When Jay Z has a misstep, it’s not one easily swept under the rug. His highly commercialized “comeback” album 2006’s Kingdom Come, despite being his highest debut week ever was considered a stinker; one that still lingers at the slight mention of his brilliant catalog. From his stumble he quickly reverted back to making music his fans would easily embrace which in turn gave us 2007’s well- crafted American Gangster. The point here is Jay is in tune with what his fans may want to hear from him, and considers it; which may serve as the difference between himself and Kanye West, who could really give less than a f*ck about what you “want” from him, and will instead give you what he thinks you need.
The brilliant advertising that went into Magna Carta.. Holy Grail was enough to pull in fans that haven’t supported Jay in years, out of curiosity. But the music had to serve as one hell of a middle finger with a “welcome back, you shouldn’t have left in the first place” kind of gesture behind it. The opener “Holy Grail” attempts just that. Bruno Mars Justin Timberlake owns the first minute of the song and builds up momentum for Jay’s entrance, but you can’t help but mistake his crooning for Bruno’s. The stars trade barbs on their love/hate relationship with fame over Timbo’s return to production supremacy. In fact, he handles a huge chunk of the production on this one, and there are hardly any complaints about it. On the fun and flashy “Tom Ford,” Tim gets a bit too experimental on the boards which makes this go from cool to skip worthy after a few listens, and is solely responsible for some of Jay’s most “ehh” lyrics in a while. Hov often distances himself from current events and media so when he name drops Miley Cyrus and her infamous twerking video on the briskly smooth “SomewhereinAmerica,” it’s an eyebrow raising moment. Produced by Hit-Boy, Jay uses the jazzy instrumental to explain that despite his success, he still fights to be accepted. He loosely covers racism still being alive in America despite black culture being emulated by different races (twerk Miley, Miley, twerk).
The disc is riddled with highlights as evident on “Oceans.” Featuring Frank Ocean, Jay candidly raps about celebrating his success and pouring champagne in the water on a yacht. The irony lies in it being the same water that brought us here as slaves. “I’m anti Santa Maria” he quips. “Only Christopher we acknowledge is Wallace. I dont even like Washington’s in my pocket/black card go hard when I’m shopping.” But not all moments shine so bright. While “BBC” looks great on paper featuring Nas, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, Swizz Beatz, Pharrell and Timbaland, it’s one of those celebration tracks that you have to be there to really enjoy. “La Familia” was pegged as a Lil’ Wayne diss but may very well be one of his laziest offerings. “You ain’t really ready though, you Radio/you ain’t really ready” he half heartedly spews. In fact, a song about his “crew” just doesn’t go over well these days, considering he doesn’t have much of a crew left (think back to “The Dynasty”).
What Jay-Z struggles with in 2013 is more than understandable. Facing the difficulty of pleasing his diehard fans from 1996 with his now younger fan base is no easy task. Magna Carta serves as what he tried to accomplish with Kingdom Come and American Gangster, in the sense that he welcomes us to his new luxurious lifestyle, but doesn’t want to stray too far from his past. Both of those albums were the embodiment of that, which in turn makes this offering fall right in between. “Picasso Baby” with it’s gritty sound and subject matter included could’ve been an excellent piece on Kingdom Come, while “Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit” could’ve served as a highlight on American Gangster. What this album DOES offer that the others don’t is a rare glimpse at a vulnerable artist dealing with fatherhood as detailed on “Jay-Z Blue,” and a man more comfortable with discussing his “private” marriage and it’s ride or die traits on “Part II” (On the Run) featuring Beyonce. Jay should use some of that Kanye attitude and for once not give a f*ck what we think but he can’t. Sure he famously quipped “ni**as want my old sh*t, buy my old albums,” but he wouldn’t address it if he didn’t care. MCHG serves as a shiny new piece in Jay’s illustrious hall of art. It just happens to be missing a few key colors to really make it a masterpiece.