REVIEW: Track 2 Track Review of Jay-Z's "Magna Carta Holy Grail" Album

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Holy Grail (Ft, Justin Timberlake)- I have to point out that it is pretty odd to hear Justin Timberlake open a Jay-Z record and my confusion as to why Jay doesn’t feel the same continues for 1 minute 20 seconds! Don’t get me wrong I can appreciate Justin’s achievements and star power- but it’s weird! Saying that- the melody is amazing and if like me you’ve been anticipating the release for a couple weeks- catching up on the various teaser videos released the song will be instantly familiar. Justin’s vocal seems a little shaky and I would have loved to hear a more soulful singer take the helm- Cody Chesnutt would have been perfect! Nonetheless it’s a really nice opener. Love the harmonies in the outro to the song. Strangely enough I think I may have preferred this as a full Justin track. 8/10

Picasso- Instantly I’m in love. I Love the Beat-it’s largely sampled from Adrian Younges “Sirens” but Timbaland’s accents really do help to give this a kick. With the first of the inevitable Beyonce references Jay surprises- “Wife who fucks me like a prostitute”- Really Beyoncé? “Sleepin’ every night next to Mona Lisa- the modern day version with better features”- he ain’t lying is he, she’s definitely held as a standard for modern beauty by many. Later, the track changes up to include some Rock influenced guitar reminiscent of  “99 Problems”- hard to believe Rick Rubin wasn’t involved on this, or any other track on the album (despite the misleading visuals in the run up to release). There are some real references and comparisons to Basquiat and Picasso on this. Strangely enough I see a more immediate comparison with Rappers and 19th century artists who emerged in the Realism period. But perhaps Jay sees the spreading of his brand of “High Art” to the masses/street as his own Basquiat style movement.  10/10

Tom Ford- Name checking the former Gucci boss is definitely a first world situation! Jay feels young on the almost trap inspired beat. I may be going mad but do I detect an MIA flow? This is the first of many points on the album that I really couldn’t tell the difference between a MCHG song and a Watch The Throne track. It’s hard to deny the large influence, sonically that the Kanye collab has had on Mr Carter. As ever Jay throws in of the moment references “Don’t pop mollys I rock Tom Ford”- in an almost anti drugs stance that manages to sound oh so fly, if only parents across the world could demand the same cool whilst spreading the no to drugs message! It’s also worth pointing out that this is exactly how to repeat a line/phrase without . 7/10

FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt (Ft, Rick Ross)-  Song starts with a Pimp C sample. The Ross verse is a little odd against the driving beat which subsequently means Jay runs the show. If only Ricky had approached the first verse in the same way he does his half a verse later in the song. A promising collaboration that falls a little flat. 6/10

Oceans (Ft, Frank Ocean)- At this point the Frank feature was half expected. A beautifully crafted hook linking the Slave Trade and sipping champagne to the Ocean. Many note worthy lines run throughout and it nice to hear the two reunited. It does make me wish Frank had some harder beats on his own album. Harmonies in the chorus are shrill but work so well. Nice to hear a different topic from Jay-Z. Currently Jay-Z’s favourite track according to his recent tweetathon. 9/10

FUTW- Again a song that wouldn’t be out of place on the Watch The throne album. Something about the beat is pretty menacing, great to hear Jay-Z on something dark. Bit of a different beat from Timbaland. Solid Jay-Z record. 7/10

Somewhere In America- Strange juxtapositioning of the sample, horns and raw piano- not dissimilar to the choices made on the soundtrack to “The Great Gatsby”- which Jay executive produced. At  2.28 it’s the shortest full song we get on the album but strangely feels just right. Topical reference to Miley Cyrus “Twerking” highlights exactly how influential Hip Hop culture has been and as arguably the most influential Hip Hop figure alive you could say he made Miley do it! 6/10

Crown- One of the most interesting facts about this track is that it was produced by 16 year old producer Wondagurl.  A Toronto native and local competition winner who has just hit the big time (check out the video below). A nice Sizzla sample the track also includes some processed vocals reminiscent of Justin Vernon (Bon Iver)- Kanye’s regular collaborator.  I’m waiting for Kanye to pop up here and almost think he does when I hear the unnamed voice on the hook. It’s not just the production that has an air of Mr West, lyrically Jay makes a few Yeezy type references too,  “Scratch that you in the presence of a God” (not that the whole Hov name wasn’t enough). A nice little reference to his most recent business venture too- “Ball So Hard on ESPN” referring to Roc Nations new agent venture. 7/10

Heaven- This track reminds me of the American Gangster album, which I never really got in to. A nice sample and a few noteworthy bars- “Conspiracy theorists screaming illuminati/they can’t believe this much skill is in the human body”, but it feels a little slow. Nice REM reference to “Losing My Religion” but I don’t like the way the middle 8 switches up. Goes on a little long- 6/10

Versus- The first “interlude” on the album. Dancehall type drum patterns with 90’s sounds. Would have preferred there was more of a lyrical punch for such a short track.

Part II (On The Run) (Ft, Beyoncé)- Bonnie and Clyde return for a Summer sounding vibe. Some really nice production from Timbaland and J Roc. Beyonce dominates time wise and this wouldn’t be out of place on her most recent effort- “4”. There’s a definite 80’s influence throughout which finds Jay switching up his flow. Dare I say it- but there’s a Jeezy kinda flow- southern sounding. Penned by James Fauntleroy you can definitely hear his melodic choices at play. Very nice! 8/10

Beach Is Better- Another “interlude”- Trap sounding beat which finds a more aggressive sounding Carter! Kinda wish it went on longer.

BBC (Ft, Pharrell Williams, Beyoncé, Nas, Justin Timberlake, Timbaland and Swizz Beats)- From the sounds at the beginning you know it’s one of Pharrell’s Champagne music tracks. I wouldn’t be surprised if they all got drunk and just turned on the microphone (in a good way- kinda), definitely a soundtrack to a Billionaires Boys Club. Something about the track doesn’t sit right for me sonically though, its bust and the instrumentation sounds so happy but the minor chords throw me back. Nice to hear Nas and Jay on a track, although I wish he was on “Somewhere In America”. Food for thought-  Imagine a Nas/Jay album?! However much it’s nice to feel like you’re getting an insight into the world of the super cool/rich participants on the track its hard to deny that there isn’t much real substance in terms of a hook or real standout verse. 7/10

Jay-Z Blue- Aside from the fact his daughter is called Blue we should take a little Jay-Z history lesson on his love affair with the colour. Over 10 years ago through his relationship with Marketing guru Steve Stoute, Jay-Z approached industrial designer Adrian Van Anz to create a shade of Blue that he could trademark (yes you read right). The shade known as “Jay-Z Blue” was a silvery medium-blue color with a dash of platinum dust (obviously). They had tried to attach the “colour” to various projects with no real success but clearly the colour had stuck. In the track, Jay discusses his fears about being a father “Father didn’t teach me how to be a father/Treat her mother”. Some of the most sensitive lines we have ever heard from the rapper- which demonstrate that you don’t have to sag your pants and carry a gun to find something to talk about as an older rapper. “Taught her how to take her first steps/Cut her chord watched her take her first breath”- the most personally charged song on the album and all the better for it. 8/10

La Familia- This is the one track I could do without this one. The vocal sounds oddly recorded and that doesn’t fail to hide the fact that he isn’t really talking about much. Could have been nice shortened as an intro- but this goes on too long. 5/10

Nickles And Dimes- Can only be described as an outro on the album. It has a nice beat and again his flow is second to none, but I can’t help feel this is going over old ground. I do like the “Cut Myself today to see if I still bleed” line though and even with those criticisms it’s still miles better than half the trash you hear on the radio. If only it had a big chorus. 7/10