So fellow Trike writer and podcaster (seriously, he has like 5 podcasts that I need to edit and get out. I’m a slacker.) Thomas Deja runs an awesome blog called Damn Your Ears! Damn Your Eyes! where he writes 10 statements about a film or television show he’s watched recently.
About a month and a half ago, my iPod adapter for my car (it’s old) broke and my CD player can only play actual CDs and not burned ones. So of course, being the Jay Z (Jay-ZJay-ZJay-ZJay-Z!) fan that I am, it was a must I get Magna Carta Holy Grail (or Holy Magna Carta Grail as I sometimes say it). I’m currently on my 4th or 5th listen and I’m finally forming unbiased opinions about Hov’s newest work. Hopefully, Tom won’t mind my borrowing his format here. If he does, read this while you can!
- Having listened to all of Jay’s albums extensively, this has to be the most in the moment his lyrics have ever been. While he’s never been a slouch when it comes to punchlines that resonate, his mentions of Miley twerking amongst other things, really makes MCHG sound like he just stepped out of the booth and put the album out. I also think this is his most unguarded work, because he’s tried to keep his work secret until the very last moment since 1999. On the other hand…
- This is the most rushed Jay Z has been since The Best Of Both Worlds. The perfectionism that he’s displayed throughout his career is missing here as he goes left when he would typically go right and he goes simple when he would shoot for complex. Although he said MCHG was completed reasonably fast (as he wasn’t even planning to do an album), when compared to other “fast” albums in his catalog like The Blueprint, it pales in contrast.
- Jay does a wonderful job of balancing the quality he’s known for with the sound expected of rap today. While “Holy Grail” seems like something from the cutting room floor of Watch The Throne (I still think it’s dope), songs like “Tom Ford”, “FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt”, “F.U.T.W.”, and “Beach Is Better” sound like they could be given to any 21 year old’s top 10 rappers and they would be thrilled. Even records like “Picasso Baby” and the aforementioned “F.U.T.W.” ring off as if they came out of the Vol. 3 vault.
- With that said though, MCHG doesn’t offer the variety of beats that a Shawn Carter album is known for. Despite Timbaland having a hand in 10 of the 16 tracks, the album has a very “too many cooks in the kitchen” feel, especially on “JAY Z Blue” (where his heartfelt worries about being a first-time dad are almost lost) and “Oceans” (when Frank Ocean can’t recreate the chemistry of “No Church In The Wild” and “Made In America”). While less production might not have made Jay more inspired (on a project he’s claimed has sparse production), it wouldn’t have hurt either.
- Jay’s in on the joke: While he’s always approached his work in a more serious manner, he seems to revel in the fact that he’s 43 and could be doing anything else to add to his wealth, but he’s still rapping. “Somewhereinamerica” and “La Familia” feature Hov at his most bouncy, despite the average lyrics of the latter. And he taunts the listeners on the interludes “Versus” and “Beach Is Better”, as they clock in at 51 and 55 seconds respectively. While he could be plotting another project with longer versions, he seems satisfied to let people know that his less than a minute songs are hotter than half of the 3 and a half minute plus songs that coat the radio waves today.
- Jay Z’s not afraid to show the world that he’s married to Beyonce anymore. After years of never talking about his relationship (now marriage) to Houston’s own Beyonce Knowles, he throws references all over MCHG…and it works. While he has mentioned her as “B” on past records, The Carters are on full display here, with Beyonce contributing to three records (with “Part II (On The Run)” as the only credited “Beyonce” feature) as well as getting name dropped several times. Baby Blue is all over the place as well, as her name is the first word that Jay utters on “Holy Grail”. I mean, how many dudes tell their baby to lean on expensive art because they own it too? No one. And while “JAY Z Blue”‘s production fails me, the message is easily my biggest fear of being a future father.
- When Hov is bad, he’s terrible. While “Crown” is a solid record, his choice to go off beat at the end of his verses bothers me to no end. Was this a conscious choice? Was it a mistake he chose not to fix to show vulnerability? Either way, it shouldn’t happen on a Jay Z album. “Nickels And Dimes” has to be the worst album closer he’s ever chosen, as the uninspired hook and beat are met with a bored Jay.1 And “Heaven” is anything but as a quality first verse is followed with a subpar second one. Which leads me to my next point…
- Believe it or not, the album is too long. While 16 tracks isn’t out of the norm, for what Jay was hoping to accomplish, I think it is. I told a friend on Sunday that MCHG had a great beginning and a lousy ending and the length is the reason why. While the album is just under and hour long, several songs could have been omitted. Look at this:
1. Holy Grail
2. Picasso Baby
3. Tom Ford
8. Part II (On The Run)
9. Beach Is Better
11. JAY Z Blue
At 11 tracks (with the removal of songs I’m not a fan of), you have a streamlined version of MCHG without losing the key content. In fact, this might the way I add it to my iPod. Can you imagine if Yeezus had been 16 tracks? ‘Ye knew he was pushing boundaries as is; the people didn’t need 16 tracks of it.
- “Part II (On The Run)” might be the best Hov and B collaboration they’ve done. While lovers of “Crazy In Love” or “’03 Bonnie & Clyde” might scream blasphemy, this is the first song that they’ve done that truly felt like a collaboration. While Jay’s verse on “Crazy…” might be one of his best guest verses ever, it’s a guest appearance on a Beyonce song. I’ve always felt “’03…” betrayed 2Pac’s better version personally. Lovers of a bored Jay on “Upgrade U” or even suckers for one of Kingdom Come‘s standouts, “Hollywood” (that’d be me) can’t compare with the chemistry of “Part II…”. While Hov’s lyrics aren’t heavy handed, he nimbly weaves in and out of his wife’s vocals like Ali in his prime. This is everything 2011′s “Lift Off” from WTT started as, except with full effort from all parties.
- “BBC” is another Nas/Jay Z dud. Out of the 4 songs they’ve appeared on since their 2005 reconciliation (2006′s “Black Republican”, 2007′s “Success”, and 2008′s “I Did It For Hip-Hop” with Ludacris), they’ve never had an absolutely dope song together. “Black…” & “Success” came closest but their Luda collab was just another on an album full of collabs already. I reallly, really want to like “BBC” but I just can’t. Subpar verses from both Jay and Nas don’t elevate a hook that boasts of a “b-boy drug dealer look” and the beat is another one of MCHG‘s clunkers. Maybe one day these two will put it together in the studio for that “perfect collaboration” we expect out of them. But it’s less likely with each year that passes in this genre of music.
Bottom line: I love the fact that there’s new Jay Z music. It just takes me awhile to separate myself from giddy fanboy mode to music critic. Magna Carta Holy Grail is a better album than Kingdom.. or In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. It’s not better than American Gangster but it just squeezes by The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (which isn’t even a true Jay album).2 But beyond all that, it’s new Jay music in 2013. Let’s enjoy while we can; there’s no guarantee he’ll put out another full album. He doesn’t have to, he just signed Kevin Durant and Robinson Cano to Roc Nation Sports. He’s a business man…