Hip Hop is all about speaking one’s truth and through artist honesty listeners can connect with the artist and the music. However when an artist truth and honesty becomes unrelatable on different levels mainly because of a social class divide how can listeners connect which seems to be the case with Jay-Z’s latest album Magna Carta Holy Grail, which leaves listeners wondering who is the album really for the industry or the fans.
The album kicks off with Holy Grail, which Jay re-teams with ‘Suit and Tie’ collaborator Justin Timberlake. Grail seems as a worthy album opener in that it sets up the main overarching themes of the album which is the battle between a love/hate relationship with fame. Now with Holy Grail it gives a sound and vibe as a leftover track from Jay’s previous album Watch the Throne. Jay also takes a risk on the track by bringing in a sample of Nirvana’s grunge-rock track “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, giving the song it’s crossover appeal which makes it a worthy first single, especially when you add in JT’s vocals.
As the album moves along we get Picasso Baby, which kind of feels like Jay is channeling Kanye on the track’s opening verse (I just want a Picasso/In my casa, no, my castle/I’m a hassa,/no, I’m a a—hole), in how he delivers the verse and in the lyrics itself.
Tom Ford follows after Picasso Baby, but we’ve already been bombarded with Jay’s rich lifestyle references and what stands out is that it begins to foreshadow the direction of the latter half of the album with the first shout out reference to his family (his wife Beyonce), setting up a directional change in the album at the right moment [H town/Keep it trill]. On the track Jay also manages to show his age, in how he goes after younger rappers like Trinidad James, who rap about Molly, kind of outright saying that Molly rappers really aren’t living the “rich” life, like Jay and his counterparts like Timbaland, and Swizz Beatz.
Though Tom Ford throws in a teaser in reference to Jay paying homage to important woman in his life like his wife Beyonce, it is really tracks like Part II (on the Run) featuring Beyonce, as well as the brief Beach is Better that drive that theme of paying homage to the woman of his dreams home. On the Run is a bit of a 03 Bonnie and Clyde sequel, but gives a more R&B sound than its predecessor. Jay keeps the family tribute going with Jay-Z Blue an ode to his daughter Blue Ivy, but the use of a sample from the film “Mommie Dearest” throws off the song’s message and vibe.
If there are songs on the album that need to be singles that would be Oceans which features Frank Ocean which although it’s clearly a hip hop song, has sound that makes for a summer jam, BBC where Jay takes things to Money Ain’t a Thing with his flow, where he is joined by Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, Nas Pharell, and Beyonce over a Latin tinged beat, and the album closer Nickels and Dimes.