It seems like during the month of June all I was listening to and writing about were Jay-Z’s mentees. First, Kanye’s Yeezus dropped on June 18 to a multitude of controversy, as is always the case with a Kanye project. Then J.Cole released Born Sinner on the same day, which was another K.O. in hip hop. Now, the godfather of rap himself, or “Hova” has christened the month of July with a special independence day gift. It’s no coincidence that Kanye , J.Cole and Jay-Z dropped their music so close together. As if they are not familiar with the Trinity, a religious structure that refers to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the case of hip hop canonization, Jay would be the father, Kanye, the son, and J Cole would be the Holy Spirit. Each operating in different sectors, but all come together for one cause: to save rap from destruction.
Jay has been out to take over the game since 1996 when he released his debut LP Reasonable Doubt and added another layer of hardcore superiority to Brooklyn bred hip hop. During that time, B.I.G. was the king of NYC, and Jay was just trying to ease his way into the powerful clique. But, 17 years and 12 albums later, Jay has become the supreme notion of hip hop at its finest. He’s not just a rapper or a businessman, but he’s a” business man” as his lyrics suggest.
He’s managed to incorporate hip hop swag into every one of his business opportunities. And like his mentee Kanye, he does everything over the top. He announced the release of his new album only four weeks before it was to be released. And what’s even more over the top is he announced that a free copy of the album would be made available to Samsumg Galaxy users via a special phone app on July 4th. Of course to make the anticipation even more crazy, only the first one million users who downloaded the app were allowed to receive the album for free. So, Jay managed to set the internet ablaze all before the album even came out!
But, Jay couldn’t manage to keep the pirates from leaking an early preview of the album. Released today, Magna Carta Holy Grail is the latest album from the Roc Nation CEO and like it’s title, it’s reaching for that epic status that no one can touch. He goes in some of the same issues all celebrities face: the pressures/guilt of attaining fame and fortune and the bragging rights that come with a super rich status. And the ever so popular religious undertones that Jay is known for are present yet again. But, his personal maturity also takes center stage, further revealing that he is a middle aged man, father, and husband.
The album starts off on a somewhat predictable note, with a soulful, melancholy piano driven intro from Jay’s homeboy Justin Timberlake. On “Holy Grail” JT sobs about the negative impact of fame before Jay starts referencing the sad celebrity stories of MC Hammer, Mike Tyson and Kurt Cobain over a hardcore beat.
The one thing you can expect on a Jay-Z album is for him to both condemn and glorify wealth, and if anything, that’s what he does on MCHG. On “Picasso Baby,” Jay compares himself to the great 20th century Spanish artist, and brags about having million dollar paintings.
And on the futuristic, Timbaland produced track “Tom Ford” he continues the billionaire boys club sequence declaring “I don’t pop Molly, I rock Tom Ford,” which further showcases his rich state of mind.
Just as the album begins to get a little too commercial and predictable, like on the gangster based track “FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt” featuring the overrated rapper Rick Ross, he hits us with that classic Jay from back in the day.
“Crown” is a dark, electric monster-fest where Jay claims his kingdom status starting off the track with “You in the presence of a king/Scratch that, you in the presence of a god/Put in the belly of the beast/I escaped, a nigga never had a job.”
The dope, take no prisoner attitude that Jay is known for comes full circle on this track as well as on the controversial tune “Heaven” where he questions religion and his rumored association with the illuminati.
And you know he couldn’t put out another record without talking about his baby girl Blue Ivy. This definitely isn’t his dedication tune “Glory,” but a mommy dearest remix where you get a ton of lyrical concepts about his imperfections as a father and the guilt he feels for wanting to be in the Hamptons rather than changing diapers.
If I could put this album on a scale, I don’t think it would overpower his previous work, especially not The Blueprint saga or The Black Album. Everyone knows Jay can spit fire, that’s obvious. He’s already one of the best rappers alive, but he constantly tries to make it seem like there is a higher level of excellence one can attain in hip hop. He may have tried a little too hard on this record, but someone just needs to let him know that there is no need to continue fighting for the crown. He already has it, so just work on keeping it.
4 out of 5 stars