There was a reason why Jay-Z teamed with Samsung on multi-million dollar deal release of his 12th studio album. With almost no publicity or single behind hit, fans didn't really know what to expect from this random drop. After being in the rap game for almost twenty years, his style and production has almost become a bit formulaic like a well engineered conglomerate. There is no change in the choices Jay makes for "Magna Carta...Holy Grail" as he brings in the top producers like Pharrell, Kanye West, Timbaland, Mike Will Made It, Jahlil Beats, Mike Dean, Swizz Beatz, and a wide range of of features from Justin Timberlake to the traditional Beyonce cameo. However, the addition of his most powerful friends in the music game and great features is still the musical equivalent of adding a finishing garnish of parsley to a mediocre $7.99 plate at AppleBees.
Have you ever been on a social media site and viewed that one friend that continues to brag about the extravagant life they need to cover up their insecurities? Well on 90% of "Magna Carta...Holy Grail", Jay-Z is that one obnoxious friend. Flossing about the life he has built for himself and the luxuries he amassed, he makes sure to give a shout-out to his rich and powerful friend on the track "Tom Ford" and Basquiat. These braggadocios lines and pop-rap tracks still don't give us the insight into the personal changes or growth in the rap mogul's life.
Although majority of the album is filled with a lack of emotional pull that makes a listener really invest in, there are still some gems that yield some unexpected pleasure and insight. On the Frank Ocean assisted track with the ironic title "Oceans", listeners get a more insightful Jay as he spits some lines about the slave trade. On the last track "Nickels and Dimes", he touches philanthropic efforts over an atmospheric beat. On "Somewhere in America", he takes a socio-political commentary approach to speaking on the struggles on new money African-Americans in today's society. Not really a track worth sympathy when many of his listeners are not on that level but it was worth an effort.
Listeners get a slight piece of Jay's invulnerability on the album's gem "Jay-Z Blue". The ode to his daughter is more of a reflective track about the insecurities of being a good father. Growing up, Jay-Z didn't have that strong father figure in his life to draw inspiration from or set the example. This is the first time we hear Jay be open and honest and dig a little deeper lyrically to show some that the amassing of finances just covers up the truth without sounding like a whining child with daddy issues.
Although the list of features and high profile production make this lengthy 17-track album just feel more congested. The Justin Timberlake-assisted "Holy Grail" comes across clichéd with Timberlake playing the same role as the needy, smooth crooner, Rick Ross on "FuckWithMeYouIGotIt", underwhelming collaboration of Nas on the Pharrell produced "BBC", and the soothing Beyonce to seductively belt out a mesmerizing ballad on "Part II (On the Run)".
On Jay-Z's last effort, "The Blueprint 3", he dropped the famous line "If you want the old, then buy my old albums". For fans who are disappointed at the changes in sound, then maybe they are holding onto a nostalgia that is long overdue to pass. Even with all these features, great production, and sound, "Magna Carta...Holy Grail" still comes across as Jay-Z going through the motions. The hunger and inspiration that made his previous works so great is no longer there. Sure there are some catchy hooks but the lyrics are just sub par. We are not listening to the Jay-Z that spoke about a "Hard Knock Life" or a young emcee that loved "Girls, Girls, Girls", we are listening to a 43 year old mogul that has achieved the American Dream and is running short of ideas.