Here we are, late in the year of 2013. Who knew Jay Z’s 12th studio release, “Magna Carta: Holy Grail,” would be the most talked about album of the summer? Not only did the record reach number one on the charts, but it also sold a million copies before its release date due to the $20 million deal Hova made with Samsung.
Not bad for someone whose first album came out in 1996 under his own independent label.
Simply put, Sean Corey Carter is a genius. With the popularity of the Internet it’s becoming harder and harder to go platinum (1,000,000 copies sold). Jay, however, didn’t have a problem selling a million copies of “Magna Carta.”
During the NBA Finals Game 6 halftime, a commercial aired showing Jay and producers Rick Rubin, Pharrell Williams, Swizz Beatz and Timbaland all in the studio together. The gist of the commercial was to let everyone know about the “new rules,” and that a new Jay Z album was to be released on Independence Day.
The catch? Samsung Galaxy users would have an app available to them where they could download the album 3 days before its release. Samsung bought a million copies before the new unit released, putting $5 million in Jay’s hand before anyone even heard it, something that has never been done.
The album itself wasn’t a complete disappointment to a die-hard Jay Z fan like myself. At the same time, it wasn’t what I was expecting. Then again, I didn’t really know what to expect.
The album starts off with a Justin Timberlake feature, the title track “Holy Grail.” In the song, Jay raps about how he’s seen so many great people do so many great things but have it stripped all away from them because of fame.
My problem with this song and others, such as “F*ckwithmeyouknowigotit,” is the cadence he uses while rapping. It almost seems nonchalant: “I like it, bright lights is enticing, but look what it did to Tyson.”
It’s the same over-used flow in hip-hop coming from artists like Meek Mill, 2Chainz and Wiz Khalifa. With so many classic flows and records, it seemed unlikely that Jay would have to do that on any song, ever.
The third track, entitled “Tom Ford,” had a similar concept to an older song of his, “30-something.” On that track, Carter rapped about how he’s older and more mature than most rappers, which cause him to do older and more mature things — pretty straightforward stuff.
On “Tom Ford,” he raps, “I don’t pop molly, I rock Tom Ford”
Ford is a famous international designer, and Molly is an infamous party drug. Jay simply doesn’t have time for Molly when he’s wearing thousand-dollar suits. The production on this track is definitely some of the best on the album.
Timbaland produced “Ford,” so it has that electro/heavy bass feel to it with prominent percussion all over it. Still, Jay uses a flow that’s been adopted countless times in mainstream rap, which takes away from the song.
The strongest song on the album is a toss-up between “Somewhereinamerica,” “Crown” and “BBC.” Listeners can’t resist the urge to dance when they hear “BBC” — even those who can’t dance a lick.
The exotic melodies and foreign drums makes people want to grab their favorite drink and hit the beach. Having Pharrell on the hook and a guest feature from Nas sends this one out of orbit.
It’s a big achievement for Jay’s 12th album to sound completely different from the 11 before it. I appreciate that aspect, and also how incredible the marketing scheme was. You have to respect someone who pushes the envelope like that.
Usually Jay Z is known for having radio singles and expensive videos to create a buzz for his upcoming projects, but this time all he needed was a little change from Samsung. The only true problems are the certain flows he uses, as mentioned earlier. It’s lazy and uninspiring to hear that from him.
But it’s Jay. And with a career like that, he has earned a pass to do what he wants as far as rapping goes. The production on this album has to be some of the best of any Jay Z record, and that’s without any contributions from Just Blaze. Impressive.
“MCHG” is more revolutionary for its advertising strategy than the music within, but its still a great summer album.