Despite the wildly left-field moves that Kanye West made to promote his album Yeezus, leave it to none other than Jay-Z himself to take it a step further by selling approximately 1 million copies of Magna Carta… Holy Grail well before it’s release date. All you needed was a Samsung Galaxy phone, and you were able to collect lyrics and check out in-the-studio adverts (complete with Hov, Timbaland, Pharrell and Rick Rubin laid out on a couch) before you could download the album for free.
I’m not even going to speak on how he outshined the actual Magna Carta in England, either.
What makes this review interesting are those lyrics; this is because when you read them, you saw a lot of the depth in some of his songs — particularly ones like ‘Jay-Z Blue’ and ‘La Familia’ for example — and the news headlines caught on to the fact that he was spilling his heart on a lot of personal issues concerning his family, fellow industry peers and even his new sports agent business. For me, it was further confirmation that this was about to be one of the greatest albums I’d ever heard.
And then it came out and we listened in its entirety.
One thing is for sure on Magna Carta; Timberland isn’t just back, this guy is even better than ever. Even with the other producers’ contributions to the project, you knew that Timbaland had his hands all over it, and it was probably the best decision Jay-Z could’ve made on the album. But we’ll get back to the production in a moment.
The biggest problem here, which is a surprise, is Jay-Z’s lyricism. It’s easily the most minimalist raps we’ve ever heard from the greatest emcee of all time this side of ‘Girl’s Best Friend‘. There’s no doubt that gems are on here, with lines like…
“When I was talking Instagram/Last thing you wanted was your picture snapped”
“Can’t take this money with you/Burn this shit up like I’m Richard/Niggas asking/Is the oven on”
…but for the most part, Hov is basically conversing to his listener in the simplest way possible. While folks like Evidence, Prodigy and even Tabi Bonney can get away with this style, it’s not what I want to hear from Jay-Z.
As I said before, the production is damn impressive thanks to the overseeing of Timbaland (special kudos goes to Mike Will for ‘Beach Is Better’ and 16-year-old Wondagurl — with Travis Scott — for ‘Crown’)….hell, ‘Tom Ford’ could potentially be the greatest club anthem/trendsetter this year…
…and then there’s ‘BBC’.
It says that both Pharrell and Timbaland produced this, but it’s obviously more of Pharrell’s sound, and it’s terrible. It sounds like the type of beat he would have given Jay-Z during his Roc La Familia era, and after that missile that he gave Kendrick Lamar for good kid, m.A.A.d City, I’m floored as to why this was chosen for a song that also featured — in addition to Jay-Z, Timbaland and Pharrell — Nas, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake & Swizz Beatz.
So, to sum it up: Magna Carta… Holy Grail is a cool album with sick production from Timbaland & Co. and minimalist raps from Jay-Z (that sometimes do get personal enough to enjoy). That’s about it.
PURCHASE: Jay-Z – Magna Carta… Holy Grail