Album: Magna Carta Holy Grail
Record Label: S. Carter Enterprises
Jay- Z's braggadocia is hardly surprising, but he struggles to revive any promise he may have once had on "Magna Carta Holy Grail"
Jay- Z's status as one of, if not THE world's most successful rapper shouldn't be underestimated. Years of toil go into forging most artists' eventual breakthrough, and although Jay- Z's shine and initial talent found its path to stardom rather immediately, he would certainly have it said otherwise. And to be fair, it would be unjust to suggest that Jay- Z doesn't have wholehearted passion for what he's doing. It would be unfair to suggest that up until this point, Jay- Z has put anything less than 100% into making (and perhaps more cynically selling) records.
But here's the thing with "Magna Carta Holy Grail." For years now Jay has been revelling in his own legacy, so any braggadocia here comes as little surprise. But "Magna Carta..." is a record which Jay- Z uses once again as a platform to show off about how much money he's got whilst trying to stake a claim for even more. It wouldn't be so much of a problem if he was as lyrically and stylistically sharp as he once was ("Reasonable Doubt" had promise to boot), but "Magna Carta..." unfortunately feels perpetually half- arsed.
The production can claim its place as the album's highlight. Opener "Holy Grail" ranges from gorgeous layers of piano interplay into spacious stabs of glistening synths during Jay's verses. "Picasso Baby" finds a guttural, robust bass line fusing in pugilistic fashion with staccato keys and spacey zoots. "Part II (On The Run)" features Beyonce and even though it plays out like a Broadway melodrama, it works well as a pop song destined to sell pleasingly as a single. "Jay- Z Blue" is the only moment of emotional substance worth revisiting here, as Jay ruminates on the hardships of fatherhood. Even if it's illegitimate concern, he sounds genuinely worried.
But most of the time on "Magna Carta..." the Jay- Z that people have been hailing as the world's greatest for many years fails to show up. "All these lights are so enticing, look what that shit did to Tyson" he raps on the opener, allowing for no sense of irony whatsoever. The lack of lyrical ability really hits home on "Tom Ford", which at one point finds him rapping "Fuck all these hashtags and retweets, 140 characters in these tweets." "Don't look down on youngsters just 'cause they want shiny things" intones a sample at the beginning of "FuckwithmeyouknowIgotit", and after a snore- endorsing gambit from Rick Ross Jay- Z's flow just about manages to apply some revival, but it's still lyrically redundant.
His dull flow on the fantastical "La Familia" does the pretty, fluttering production no favours, and lazy quips like "1 Million, 2 Million, 3 Million, 20 Million... Oh I'm so good at Math" on "Somewhere in America" reveal an ever- widening chink in jay's songwriting. Most objectionable of all though is "Fuck Up The World (F.U.T.W.)", a song so egotistical it actually implies that the key to ending Black victimisation is to be like him and make ridiculous amounts of money. If it's supposed to be unifying it only comes off as patronising.
Key Tracks: Jay- Z Blue, Picasso Baby, Part II (On the Run)
For fans of: Rick Ross, 50 Cent