Does Jay-Z's 'Magna Carta Holy Grail' Live Up To Its Name?
Jay-Z is no stranger to setting high expectations for himself. Especially when it comes to his new album, Magna Carta Holy Grail — not only did the album's title hint at some possibly lofty concept ideas, his widespread Samsung ads and novel release method added to the hype and hysteria. And the fact that he announced Magna Carta shortly after the release of Kanye West's much anticipated Yeezus only heightened the excitement. So, now that we've heard the album and considered the lyrics, what are the critics saying?
On Jay-Z's Self-Confidence:
"The lyricist also juggles names: Over a 16-song album that could have been cut to a dozen, Jay namedrops Julius Caesar, Pablo Picasso, Lucky Luciano, Mark Rothko, Billie Holiday, Jean-Michel Basquiat (and his graffiti alter-ego SAMO), Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson and the Mona Lisa....But to what end? Other than to amaze us with his opulence, good fortune and undeniable skills, the answer is elusive. Despite its name, Magna Carta Holy Grail seems unconcerned with delving too deeply into either the democracy or the faith that the two objects symbolize." —Randall Roberts, LA Times
"Plenty of Magna Carta finds Jay with a chest full of air (see: its title). In 'FUTW,' he spews 'feel like motherf--king Cassius Clay right now/genius.' In 'Nickels and Dimes,' he gets pithier — 'Just for clarity/my presence is charity.' He also raps in 'Tom Ford' about his role as a fashion plate/baller and in 'Part II (On The Run)' about his ability to bag a hottie like his partner in crime, Beyoncé." —Jim Farber, NY Daily News
"In his new songs, Jay-Z boasts his usual boasts; he praises how 'special' his flow is, and he compulsively lists acquisitions, destinations and celebrity pals. We get to hear again about his Basquiats, his Maybach, his Lamborghini and his Hublot watch, and he compares himself yet again to Michael Jackson and Muhammad Ali. He also touts the corporate expansion of his Roc Nation into sports management. He now aspires to becoming a billionaire." —John Pareles, NY Times
"You know it was coming: the inevitable song about fatherhood. There are acoustic guitars. There are strings. There is a Pampers/Hamptons rhyme. There is the line 'Fuck joint custody, I need a joint right now.' There are Jay-Z's own daddy issues. It's all very #introspective and #selfloathing and #midlifecrisis and massively clichéd and boring." —Alex Macpherson, The Guardian
"At 43, Jay-Z has grown-up concerns, particularly parenthood; Blue Ivy Carter was born in January 2012, making Magna Carta ... Holy Grail Jay-Z’s first dad-rap album. Its most conflicted and vulnerable song is 'Jay Z Blue (Daddy Dearest).' Its track samples dialogue from 'Mommie Dearest' over an arrangement suffused with spaghetti-western foreboding; the lyrics worry about how his 'Father never taught me to be a father,' adding, 'I’m trying and I’m lying if I said I wasn’t scared.'" —Jon Pareles, NY Times
"In 'Jay-Z Blue,' the star raps about the pains of fatherhood in contrast to the the icky coos of his earlier salute to his child, 'Glory.' For a shot of unexpected hilarity, he samples lines from 'Mommie Dearest,' expressing his fear of becoming the male Joan Crawford." —Jim Farber, NY Daily News
On The Kanye-Jay-Z Thing:
“Watch the Throne set new, diverging trajectories for both rappers: Mr. West toward a self-righteous, confrontational crudeness and Jay-Z toward reflection, perspective and a little more self-questioning. That album also led them to experiment. This year, they have both gambled that name recognition and pent-up anticipation would get their new albums noticed with or without radio hits." —Jon Pareles, NY Times
"Thematically, the Kanyeisation of Jay-Z continues as the mentor takes on ever more qualities of his protégé. 'I'm an asshole,' he declares in the third line before spending two verses juxtaposing high-art namedropping and poverty references, and a third complaining that he's been ill-treated." —Alex Macpherson, The Guardian
Thus, we see that Hova's big return has returned varied reviews. As SPIN's Philip Sherburne puts it, "the stacks of cash and Warhols Jay uses to wall off the world can get exhausting." But we'll probably still dance to this album all summer anyhow.