On his twelfth solo-studio album, Shawn Corey Carter from Brooklyn, NY has evolved into a new type of Jay-Z with Magna Carta…Holy Grail. His first solo offering in four years, the last being Blueprint 3, Magna Carta…Holy Grail melds themes of commercialism, love, elitism, street-life, and the idea of greatness.
Having first circulated the internet on July 4th via the Samsung Magna Carta app, and being officially released today (July 9th), we have had a bit of time to sit with Magna Carta…Holy Grail and really pick it apart. Sonically, the album is impeccable, featuring production credits from the likes Pharrell, Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, and The Dream, along with fresher talent in Travi$ Scott and Wondagurl. In regards to cohesiveness, given the at times conflicting themes, which truly do exemplify different stages of Jay-Z’s life, it is hard to find a true direction for the album.
You have a song like “Tom Ford”, where Hov states his stance as a bordeaux sipping, Tom Ford wearing gentleman with a gritty side who doesn’t “pop molly”; a jab to younger, less cultured rappers who make what we call “Molly rap”. This theme continues in “Somewhereinamerica”, the tale of a Black man in America who made himself from nothing to something, and his experience in the present amongst those of the wealthy and elite. He makes various references to houses and property, cars, apparel and technology, along with the now famous pop-culture reference of, “Cause somewhere in America/Miley Cyrus is still twerkin’”. There is a connection and disconnection between these two songs, their references to youth culture, that are hard to discern if they are just acknowledgements, or snubs to the younger, and at times “ratchet” acts of Generation Y.
In regards to the theme of love, Jay puts his admiration for two of the most important women in his life, his wife and daughter, on wax. We hear the more vulnerable side of Hov on “Jay-Z Blue”, an ode to his daughter Blue Ivy. Unlike his song “Glory”, that featured the cries of 2-day-old Blue, and was a declaration of his happiness to be a new father, “Jay-Z Blue” is a proper follow-up and digs a bit deeper and exhibits his anxiety of being a good father to his daughter, despite his upbringing without one, and lack of good father role models whilst growing up. Joined by Beyoncé on “Part II” (On The Run), the official follow up to “’03 Bonnie & Clyde”, the song is a sexy tribute to a woman standing by her man no matter the cost, in this case, he is an outlaw. There are some references to Jay-Z’s drug dealing past, but is Beyoncé really holding guns for him? I don’t think so.
A Jay-Z album would not be complete with some songs to drive to, and we have that in “F*ckwithmeyouknowigotit”, “Oceans” featuring Frank Ocean, and the Sizzla-sampled “Crown”. On “F*ckwithmeyouknowigotit” Jay is joined by Rick Ross on a dark track with heavy drums and synths. The two boast that if you ride with them, all will be okay because they can support the high financial expenditures of trips to Europe and shopping sprees. It ain’t tricking it you got it, huh?
The stand-out feel-good track on the album is “BBC”, produced by Pharrell and featuring Nas, Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, and the man himself, it tells a story of a D-boy who made his way to be a billionaire. The melody is infectious and incredibly danceable.
So we see the themes here, and although the production is incredible, there are moments on the album that can alienate fans, as there is so much mention of luxury goods and experiences. At times, it does feel like the album was rushed, for the purpose of business. However, that cannot dispute the musicality of this work.