Magna Carta Holy Grail by Jay-Z
“And We’re All Just Entertainers And We’re Stupid and Contagious”
“Holy Grail” begins the album with this phrase, an interpolation of the chorus of Nirvana’s classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Though Jay-Z borrows the lyrics, the sentiment behind the phrase could not be more different. Kurt Cobain, when penning the original phrase, “Here we are now entertainers, I feel stupid and contagious”, meant it as a bit of angst paranoia, afraid of spreading his cynical mindset. Jay-Z re-purposes the phrase as a way of laughing at his critics. Whether or not you agree with his message, you can’t deny that people are listening. When Cobain wrote the original phrase, he was at the beginning of the growth of his success and fame. Jay-Z is at, arguably, the “falling action” phase in the plot of his life. Unfortunately, the lyrics of Magna Carta Holy Grail cover the same ground Jay-Z has covered for the last 3 or 4 albums, and Jay-Z simply doesn’t sound anywhere near as energetic as he was on the bombastic Watch The Throne.
That being said, Jay-Z rolls out the red carpet for Magna Carta. Vocal guests include Frank Ocean, Rick Ross, Beyonce, and of course, Suit and Tie-mate Justin Timberlake. The star-studded producer list stars a comeback Timbaland, the extremely on fire Pharrell, up-and-coming Travis Scott/WondaGurl, as well as the requisite Swizz Beatz, Hit-Boy, The-Dream, and Mike Will Made It. These collaborators all bring a consistent intensity and quality to the album-you can tell they’re giving Jay-Z the best they have. The quality of the guests only serves to make Jay’s contribution more disappointing. For instance, Hit-Boy continues to show how versatile of a producer he is with the beat for “SomewhereinAmerica”. The beat starts with off-kilter horns and boom-bap drums before adding a twinkling piano loop, and is one of the best beats on the album. Jay-Z unfortunately chooses to spend the majority of the track with throw-away lines such as a repeating joke about Miley Cyrus twerking.
That isn’t to say there is a complete absence of quality songs. “BBC” successfully rides a similar vibe as the break-out hit Robin Thicke song “Blurred Lines”, both produced by Pharrell. “Tom Ford” has Jay-Z riding a “N—– in Paris” style beat, though Jay-Z is missing the contrast Kanye brings. “Picasso”, the albums highlight, shows Jay-Z at his hungriest on the album, and is anchored by a solid Timbaland beat. Jay-Z offers a word of warning for those in the limelight on “Holy Grail”, when he raps “Bright lights is enticing, But look what it did to Tyson”. Jay-Z seems determined not to join the large group of celebrities who blow all their money shortly after making it. As a rap artist, this sets him apart. No other rapper has diversified their investments and business ventures as much as Jay-Z has, proving that he is a “business, man”. Perhaps the biggest problem of Magna Carta is that it’s all an outward appearance. There’s so little introspection into the heart and soul of the man on top of the world. Jay-Z mentions a lot of famous artists on Magna Carta, but unlike Picasso and Da Vinci’s finest works, the album fails to leave a lasting impression.