Within a summer that commercially released studio albums by Wale, J.Cole & whatever it was that Kanye West was trying to do, Jay-Z re-emerged quite publicly with his twelfth solo effort that reminds us of the magnetism he commands within the culture. While his last project- the collaborative conceptual, Watch the Throne with the aforementioned West was solid at best, Hova returns to the alpha-spirited secularity that longtime hip-hop fans are accustomed to.
Aside from referencing diverse and timeless marks of society within the modern constraints of the public, what makes Magna Carta such a valiant effort is the variance of polished production. The individual beats give a collective reverberation to the work as a whole. Top reputable producers in the industry – Timbaland, Pharrell and Swizz Beatz- deliver for Brooklyn’s icon, making this album a stream of clean-hitting beats prepared for many combinations of lyrical punches.
2009’s The Blueprint 3 had a tendency to come off as trite, almost with a “going through the motions” vibe; this next standalone compilation makes me curious how many more decades I can expect to hear a purposeful voice of influence from Jay-Z. After ‘retirement’ in 2003, who would have bet on multiple major releases after? If Jay is the Michael Jordan of rap music, this period could draw comparisons to Jordan returning to Chicago post-baseball career. With all that said, the songs on Magna Carta…Holy Grail:
1. Holy Grail (feat. Justin Timberlake) – produced by The-Dream, Timbaland
The keys in the introductory track compliments Timberlake’s voice well to take enough time to set-up the sick drop that comes in that lets us know this album isn’t sleeping around with too much sensitivity. Jay uses this as a cautionary ode to establishment, both for the tone of this release and his success, alluding to the financial and personal pitfalls of other entertainers . The mortality of fame-allergic Kurt Cobain is and met by JT even singing a famous Nirvana lyric, get over it purists.
” I’m the n****, caught up in all these lights and cameras/ But look what that s*** did to Hammer/ God dammit, I like it, the bright lights is enticing/But look what it did to Tyson”
2. Picasso Baby- produced by Timbaland and J Roc
Shawn Carter would like to remind those who forgot (like we could) of the high society indulgences he gets to enjoy on a regular basis. The lavish nature of the affluent is told without shame yet the enjoyable thing about the track is that Jay-Z has a good grasp on notable fine artists. Timbaland makes this a classic nodder and the ironic thing about the prosperity mentioned throughout is that this sounds like a throwback basement production, which is a very good thing.
” It ain’t hard to tell, I’m the new Jean Michel/ Surrounded by Warhols, my whole team ball/ Twin Bugattis outside the Art Basel/ I just wanna live life colossal”
3. Tom Ford- prod. by Timbaland and J Roc
Shoutout to American fashion designer and filmmaker Tom Ford, courtesy of Jay-Z. Songs entitled after notable businessman and innovators are nothing new in the rap game but this one is sure to be played in clubs all over and draw attention to someone who is not exactly a household name. Picture multitudes of sexy women in their best garb dancing to a party song named after you, automatic increase in quality of life. Enjoy it, Tom.
“Paris where we been, ‘pard my Parisian/ It’s Hov time in no time, f*** your whole season/ It’s Bordeauxs and Burgandies, flush out a Riesling”
4. F*ckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt- feat. Rick Ross prod. by Boi-1da
A standard “look how I’m living” track, complete with Ricky Rozay. Afterall, what would be bragging about material possessions, accumulated wealth and power without the Teflon Don? The worldly experiences of an ex-drug dealer turned business mogul and superstar are most amusing as hubris can often be. It seems S.Carter has an affinity for Italian luxury.
“Lucky Lusiano is what they call me, paisano/ Hundred keys on the piano plays across the Verrazano/ El Padrino in the villa sipping vino/ Not bad for a Mulliano”
5.Oceans (feat. Frank Ocean)- prod. by Pharrell Williams & Timbaland
One of Jay-Z’s most crucial attributes that have kept him relevant yet maintain his artistic intergrity is the ability to appeal to many demographics. It is here that the wise choice to include Frank Ocean and his nuanced hook will ensure this song being a radio play and get more album listens from lukewarm rap fans. Pharrell heads a very tightly produced sound tailor-made for an accessible Jay-Z track yet with his critiques within.
” The oil spill that BP ain’t cleanup/ I’m anti Santa Maria/ only Christopher we acknowledge is Wallace/ I don’t even like Washingtons in my pocket”
6. F.U.T.W. – prod. by Timbaland & J Roc
Vintage HOVA. Showcasing one of the most interesting beats on the album, the hunger of a younger rapper seaps through on a track that exhibits themes of a more angst-ridden man urging the audience to “f*** up this world.” Although not exactly altruistic, the recognition of street mentality shines through that highlights the dichotomies of a man whose social mobility has been extraordinary.
” See most of my n***** die in their twenties or late teens/ I’m just tryin to come up from the thumb of this regime/ One percent of a billion is more than n***** ever seen/ Still they wanna act like it’s an everyday thing”
“America tried to emasculate the greats/ Murder Malcolm, give Cassius the shakes/ Wait, tell them rumble young man, rumble/ Try to dim your lights, tell you to be humble”
7. Somewhereinamerica- prod. by Hit-Boy & Mike Dean
Not an overly impressive effort of lyrical writing but the integration of old-time brass and the ivory of the piano make an extremely easy-listening sound for a song that is much more free form than the others in structure. Somewhere, Miley Cyrus is still twerkin’. Only in America.
“Shoutout to old Jews and old rules/New blacks with new stacks/ I already been the king, retro act”
8. Crown- prod. by Travis Scott
Jay-Z historically has made clever songs that speak directly to his critics and detractors that goes back to early releases. Despite the non-necessity to do that given his cultural stature and influence, Crown carries the same energy of a person who is still proving oneself, even referencing the leader of Roc Nation’s dealings as sports agent and. The competitive fire is still alive within an accomplished person of multiple venues.
“Put in the belly of the beast/ I escaped, a n***** never had a job/ Scott Boras, you over baby/ Robinson Cano, you comin with me”
9. Heaven prod. by Timbaland
The most genuine, ‘real’ song Hov has recorded in quite some time. An ominous hooking asks, “Have you ever been to heaven? Have you ever seen the Gates?” The atmosphere of this gushes while the spiritual acknowledgements towards God, humanity and redemption resonate while Jay-Z recants his own deviance from a path of enlightenment. Honesty is appreciated within any medium so the rebuking of detractors and those who question secretive affiliations finds the ears of those tuned for ambiguity. Equally as impactful are lyrics that compares the hardcore fanbase as worshippers, perhaps placing too much admiration towards a single man.
“Question religion, question it all/Question existence until them questions are solved/Meanwhile this heretic, I be out in Marrakesh/ Morocco smoking hashish with my fellowship”
“Tell the preacher he’s a preacher/ I’m a motherf****** prophet, smoke a tree of knowledge/ Drink from a gold chalice,you gotta love it/ I arrive at the pearly gates, I had luggage/ Meanin I had baggage”
10. Versus prod. by Swizz Beatz & Timbaland
The first of the two condensed mini-tracks on the album clocking in at 00:52. Jay-Z has a precedent for the unconventional formatting on albums such as the hidden easter eggs found on the Blueprint. I assume Swizzy and Timb wanted to include a snippet of the beat they created, perhaps from executive pressure as well.
“The truth in my verses, versus/ Your metaphors about what your net worth is”
11. Part II (On the Run) (feat. Beyonce)- prod. by Timbaland
The inevitable collabo with the wifey. Not exactly a benchmark of textbook rapping from the higher standards of earlier work in the catalog, yet the harmonious union of real life man and woman will surely get radio play thanks to an enjoyable sound, once again from Timbaland. Songs of excitable energy and invigoration through romance are generally popular among huge stars, especially when the partnership has had as much notable commercial success as is their reality. Toast to cliches indeed, Beyonce.
“Deeper than words, beyond right/ Die for your love, beyond life/Sweet as a Jesus piece, beyond ice/ Blind me baby, with your neon lights”
12. Beach Is Better prod. by Mike Will Made It
When less becomes more, we are still left craving even more. Humans are all guilty of being hypocrites for this and I am guilty in wanting this production to be a full length song after it really opens up . Like “Versus,” track number twelve on album number twelve enjoys a short stay, clocking in at less than minute. I can’t help but think a true banger could have been recorded using the skeleton of the album version.
13. BBC (feat. Nas)- Produced by Pharrell Williams
The flavorful sound of Latin and South American dance influence is fully realized by Pharrell, who creates a mixture in which the product could have a catatonic dancing merengue in no time. Nas’ appearance solidifies the theme of ‘worldly don,’ as these two are globally accepted as the best and most influential figures in the industry. Despite the caricature-like nature of the verbal self-descriptions, we all know the rivalry that once existed. Perhaps old habits die hard? The energy is undeniable; BBC makes me want to snatch a Modelo and find the rhythmically-inclined voluptuous women in red dresses.
NAS ” Pharrell’s a pharoh, peep the features/Unlaced Adidas/ Top of the world like pryamids in Giza/FILA sweats, ’88 I rocked a mock neck/Carried a nine in my projects/ Bucket hat, EPMD cassettes”
14. JAY Z Blue- prod by Timbaland
The life and times of S. Carter has bred much more responsibility since the arrival of daughter, Blue Ivy. Stresses of parental duty in the complex living structure of a mogul are addressed in an cautious manner; the paranoia of someone who wishes to correct past cycles of abandonment. However, the gawking, relentless nature of the media has made it difficult to do so. Jay responds to this as he should, with primal instincts like a boss.
“Baby need Pampers/ Daddy needs at least three weeks in the Hamptons/ Please don’t judge me, I just hugged the block/ I thought my Daddy didn’t love me/ My baby gettin chubby/ Cue that Stevie Wonder music, aww isn’t she lovely?”
15. La Familia- prod. by Timbaland
A fascination with Mob mentality has become a recycled archetype within the inner cities and rap game for multiple decades. While concepts of honor and loyalty are measures of character, it seems the criminal perversion of these ideals have altered perception. I suppose the growth and development of a middle-aged HOV hasn’t dissuaded him from continuing to embrace this in music. Regardless, the pulse of the high tempo Timbo production makes it something to sway to.
“NFL investigation? Oh, don’t make me laugh/ FBI investigation? We stood up to that/ Facts only, everything real in my raps only”
16. Nickel and Dimes- prod. by Kyambo Joshua
To conclude the album, a more controlled and personal sound was chosen. This allows Jay-Z to use the ambiance for self-reflection, resulting in a complete body of work that is a compound of success, arrogance and materialism yet also a willingness to display a wide array of sensibilities. Despite claims that this album is very corporate (which cannot be argued in its marketing), it is not an impersonal one. The heart is still there, despite being dressed in fine fabric. While cynics may now view Shawn Carter as merely a newer member of the one percent, this track punctuates the correlation of the artist’s steep resources and the platform he attained to arrive there.
” Between beauty and beast, I walk like the line/ Johnny Cash, I’m a real g/ I cut myself today to see if I still bleed, Success is so sublime/ Gotta do that from time to time so I don’t lose my mind/ Something about the struggle so divine/ This sort of love is hard to define”