Verdict: 1.5 / 5
Just a few weeks after Kanye West released his controversial album Yeezus, his older and wiser Watch The Throne partner steps in and offers his share of swagger on the highly anticipated Magna Carta Holy Grail. There may be some sibling rivalry between the heavyweight rap stars as they try to outdo one another, but Jay-Z’s efforts fall greatly short. While he can’t do much at this point to tarnish his legacy as the Michael Jordan of hip hop music, Magna Carta Holy Grail continually misses the net, despite having a team of all-star producers and guests on the court supporting. Nevertheless, in the midst of dropping multiple brand names and sponsors, the aging rapper continues to rant on about his riches, his marriage to Beyoncé and his irritation with “haters”.
A quick skip through the Magna Carta Holy Grail tracklist and you’ll be surprised to see the names Timbaland, Pharrell Williams and Justin Timberlake in the credits. Jay’s first solo effort since 2009’s The Blueprint 3 offers little of their producing skills, with most of the beats sounding like throwaways. Is it possible that the production has taken a backseat to Jay’s rhyming? Probably not. It’s difficult to pin point exactly what the 43-year-old rapper turned businessman had in mind when he started work on his latest project. Could it finally be time to lay down the mic?
The album kicks off with the lead single, “Holy Grail”, which employs the help of nine writers and four producers, including Justin Timberlake, The Dream and Timbaland among others. With samples from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, it’s easily the strongest single on the album, with strong pop appeal. The same cannot be said for what follows.
“Picasso Baby”, the first song recorded for the album, defines the album’s sound. Timbaland (who appears on a number of tracks) sits in the producers seat, but delivers tuneless, unmemorable beats filled with simple loud bass and drum samples. Here Jay-Z references popular painters like Picasso, Rothko, Koons, Warhol and the famous Mona Lisa painting. “Tom Ford” and “F**kWithMeYouKnowIGotIt” continue in the same vein, with subpar beats and rhymes.
“Oceans” begs the help of Pharrell Williams and Frank Ocean, but both stars do nothing to sway the album’s declining appeal. With each song the album progresses from bad to worse. “F.U.T.W”, “SomewhereinAmerica”, “Crown” and “Heaven” offer little more. All four tracks could have been outtakes from a 90s Jay-Z album.
The album finally picks up again on “Part II (On The Run)” featuring Beyoncé, a slow-tempo R&B ballad complete with synths and heavy hip hop drums. As the only other song on album strong enough to be a single, it delivers the second and only other highlight on Magna Carta Holy Grail.
Although Jay-Z has more reasons to rhyme – the birth his child, the second term of Obama, his marriage and all-time high in his career – this album does no justice to fans of his music. Magna Carta Holy Grail feels like a collection of lost tapes strung together without any cause or care. All the evidence suggests that Jay-Z is past his prime. But then again, everyone can have a bad game and suffer a loss. Perhaps, it’s time to hit the showers and refocus.