Jay-Z – ‘Magna Carta… Holy Grail’ (Roc Nation)

Culled from about.com

Just when you thought he was headed for the beach chair, Jay-Z changed the game again. Magna Carta… Holy Grail is undoubtedly Jigga’s moment of clarity where he’s come “lyrically Talib Kweli,” with rhymes intricate enough to warrant a revision of Decoded. The historic and quickly platinum-selling pairing with Samsung even caused the RIAA to create a new designation for digital content.

The MCHG deal also embraced a concept seemingly lost on the rest of the digital world – that many consumers savvy enough to make swift, yet informed purchases of personal technology have higher expectations from hip-hop. In the weeks following the NBA finals marketing hype, the 16-song collection sparked debates about data mining from the app (calling him J-NSA) with enough Illuminati rumors to burst like Internet fireworks on the Independence Day presale. Eerily, the once self-proclaimed “god-MC” has attained an electronic omniscience of sorts from the millions of preset tweets and Facebook statuses pouring out from Samsung users.

If you can handle that, you can grasp the album’s premise from two wildly disparate ideas – the Magna Carta of 1215, which limited a king’s power based on demands from the underclass and the elusory Holy Grail artifacts that Jay uses as a metaphor for reaching fame and success unattainable to most.

Puzzled? Don’t be. These high-minded concepts would mean nothing if the album was not highly listenable. The titular track with heartfelt vocals from Justin Timberlake is a great opening that moves with sonic flashes reminiscent of “Run This Town” and an interpolation of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

“Picasso Baby” imagines Jay as a Basquiat-type street rebel with “My Mirandas don’t stand a chance with the cops” and the surprising, “Come through with the ‘Ye mask on/Spray everything like SAMO.” He alters the pronunciation of SAMO (same-oh), to make it rhyme with Lambo.

On the production front, the familiar Timbaland, Swizz Beats and Pharrell Williams have been re-engaged, joining forces with Boi-1da and The-Dream to carry the bulk of the album. By and large “Heaven” and “Oceans” are the clearest standouts. Heavy bass and plucky synths punctuate another gem, “Crown,” produced by 16-year-old newcomer, Ebony Oshunrinde aka Wondagurl, which brings an electric edge that could match everything from Kanye’s rants to Santigold’s retro-future funk.

For those that insist Jay-Z’s success is outer-worldly, he quips on “Heaven,” “Conspiracy theorists screamin’ Illuminati/they can’t believe this much skill is in a human body. And “Y’all religion creates division like my Maybach partition.”

Like a hymnal in church, Frank Ocean on “Oceans” is the ultimate vocal accompaniment; he should appear on every Jay-Z album from here on out. And of course, Jay would not be complete without queen Bey on “Part II (On the Run),” a kind of 90s-style R&B jam re-imagination of the Bonnie and Clyde theme.

The only fully disposable track is the Rick Ross-guested “F*ckwitmeyouknowigotit,” which sounds like it was created as an iTunes single for people who insist on standard radio rap.

While falling short of masterpiece, MCHG is more vibrant and imaginative than the Hermes of verses on Watch the Throne with Kanye West. Comparatively, when Jay talks about past and present oppression, it is ripe with metaphor and glimpses of historical narrative. When Kanye does it, it sounds like unrighteous indignation from a spoiled brat. By now ‘Ye is praying for a resurrection of interest in Yeezus.

MCHG ultimately succeeds as a manual for the great irony of the life and times of Shawn Carter. His dope boy past is hyperbolic fantasy, while his global takeover is reality. His life experience is travel-worn miles ahead of his fans, but he wants us to sit next to him on the jet and see the world through his eyes.

Top Tracks
“Holy Grail”
“Picasso Baby”
“Oceans”
“Heaven”

Release Date: July 9, 2013

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