Better – This track pisses me off, because it’s actually a good one and the beat makes me think it’s gonna be a quality banger, and then it just ends. Everything about the track is good, but because it’s less than a minute, it just ruins it. Jay responded to a tweet about this issue with the length of the song and mentioned that it’s like a vacation, where you just get into it and then it’s over. Fuck that. As “cool” as that connection may sound, I want to listen to an decent length song when  the music is good. Save the one minute shit for intros, outros, interludes, and skits.

13. BBC – A cool Jazzy/Latino beat makes this track one of my few favorites on the album. Jay’s verse and a feature from his former feud partner Nas unfortunately get lost in the beat and the repetitive vocals in the chorus from Timbaland. If it weren’t for the music on the track it would probably fall in the “Tom Ford”/”Picasso Baby” realm for me.

14. Jay Z Blue – I wouldn’t be surprised if people feel obligated to be moved by this song or appreciate it because Jay is actually rapping about his fears of fatherhood instead of hookers and blow like many rappers. The music isn’t bad with the acoustic guitar in the back, but the opening sample is off-putting. When it comes down to it, his and Kanye’s track “New Day” from Watch the Throne contains the same lyrical content and is a million times better in every way.

15. La Familia – Another weird sample with some kid (Blue Ivy?) in the background and during the breaks, combined with an unoriginal 1/32 hi-hat driving the beat breeds mediocrity yet again.

16. Nickels and Dimes – I’m not a fan of the nickels and dimes vocal piece on this song. Jigga should have just brought in Frank Ocean again. And is Jay REALLY getting nickel and dimed out in the world? I’m sure that’s not what the song is totally about (some of the lyrics are actually decent) but the title of the song and the song itself ends up leaving an aftertaste appropriate for the entire album.

I think most would agree that this album is very safe when it comes to Jay putting out new music. And this is the main reason I am not a fan of the album. The first commercial airing during the NBA Finals was coming right off the heels of the release of Yeezus, and because I had not heard anything of the album until now, I took it to be almost responsive to Kanye’s new album. This assumption of mine was also backed by the fact that the release date of the album would be less than a month from the first TV spot. It all felt so quick, and once I listened to MCHG it made me feel that both it and Yeezus were just rushed.  Upon hearing that some of the songs on the album have been in the works since Watch the Throne was finished, I only became more disappointed.

As I continue to do album reviews, I believe I am in need of a consistent rating system. But picking a number out of 10 is too mundane. I’m going to try to develop some personal analogy for each review that will illustrate how the album met my expectations/what the experience of the album is/was like. For example, my review of the Man of Steel soundtrack would compare to watching the movie in my head. It’s as good as your imagination takes you. When it comes to Yeezus, my expectations were lower going into it, so it was as if I was handed a couple Blue Moons after listening a few times, and those metaphorical Blue Moons aided in my enjoyment of the album.

As far as Magna Carta Holy Grail goes, there was SO much hype leading up to this album in my mind, that listening to it was about as disappointing as the end of the Tennessee Titans’ 2008 season. Team goes 13-3 and earns the AFC’s #1 seed, and loses to the Ravens in their first game of the playoffs. Just utter disappointment.

Thank you so much if you’ve made it to this point reading it. Your dedication knows no bounds. Embrace debate by commenting. Peace.

2 Comments

  1. Haven’t listened to the album, but the review have me some things to listen for, and judging solely off Holy Grail,I feel like Jay phoned it in. I honestly don’t know if he has one or two verses on “his” . Justin takes over by singing chorus and verse. Also I didn’t see anything wrong with the ’08 playoff game.

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