Album Review: Jay-Z - Magna Carta Holy Grail (Track by Track)

There is no question that Jay-Z is Hip Hop. He’s the most consistent rapper Hip Hop has ever seen. Lets not overlook the fact that EVERY ALBUM this man has made has gone straight to number one and remained there. That’s unheard of. Let that marinate…It’s been four years since his last solo album (Blue Print 3), two years since his last release (Watch the Throne), and now Hov is back again with Magna Carta, Holy Grail. Where would a rap album be without the stereotypical topics: cars, money, clothes, and hoes, and let’s not forget the cliched “I’m better than all these other rappers”? Very original. Fortunately, this time around Hov touches on cultural issues in America, religion, and family. MCHG is definitely a roller coaster of great, good, bad, and terrible, and in the wake of Yeezus and Born Sinner, perhaps he should’ve given a wee bit more effort. Check out this trackbytrack review of Jay-Z’s latest work of art.

1. "Holy Grail" featuring Justin Timberlake
The title track opens with Justin Timberlake crooning in true Justinesque fashion. What sounds, on the surface, like a discussion on infidelity, is actually Hov discussing his annoyance with the price of fame.“Fuck the fame, keep cheating on me/ What I do, I took her back, fool me twice/That's my bad/I can't even blame her for that." Deja vu ensues when he, yet again, mentions MC Hammer's finances. Maybe we'll get another Hov inspired diss track from Mr. Hammer. Who knows?

2. Picasso Baby
This track gives me “Old School Jay-Z tease”, even down to the recycled comparisons between himself and greats such as Basquiat and Andy Warhol (whose painting just so happens to grace the cover of Jay’s book). Obviously he hasn’t studied art history over the years. He goes on to passionately slander Fox News and CNN. "Never stuck my cock in the Fox's box/but damned if I didn't open Pandora's box/ They try to slander your man/ On CNN and Fox/ My Miranda don't stand a chance with cops/ Even my old fans like old man just stop”. I was pleasantly surprised to see the old Hov peek through, even if it was briefly.
3. Tom Ford
No question this is one of my favorite songs on the album. The beat itself is sick. Sounds like a mash up of gunshots, Gameboy sounds, and a glass bottle shattering. In the wake of this hail storm of sounds, an uncredited King Beyonce is seemingly whispering sweet nothings to a slumbering Blue. Jay spits lyrics with obvious disdain stating "Guns on ya Tumblrs... Fk hashtags and retweets, ngga/ 140 characters in these streets, ngga." Classic Blue Print lyrics if you ask me. But the question of the hour is: Who is his social media correspondent?
4. "FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt" (Featuring Rick Ross)
I love how this track opens with a cameo from the late great Pimp C discussing the necessity for so much bling. Can’t really say that I’m here for Rick Ross. Like ever. Even if it is on a Jay-Z track. But the track still rides. Pimp C’s intro probably would have been more suited for Kanye’s Late Registration but I digress. Hov managed to channel his inner, certainly not outer, Ross in saying "Hov just landed in Rome ngga/ All hail, Caesar's home, nggas." But that’s about all she wrote.

5. Oceans. (feat. Frank Ocean)
This track is laced with clever lyrics and double entendres. Jay explains the concept of this song to Rick Rubin. “It sounds like a celebration of where we are now on some big yacht, throwing champagne in the water. But the undertow of the thing is that this is the same water that brought us here originally as slaves, so it has this whole duality and even how we rewrite history, the stories we were told about the history of America.” He goes on to reference the late great Notorious BIG citing “The only Christopher we acknowledge is Wallace” The concept is beyond dope, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the beat is AMAZING.
6. FUTW (Fk Up The World)
This beat is sick. Jazzy has outdone himself. And I love the underlying message: “Don’t be good my ngga, be great” with bars like: “I just want my shot to show my genius/Standing on the top holding my penis/America tried to emasculate the greats/Murdered Malcolm gave Cassius the shakes” and "We have yet to see a ceiling, we just top what we top / Cause the bars don't struggle and the struggle don't stop". Deep. I wanted to hold my fist in the air in silent agreeance.


7. SomewhereInAmerica
I get where Jay was going with this: Racism is still alive and well in America but “SomewhereInAmerica” people of all races are embracing AA culture and pretending to be Black via tanning and, of course, twerking. However, with lyrics such as “Twerk Miley, Miley twerk” the message gets lost in the buffoonery that is rampant in our society. Hov took to Twitter explaining “Miley represents an old world’s worst nightmare.” For racists a blending of cultures to the point where young people no longer see color IS their worst nightmare. Miley tweeted that she “won” and "Exactly right. I am an old worlds worst nightmare. #outwiththeold #inwiththenewnew". Welp. Maybe she won after all.

8. Crown
For starters I have to give mad props for this song being produced by a 16 year old girl from Canada. That being said...the arrogance of Hov to refer to himself as God, more than once, is baffling. Is this a lost track from the archives of Yeezus? He did tweet “Jesus loves you, and so does Yeezus and Hov” so why am I expecting anything more? Not to mention the petty slandering of Scott Boras. I doubt Hov is “bout dat life”. I’m just gonna leave that there.
9. Heaven 

As straitlaced as this album is it does take a few turns at rebellious, this track being a prime example. Religion is always a touchy subject and Hov suggests that you “question religion, question it all”. He also introduces a bit of R.E.M’s “Losing My Religion”. He hits the ball out of the park with this one...or maybe I’m just an advocate for a touch of rebellion.  
10. Versus
Hov basically uses this interlude to dismiss the idea that any rappers are on his level “Hey sucka ngga, wherever you are.” YouTube and Twitter. And very soon MySpace. Just an FYI.

11. Part II (On The Run)
I’m gonna go out on a limb and take a wild guess that “On The Run” is Part II to “03 Bonnie and Clyde”. They both share a resounding theme of “it’s us against the world”. The only difference is this time they’re married and not speculatively dating. The song highlights the criminallike celebration of their bond. In the third verse, Jay spits “I’m an outlaw, got an outlaw chick/ Bumping 2 Pac on my outlaw shit/ Matching tats, this ink don’t come off” making reference to the tattoo on their ring finger IV: the roman numeral 4. Shoot. I’d run away to this.
12. Beach is better
I’m beyond offended that he packaged this greatness into 56 seconds. He definitely could’ve shaved time off another track, preferably Rick Ross’s cameo. By far, one of the best songs on the album. And the Mike Will Made It beat is PERFECTION. You definitely have to let this track repeat a few times so as not to feel robbed.
13. BBC feat, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake Nas and Swiss Beats
The return of Bey and Justin, surprise surprise. If something isn’t broken why fix it? I guess. This track is produced by two legends: Timbaland and Pharrell. Definitely a plus. The song’s acronym BBC stands for Billionaire Boyz Club, an ode to Pharrell’s clothing line. I liken this song to a group of talented, wealthy Blacks, bragging about how wealthy they are. This song definitely has no hidden message its just fire. And has the potential to be remixed to the GAWDS!


14. Jay-Z Blue
This is not the first song written about Blue and I highly doubt it’ll be the last. I’ll give him an A for effort but the close rhyme in this song makes me cringe. This song is, for lack of a better word, interesting. It samples a clip from the popular 1980’s movie Mommy Dearest. Which is...haunting. This track is out of place in the lineup for sure. Why does this follow up the gaiety that is BBC? In this song, Jay goes on to speak upon his nonexistent relationship with his own father and whether the “bad blood” he inherited from him would eventually destroy the relationship he has with his family. “I don’t wanna duplicate it/ I seen my mom and pop drive each other motherfkin crazy/ and I got that ngga blood in me/ I got his ego and his temper/ all I'm missing is the drugs in me.” Its more than a little somber. Hope Blue doesn’t blame herself, after all, the track is named for her.
15. La Famila
In direct contradiction to his previous track he exudes cockiness because he actually takes care of his family. So I guess his father didn’t rub off on him. Ok. Cool. Now what? Ehh, I could’ve taken this as an interlude with Beach is Better being a full track. Actually, I can do without this track altogether.


16. Nickels and Dimes
I am most certainly over the references to Blue. She’s like 10 now. We get it. You’re a dad. Next topic please. The hook is melancholy at best, or at worst I should say, and makes me feel like someone is casting a spell on me. Or there are subliminal messages hidden in the track (Not a reference to the Illuminati but...nevermind). I’m not here for it. The first line gave me hope "Got a thing for nickel plated nines and pretty dimes/ Mac11 I squeeze like lemon limes." but it was downhill from there.


All in all, the album was great. I’m disappointed that the ending was mediocre at best but hey, no one is perfect. I might have had unrealistic expectations because its Hov. He even said himself this was perhaps his fourth favorite album, and with good reason. Is it classic Jay-Z? Absolutely not. Is it an utter failure? Absolutely not. It's definitely worth purchasing. And if you hate a few tracks, skip over them, you’ll still have a solid 1213 to lean on.


- Natasha Marie


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