New Music Review: Jay-Z's 'Magna Carta... Holy Grail'

by

Jay-Z

Magna Carta

Holy Grail

(Roc-A—Fella/Roc Nation/Universal)

After dropping in-jokes for the art crowd on “Picasso,” Jay calls out some unlikely assailants (his audience), letting us know of our weight on his shoulders, shouting “Don’t forget, America, this is how you made me.” True, we’ve made his name a synonym for excellence, but for an emcee who penned the literal blueprint for 21st Century rap, Hova, in rare form, isn’t giving himself enough credit. With Magna Carta... Holy Grail, Mr. Carter laid down another instant classic, 16 tracks of wit and undeniable hooks, over a seamless mix of chopped and screwed-meets-old school boom-bap production.

From the sickly-sweet opening licks of Justin Timberlake, to Frank Ocean waxing on the legacy of slavery and Jay’s Queen coming back for a follow-up to “03 Bonnie & Clyde,” the cameos bring in enough variety to keep hip-hop heads hooked for such a long release. But don’t be mistaken — the real power on Magna Carta lies with Jay’s nimble, yet commanding delivery and a Dream Team producer crew of Timbaland, The Dream and Pharrell. Hova keeps it funny, playfully copping from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” without losing the racial consciousness of his best work, dropping his “Strange Fruit” on “Oceans” and calling out Miley for her recent act of accidental racism (“Twerk Miley Twerk”).

Putting his 12th album on the shelves on July 4 sheds light on Jay’s intentions. As if it wasn’t already clear, he wants to go down as an American icon. Jordan, Jackson, Carter. Whether the Samsung deal — selling a million copies before a single soundbite was heard via a pre-sale app — will go down as a marketing ploy or a game-changer, Brooklyn's idol steamrolled through the hype. You've made yourself, Jay.

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