Sunday, March 2, 2014

Jay-Z- Magna Carta... Holy Grail (2013)

Why did I review the album? Jay-Z is one of my favorite rappers
Did I like it? Not as much as I expected to
Will I listen again? Yes, to select songs
In his song “On to the Next One” Jay opens the song with the line “Hov is on that new s***.” In the last few years, an evolution of music has taken root.  Beats take center stage while content is less important. On its own, that is not a bad thing, but speaks to the evolution of rap.  True to his word, Hov tries to make music using this new model. To his credit, he does it well. In my opinion, better than anyone currently using this model to create music. But, I don’t like this model. For me, the appeal of rap is its ability to tell a story through the use of cunning metaphors and an alluring flow. This method essentially ignores that aspect of rap. If beats are your main concern, then you’ll enjoy this album. But, if content is your goal, a large portion of tracks will leave you wanting more. For this reason, I truly love some tracks, but remained apathetic to others.
In the first verse of “On to the Next One”, he also says, “n***** want my old s***, buy my old albums.” 
Well, I’ll take his advice.

My Favs
3. Nickels and Dimes
2. Holy Grail
1. Part II (On the Run)
Overall Rating: 75 with a recommendation to listen then decide

Holy Grail- This song chronicles the relationship between artist and fan. Justin Timberlake steals the spotlight. Through his narration, he tries to understand the motivation behind fans behavior. Then he asks himself why he deals with the metaphorically abusive relationship. I wish Jay would have used the verses to illustrate his rise to fame, and detailed the fan’s role in his rise to fame. In the next verse he could discuss how some fans defected after his mainstream success. Then the verses would be intertwined with the chorus. Both artists telling their story, one using rap and the other singing his way through his confusion. Jay does scrape the edges of this concept in his second verse, but not enough. It’s still a fresh concept tackled nicely, but as good as this song is, I can’t help feeling it could be even better. 5/5
Picasso’s Baby- Four minutes of Jay bragging and telling you how great he (and his life) is. The first half of this song gets 1 star from me. After the beatswitch the song recovers substantially. The beat sounds familiar, but I can’t remember the name of the original song.  In this section of the song he raps in a planned freestyle, similar to Lil Wayne’s verse in A Milli. This part earns a 3.5 from me. 2.5/5
Tom Ford- It’s a hype song and it performs its purpose. Some of the lyrics are comical and remind me of Jay-Z’s usual flair. I’m not sure why Beyoncé was in this song because her presence didn’t add any dimensions to the music 3/5
F***withmeuknoeigotit- Another hype song that succeeds at its goal. Casting Rick Ross for this song makes sense. This type of song is his specialty and he does not disappoint. Both he and Jay have some funny lines supported by a strong beat. 3/5
Oceans- Jay-Z returns in classic form, with a great flow and unparalleled storytelling.  Frank Ocean provides vocals for an intriguing chorus. In the chorus, he explains by following the ocean you can track a man’s history, an interesting concept.  4.5/5
F.U.T.W.- Jay-Z encourages everyone to break the mold and aspire to do more than society expects.  3.5/5
Somewhereinamerica- Jay-Z was bragging for 90% of this song, but it didn’t bother me like Picasso’s Baby did. This time, he felt real. The beat is the best part of this song. Also, the last 20-30 is essentially an instrumental which surprised me.  3.5/5
Crown- The beatswitch in the second half of this song saved the song for me.  The beat is amazing. He also talks about his relationship with Nas. It’s an interesting way to view friendship (if you can even call it that) although I’d rather not like to think of people as tool for my own downfall.  3/5
Heaven- Song deals with religion and some of his beliefs. Discusses his supposed ties to illuminati. Some of the references to the Bible and Christianity were clever and show Jay’s still knows what he’s doing (when he feels like it). He announces himself the god of rap calling the fans of rap music his followers. It’s a boast that works because it’s veiled and references to Christianity raise it from idle boasting to crafty rapsmanship.  3.5/5
Versus- Not sure what the point of this was, it was funny but unnecessary.
Part II (On the Run)- Since he married Beyoncé a few years ago, Jay has bragged incessantly about how HE was  able to court the most beautiful woman in the world (to some). And since then he’s talked about how beautiful she is even comparing her to a modern day Mona Lisa. He certainly appreciates her beauty, but it seemed like courting her was a game to him. Now that he gained her loyalty, she seemed like a trophy to add to his collection. It made me wonder whether he truly loved HER rather than he loved HAVING her. Well, this song answered that. The songs asks why people continue to entertain clichéd stories. It’s serves as a reminder that true love (and their love) is not a fairy tale. There are moments of great pleasure and pain. As the song progresses Jay pictures himself as the disruptive influence in an innocent girl (Beyoncé’s) life. Beyoncé responds in the chorus that she loves him, will not leave and vows to bring out the best in him, which is the goal of all healthy relationships. Jay’s second verse reminds me of Bonnie and Clyde, the song and the notorious group. The two formally announced their relationship with the release of the song in 2003 and reminds me how far the relationship has progressed. Also Bonnie and Clyde famously died together in the 30’s, so it ties together the theme of loyalty. The matching tattoos and rings is another interesting line because the rings are a physical representation of their love. The tattoos are physical as well, but they are also permanent. It suggests that even if the relationship breaks down in the future, they will still love one another because their love for each other is eternal, unlike the physical representations. In the last verse Jay and Beyoncé ponder the effects that death would have on their relationship. Heaven and Hell separate the couple. Jay-Z escapes the depths of Hell and Beyoncé leaves the comforts of Heaven to reunite with him.
Simillar to Holy Grail, Jay conveys his story through rap while Beyoncé sings beautifully. This song fully utilizes the potential left unrealized in Holy Grail. My favorite song of 2013. 5/5
Beach is Better- Another unnecessary track. Especially disappointing considering its predecessor.  It’s a pun using the word beach and b****. It was funny, but not worth dedicating a track.
BBC- Two of my favorite rappers in a song. Nas and Jay have been making songs with each other for a while now. This isn’t my favorite from the duo, but it’s a solid track that Jay could use as a single. 3/5
Blue-Anyone that’s had kids can relate to the woman that serves as an intro to the song. Parents provide for them, but the kids aren’t receptive to the time and sacrifice it takes to provide those goods. It’s excusable because Blue’s only two or three, so it’s an unfair expectation. However I completely understand his frustration. He expresses other worries in an upfront manner. An unexpected, but much appreciated display of candor 4.5/5   
La Famillia- A dedication to the people that mean the most to Jay. A proper mix of boasting and recognition to those that have supported him in his rise to fame. I don’t know if there is a literal term for the style of rapper he adopts for parts of this song, but I call it chopped rapping. It’s a recent phenomenon in rap where the artist emphasizes each syllable of a word. I do not like this style because at its core great rap tells a story and chopped rapping halts the delivery of that story and disturbs flow. Still I like the idea of the patriarch involved with this song. 3.5/5
Nickels and Dimes- An obvious drug reference. But what makes it clever is the double meaning. It’s an allusion to his beginning in rap. And through this allusion the audience able to understand Jay’s initial motivation for success in the rap game. As he’s grown into a businessman and made copious amounts of money, this verse serve to humanize a man that at times, to transcend rap. The third verse changes tone completely. It full of boasting and a bit arrogant, but it works because he relates back to drugs. Plus, the bars he delivers are golden. 5/5


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