Listen Up: Magna Carta Holy Grail by Jay-Z

Magna_Carta_Holy_Grail_Cover “Martin had a dream.  Hov has a team”.

The most classic quality of Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail is that rapper and entrepreneur’s seasoned bravado no longer translates as annoying and uncalled for, but a feature that’s surely been etched into his character. After having exhausted in-the-know details of the fabulous life he occasionally mocked in the past and now represents, he’s taken to being some kind of a mellowed out version of a martyr for the people, with historical and religious references to boot, seen from the cover art to the grandiose title. So was Jay-Z’s surprise album worth the thrill?  It’s one of his glossier, more pop-induced records, but it’s not as saccharine-filled as say Kingdom Come (minus the engaging “Lost Ones) or The Blueprint 2.  MCHG It’s similar to how The Blueprint 3 merged the two ingredients of mean streets wisdom and auspicious sounds.  MCGH is just that, and to the fullest extent, embraces the Internet age.

Lyrically, it’s not his strongest as far as its complexities, but any real Jay-Z fan may want to acknowledge when listening to his catalog post 2003 that his best wordplay days are behind, and we look back not in anger but in admiration.  Jay-Z is not the same person he was on Reasonable Doubt or even Vol. 3 The Life and Times… when Shawn Carter was officially the new New York king of rap, and that’s okay. What MCGH does accomplish is how Mr. Carter continues to exercise his palpable sense of humor and curiosities at popular culture.  Who know Jay-Z actually gave Miley Cryus attempting to twerk a moment of recognition, and is clearly a fan of SHOWTIME’s Homeland?  It is the one-liners and the lush instrumentals that are most enjoyable.  Jay’s return to form as the smart-ass with a delectable notion of self-worth and selective insouciance is enthralling on wax.  Musically, it is grand, but inclusive, unlike some past works such as Watch the Throne were cold to the public, and damn near belittling to the struggle of the everyday man.  The majority of his fanbase’s dreams are not lined with gilded afflictions.  After the capricious suggestions of Watch the Throne, MCGH is accessible and benign.

Honestly, there are no bad tracks on Hov’s 12th LP, even if some are boring.  It is a seamless accomplishment with definite highlights.  First, “Part II (On the Run)” is pure paradise, as the sequel to Jay and Beyonce’s ’02 collab “03′ Bonnie & Clyde”.  Beyonce’s doesn’t even insinuate an urge to over-sing her everlong passion for her partner in crime, and is an appropriate conclusion to their first outing.  In a kittenish manner, she makes fun of the fear of falling in love with the bad boy and otherwise endorses the live fast, die young lifestyle that’s very appealing to the ears on this track.  It’s been 11 years since their first song together and their growth as artists and as a couple is displayed.  The posse cut “BBC” is a bonafide fiesta that features Nas, Swizz Beatz, Justine Timberlake, Beyonce, Pharrell, and Timbaland, though some voices are more audible than others.  This is Hov’s version of “All of the Lights”, that’s more like All of the Copacabanas.  All of the features are valued for their cameos on MCHG as Rick Ross is shockingly favorable on the brassbound “FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt”; Frank Ocean is a young owl on the nirvanic “Oceans”; and Timberlake is also on the leading track “Holy Grail” offering some lessons learned revelations.

Where Jay-Z is at his best are on the solo tracks, where he reflects his new role as a father, his legacy, and these changing times.  The party anthems are here (hello “Picasso Baby” and “Tom Ford”) but “F.U.T.W.”, “Jay-Z Blue”, and “Nickels and Dimes” could be Hov quintessentials in years to come.  Magna Carta Holy Grail is a befitting album for Jay-Z who has achieved what he announced on his collab with Linkin Park on “Encore”: “I came, I saw, I conquered”.  It lightly inspires, it thoroughly entertains, it celebrates the everyday man that has lot to say and toast to because he’s (or she’s) worked hard for the right to do so.

–C. Shardae Jobson (@lavishrebellion)

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