Jay-Z Insists He Knows What Twerking Is (But Magna Carta's Good Anyway)
At 43 years old, it seems safe to say that Jay-Z is on top of the world. Within the past year, he's become the face of an NBA basketball franchise, had a beautiful child with his tremendously famous wife, and had a mega-collaboration with Justin Timberlake. Hell, he even picked up the new title of sports agent, as he now manages some of the biggest names in all of sports. With all his recent successes, many were expecting a new Jay-Z album on the horizon, but not many were expecting how he would deliver it.
One $5 million deal with Samsung later, Hova had whipped the hip-hop world into a frenzy, forced all eyes onto the steady stream of lyrics and videos he leaked out, and gotten a platinum record. But with all eyes on Jigga man, was he able to deliver the album we've been waiting for?
Easily the strongest component of this album is the production. Newly signed Rocnation member and longtime collaborator Timbaland handles the majority of the work with some assistance from Pharell Williams, Swizz Beats, Mike Will Made It, and Hit-Boy, among others.
Magna Carta Holy Grail offers some of the best production on a Jay-Z album since The Black Album -- a huge statement considering that Jay-Z is generally pretty good at selecting production. While recent production efforts from Timbaland have tended toward over-produced pop anthems, it seems that the now 41-year-old producer has returned to what made him famous in the first place: knocking hip-hop drums, spaced-out snares, and heavy synths.
Tracks like "Picasso, Baby" showcase a grimy, street side of Timbaland that has never been realized until now. The production of "Heaven" doesn't even sound like something Timbaland would produce -- clearly he still has a few tricks up his sleeve. Timbaland does resort back to his signature sound on the song "Tom Ford," reminiscent of "Jigga What, Jigga Who" by way of its double-time rhythms and syncopated drums patterns.
When others take the production helm, results vary. "BBC", produced mainly by Pharell Williams, has an uninspired circa-2002 Neptunes sound. But on "Oceans" Pharell changes his sound completely, offering dark, eerie synths over pounding 808s, perfectly complimenting Frank Oceans cryptic, yet poignant lyrics.
The Bo1-da produced track, "Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit", features the young producer's signature sound of hard kicks and rapid fire high hats. The song is decent overall, but a verse from Drake, instead of a lazy attempt from Rick Ross, would have better complimented the track. The Dream takes the helm on the powerful, piano laced intro track "Holy Grail," which is one of the better produced songs on the project.
Jay-Z is hit or miss when it comes to his own lyrical approach on this album. Oftentimes, he paints himself as a target of the government or high society, a black sheep of sorts. While this could be accurate, it's hard to believe him when on the very same song he'll go back to gloating about how awesome his life is.
Over Hit-Boy's fantastic production on "Somewhere in America," Jay-z claims that they look down on him because he has new money. It's ironic that he is also still concerned with the "feds lurking"; in this post- NSA surveillance scandal environment, Jay-Z's venture with Samsung is even more scrutinized as a data-mining project. It would be hard to call Jay-Z a hypocrite; he is, after all, a prime example of a man who came from nothing exceeding in this capitalistic society. He's come a long way and has earned everything that he has. But it's hard to swallow some of his rants against the powers that be when he's arguably become the poster child for their practices.