Two years ago, Jay-Z and Kanye West joined forces and crowned themselves the kings of rap. After an extensive worldwide Watch The Thronetour, the two went back to their separate careers to work on solo projects. Although they both welcomed a brand new baby in the last year and a half, they couldn’t be in more different places musically. While Kanye has declared himself god and delved into even deeper and darker territory withYeezus, Jay-Z has decided to change the rules with the opulent Magna Carta Holy Grail.
The announcement of a new album came during the NBA Finals with a three-minute commercial. Partnering with Samsung and rewriting the rules of the music industry at the same time, a million copies of Jay-Z’s twelfth album was available a full 72 hours earlier for Samsung. In the days of modern technology, most albums suffer the fate of being leaked before they officially hit shelves. Jay-Z took care of that problem while pocketing a reported $5 million in the process. In response to this groundbreaking partnership, the RIAA changed it’s policy on sales, qualifying MCHG for platinum status upon release. No deal in the rap industry has had this effect on the genre since Run DMC’s landmark sponsorship with Adidas in the late 80’s.
MCHG is a toast to the uber-lavish lifestyle. Jay-Z is privileged enough to enjoy a lifestyle where nothing is too grand, and Blue Ivy leans on a Basquiat painting in the kitchen. Part of the selected few rappers (Diddy,Birdman and Dr. Dre) in the race to make his first billion dollars, Jay-Z boasts of Rothko paintings, twin Bugattis, Riccardo Tisci Givenchy clothes and Hermes towels. No one does braggadocio lyrics like Jay-Z, mainly because while other rappers may elude to marble floors and gold walls, there’s no doubt how Hov is living. Songs like “Tom Ford,” “Picasso Baby,” the Frank Ocean featured “Oceans” and “BBC,” a star-studded track featuring Nas, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, Pharrell, Swizz Beatz and Timbaland, are celebrations of enjoying the finer things in life.
In “FuckWitMeYouKnowIGotIt,” Jay-Z teams up with Rick Ross to trade bars of drugs and luxury, two subjects both rappers know well. The Brooklyn rapper borrows some lingo from the Italians to get his point across:
“Lucky Luciano is what they call me/ Paesano/ A hundred keys at the piano/ Plays across the Verrazano/ El Padrino/ In the villa in Venice sipping vino/ Not bad for a mulignano/ Y’all know how we know, I got it”
While there’s a generous amount of lyrics that boast of an opulent lifestyle, Jay-Z gives us the other side of it all, the side that many too blinded by the bling fail to see. In “Holy Grail,” Jay-Z discusses his complex relationship with fame. With the help of his summer tour partner Justin Timberlake, he keeps things into perspective by rapping about the downside to fame before acknowledging the life he left behind and could’ve lived:
“Camera snapping, my eyes hurt/ Niggas dying back where I was birthed/ Fuck your iris and the IRS/ Get the hell up off your high horse/ You got the shit that niggas die for, dry yours/ Why you mad, take the good with the bad/ Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water/ You still alive, still that nigga/ Nigga you survived/ You still getting bigger, nigga”
Over a beautifully chaotic Hit-Boy produced beat in “Somewhere In America,” (which also features some elegant Kanye-esque keys from Mike Dean) Jay-Z admits even he gets the cold shoulder from rich, white people:
“New money, they lookin down on me / Blue bloods, they tryin clown on me/ You can turn up your nose, high society/ You should come to the housewarming/ Come and see what your new neighbor ‘bout”
Perhaps his most introspective album yet, Jay-Z reveals the kinks in his armor when he talks about his daughter Blue Ivy. Raised without his father around for much of his life, the 43-year-old mogul delves into how her birth has changed him and how afraid he is of failing at fatherhood in “Jay Z Blue.” Over quiet keys and lush strings, Jay-Z shows us his Achilles heel, something even the hardened criminal or gangsta could relate to. His fears were captured on video in an especially rare moment during one of the many Samsung commercials where fans saw Hov choke up and fight back a few tears.
In “Nickels and Dimes,” the Brooklyn rapper turned mogul expresses how he feels for making it out of the projects when so many others haven’t, and addresses those that claim he doesn’t give back enough:
“Something ‘bout the struggle so divine/ This sort of love is hard to define/ When you scratching for every nickel and dime/ Got me itching to do this shit for my mom/ Do this for my town/ Leave the door open hoping they kick it down/ The purest form of giving is anonymous to anonymous/ We gonna make it there, I promise this”
Jay-Z’s Rolodex of producers to collaborate with is impressive and extensive. Although he reached out to several standard go-to guys in the industry (Swizz Beats, Pharrell Williams, The-Dream, Boi-1da, Mike WiLL Made It), it is Timbaland who in entrusted with the majority of production on MCHG. Instead of making a signature Timbaland track that could be recognized in seconds, the Virginia native molds the beats and sounds around Jay-Z’s voice and energy, helping mold a cohesive sound that carries throughout the album.
Almost twenty years ago, Jay-Z emerged on the scene with Reasonable Doubt. In the time since then, he’s remained a constant. Few other artists have been around long enough to have collaborations with both theNotorious B.I.G. and Kendrick Lamar. While others fade, lose touch with their fan base or just fall off, Jay-Z has changed with the times and evolved with the industry. MCHG is an album by the last man standing victorious. He did survive and he is still getting bigger.
You can stream Magna Carta Holy Grail in it’s entirety here.