Thursday 11 July 2013

Jay-Z - Magna Carta...Holy Grail

Jay-Z might be married to the biggest popstar on the planet and he might be one of the biggest rappers on the planet, but that doesn’t mean he can release a lacklustre album and call it ‘Magna Carta…Holy Grail’, even solely for the pun on his surname.

The comparisons to Kanye’s recent ‘Yeezus’ are inevitable, as two of the most recognisable names in hip-hop.  ‘Yeezus’ is a progressive, clearly focused record with a big point to prove, even if you don’t agree with his views.  By comparison, Jay-Z has very little to say, leading to a soulless and empty album. 

As with much of hip-hop, Carter’s lyrics have always been based on bravado – here we have Picasso Baby, a whole song about living the high life, whilst in Versus he berates fellow rappers on their apparent wealth (“The truth in my verses, versus, your metaphors about what your net worth is”).  Carter’s skill stems from clever wordplay, but that’s often absent on ‘Magna Carta…’.  Instead he riffs on social media (“fuck hashtags and retweets, 140 characters in these streets”), Miley Cyrus (“’cause somewhere in America Miley Cyrus is still twerkin’”), and family life (“baby need Pampers, Daddy need at least three weeks in the Hamptons”).  Compared with his previous material, this new work feels too predictable, especially in light of hip-hop newcomers such as the raw Kendrick Lamar or Joey Bada$$.

As such, it falls on the production to provide interest.  For the most part, it’s a mixture of different hip-hop styles, in the process lacking much of the personality we’ve come to expect from Carter following tracks like 99 Problems or Empire State of Mind.  Of course there are samples and song references, most notably from Nirvana on opening track Holy Grail.  And Carter has embraced pop music more than many hip-hop artists, ‘Magna Carta…’ including features from Justin Timberlake, Frank Ocean and BeyoncĂ©.  Yet with these three artists, he is overshadowed on each occasion – Holy Grail following on from Timberlake’s Suit & Tie; Ocean providing poignant lyrics to Oceans (“I hope my black skin don’t dirt this white tuxedo”); and Carter might as well be providing a guest rap on Part II (On The Run) between his wife’s sultry vocals and the woozy synth and piano lines.

‘Magna Carta…’ isn’t necessarily a bad album, it just feels lazy and a little dull.  With Carter’s hype-inducing status, this is not the holy grail of hip-hop albums that you might be hoping for.


Gizzle's Choice:
* F*ckwithmeyouknowigotit
* Oceans
* Part II (On The Run)

Listen: 'Magna Carta...Holy Grail' is available now.

Watch: Jay-Z will be performing at Wireless festival this weekend.