“A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not the desire to beat others.” These were words spoken by 20th century novelist, Ayn Rand; and undoubtedly the mindset in which Jay Z, approached the making of his latest album — Magna Carta… Holy Grail.
This edition of Sound Session was approached with fanatical caution. While many publications and social media outlets battled to be the first to publish their reviews, SCO felt it was critical to hold off any immediate judgement. Capturing the unabridged essence of the album was the sole objective of this editorial, as premature praise (or criticism) can diminish even the highest quality of work.
Unknowingly reiterating our stance — in a recent interview with New York City’s Power 105 The Breakfast Club — Jay Z, himself, touched on the topic of music reviews in this social media era of immediacy. “You can’t listen to an album and rate it in a day. It’s just impossible,” he stated. The mogul suggested that perhaps music lovers consume music a bit slower; oratorically declaring that, “I’m living with this album. This is gone be the soundtrack to my life for these next couple months.”
From the outside looking in, this was a project that seemingly dropped out of thin air. Although in the time since the album was announced, there have been many revelations; spanning from the album’s origin, copyright dealings, studio sessions and a rekindled relationship of a mild clash of personalities (not many knew about).
The production of Magna Carta… Holy Grail is flawless. Une chose de beauté. Production heavyweights Timbaland, Swizz Beatz and Pharrell Williams — among others — all came together for this project. Every track entrances you in a manner different than the one before it.
Here a few of our favorites…
The album’s lead off single, Holy Grail, features Justin Timberlake, and vigorously ignites the entire project. In an interview with BBC Radio 1’s Zane Lowe, Jay Z heralded the track as the centerpiece of MCHG — and praised Timberlake’s rendering. JT delivers his rawest studio performance, nearly making Holy Grail his own.
On Picasso Baby, Jay Z proclaims himself ‘the new Jean-Michel’. Lightheartedly taunting the have-not’s. For just over four minutes, the rapper paints the picture of his lavish lifestyle. In reference to his wife, Beyoncé, he reminds us that his days conclude by sleeping next to the modern day version of Mona Lisa. And of the “yellow Basquiat in the kitchen corner,” he instructs a young Blue Ivy to lean on it — she owns it.
Implementing the ultimate name drop, Jay Z titles a track after, arguably, the coolest man on the planet — Tom Ford. In response, Ford recently told Women’s Wear Daily that he was flattered, and “it’s a kind of validation of [his] work.” Inevitably a chart-topping single, Tom Ford lauds European culture, while simultaneously shunning American conformity in a mode that only Jay Z can execute.
For F*ckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt, Jay Z’s joined by hip-hop boss Rick Ross, as something masterful transpires whenever the two collaborate. An intro from the late Pimp-C sets the tone for this Boi-1da produced track.
And as if the greatness of “No Church In The Wild” wasn’t enough, Grammy Award-winning feature Frank Ocean returns to lend his vocals on Oceans. Here is a thought-provoking track in which the two artists coerce the mind to journey the shores of the West African coast. And to hell with Columbus Day, as rap’s sovereign declares that the “only Christopher we acknowledge is Wallace.”
This could rightfully be Jay Z’s final solo album, and he brings his highest caliber of craftsmanship to it. Lines like “Somewhereinamerica, Miley Cyrus is still twerkin’,” and “I brought sand to the beach cause my Beach Is Better” have completely hypnotized pop culture. The project, as a whole, has transcended far past traditional hip-hop boundaries — being deemed ‘pretty sick’ by Republican Congressman Trey Radel.
Magna Carta… Holy Grail is ruggedly exquisite. Although one raises the question of whether MCHG will receive appropriate recognition when set side by side with classic albums such as Reasonable Doubt, and The Blueprint.
Jay Z is currently on a joint Legends of the Summer tour with Justin Timberlake.