Experience is a life skill some rappers look towards as a way of success; if you're in the thick of it and have a story to tell, chances are that someone is willing to listen. It's sometimes overlooked and becomes a rap backbencher because of lifestyle changes. When we listen to rap music, we're all listening for something different - like with most music. Rap however, has this overbearing focus on lyricism. The other main ingredient is an instrumental that one describes as 'dope'. The best rappers combine both of these ingredients; Nas, Notorious B.I.G, Tupac, Mobb Deep, N.W.A, and now Kendrick Lamar all have killer lyricism and beats behind them to harness a character that makes them stand out above the Will.i.am's and Rick Ross'. Great rappers can still progress with just one of these ingredients; take J Dilla, a mastermind of instrumental hip-hop, then Gil Scott-Heron on the lyrical side of the rap spectrum. Nowhere in this circle of rap does the invigorating hip-hop audience call for the ego-indulged rich upper class.
Jay-Z sings: "You still getting bigger nigga, living the life, Vanilla wafers, In a villa, illest nigga alive. Michael Jackson's Thriller," on the album opener "Holy Grail". Throughout Magna Carta... Holy Grail, Jay-Z goes off on these completely random name-dropping moments. His tangents are uncalled for and extremely repetitive, basic, and silly. He references Kurt Kobain, the late Nirvana frontman - cliché to the max. "Holy Grail" goes from a religious tone to a Nirvana quote marathon. In other words, Jay-Z's 12th album begins as a philosophical realisation, but instantly becomes dismissed through its lyrical content. Justin Timberlake sings the opening verse and the hook well, he does so over a light and hopeful sounding piano, before Jay-Z opens his mouth. Production wise, Jay-Z (with the hyphen for this release, what next?) actually has a respectful team of a-listers on Pro Tools - Timbaland produces the majority with J-Roc, household names.
There's no incentive to listen through Magna Carta... Holy Grail - it's too in-your-face for my liking. We're not hearing the young Shawn Corey Carter; it's the old businessmen and Samsung's dildo Jay-Z that fans pay for. Nothing's wrong with that, Jay-Z has his life in gear and has earned everything he owns thanks to fantastic rap albums in the 90s and consistent touring. When faced with tracks like "Picasso Baby", I can't help but shudder. There's a decent production riff that falls short in the enduring four minutes which feels like an eternity. It has an elitist lyrical tone, with Jay-Z speaking of a modern day Picasso - himself. Now the discussion of music equivalating to art mustn't be included here, but god damn how much balls does this man need to have to feed his ego. "Tom Ford" continues this 'egological' bullshit Jay-Z loves to spread in the 10s. He opens with: "Clap for a nigga with his rapping ass," attempting to part himself away with 'whack' rappers as such. Rather ironic in this modern age, where Jay-Z has adapted this 2 Chainz style of slow Rick Ross rapping. And now you have me on Rick Ross, the worst rapper to surface in the last decade. The entire four minutes of "FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt" is wiped clean because Rick Ross unleashes his cancerous lyricism.
It doesn’t stop there, Jay-Z's twelfth studio album free-falls with "Oceans", a collaboration with Frank Ocean that is little more than a bug on your windscreen you just want to wipe off. Magna Carta... Holy Grail may possibly be Jay-Z's worst album to date; he's passed his sell by date by a good five years. "F.U.T.W" has an interesting lyrical perception, but takes the listener through a repetitious Dilla-esque beat. This is topped off by "Somewhere In America", where Jay-Z combines his poor beat with piano, sounding completely off. He sings: "Cause somewhere in America, Miley Cyrus is still twerkin," with laughter, only to realise in his head... 'oh shit Beyoncé is exactly the same as Miley Cyrus, just more flirtatious when dancing'.
"Crown" is the weak point on Magna Carta... Holy Grail. The beat is drawn out; it's full of unnecessary bass. The only listenable track on this album other than the opener is the Nas guest spot: "BBC". Nas takes Jay-Z's music and makes it interesting, finally. It's produced by Mike Will Made It, and given his horrific track record; "BBC" actually comes as a gem among dirt. And this is how we will remember Jay-Z if he continues to release music in this fashion. Like Watch The Throne, we're searching for a diamond in the rough. "Part II (On The Run)" is that diamond and it's all thanks to Beyoncé. It's one of the longest tracks on the album and for good reason. The beat has ballad written all over, with a 90s R&B instrumental.
Magna Carta... Holy Grail reaches out to a combined audience of Jay-Z lovers and Kanye West lovers. That's the target audience Jay-Z has fallen in to. It's not hip-hop in the traditional sense. This album and Jay-Z's recent releases are as hip-hop as Asther Roth. His integrity as an artist seems under threat, with lyricism reminiscent of comedy skits like The Lonely Island and beats designed for Rick Ross. Samsung, private jets and baby Blue have become the modern Hard Knock Life. Without Justin Timberlake's R&B twang on the opening track, Magna Carta... Holy Grail would be nothing short of a disaster - drawn out instrumentations and flat lyrics for the dying age of pop culture rappers.
N.B. = Leave Nirvana / R.E.M alone.