Jay Z’s – indeed, no hyphen – nowadays more businessman than musician. After 17 years and 50 million albums sold, what could possibly be new and exciting about another album from Mr. Carter? With his latest release, Magna Carta … Holy Grail, it turns out only the business model is something we haven’t heard before.

Less than three weeks of promotion, and still a number one album1 before it even hits the stores sounds like a feat only true greats can pull off. And no doubt that Jay Z is one of them, but on MCHG it becomes clear that even Jay Z can run out of ways to describe the gifts and curses of his pretty good life.
Opening with Holy Grail, a track I assume solely created for their Legends of the Summer-stadiumtour, you hear Jay on auto-pilot: “Caught up in all these lights and cameras / But look what that shit did to Hammer / Goddamnit I like it / Bright lights is enticing / But look what it did to Tyson”. Justin Timberlake did put some effort in his guest appearance and sounds more urgent than on The 20/20 Experience. Most features on MCGH are excellent, by the way. Frank Ocean just can’t do wrong on the worst titled track of the year2 and Beyoncé sounds both in love and lust on ’03 Bonnie & Clyde follow-up Part II (On the Run).

The real problem with Magna Carta lies in the fact that only the One Percent of the One Percent can relate to Jay’s life. I, and you probably too, can’t possibly understand what “going ape at the auctions” really feels like.3 Only on Jay Z Blue do we get to hear some emotions normal human beings have: “Baby need Pampers / Daddy needs at least three weeks in the Hamptons / Please don’t judge me, only hugged the block / I thought my daddy didn’t love me / My baby getting chubby / Cue that Stevie Wonder music, aww isn’t she lovely?”. It’s a rare glimpse of Shawn Carter, not Jay Z, Hov, Hova, Jigga Man or the business, man.

Magna Carta … Holy Grail is exactly the album you’d expect it to be: slick productions, a whole lot of Basquiat-mentions and Jay Z on cruise control. It’s no Blueprint (it might be a music business blueprint, though) or Yeezus, but it’s definitely not bad either. Jay is too much of a professional to make a bad album4 and even on cruise control, he makes it worth the ride.

Magna Carta ... Holy Grail
  1. Even without the Samsung deal, Magna Carta hit number one, his 13th album to land the top spot. That’s more number one albums than Elvis. More than the Rolling Stones. Yep, only The Beatles are ahead of Jay.
  2. Frank Ocean on a song called Oceans. Really??! Listen along and it gets as bad as you’ve feared: “I’m on the ocean, I’m in heaven / Yachtin’, Oceans 11″. Is this really the same guy who made Reasonable Doubt?
  3. On the other hand, I can’t relate to being a drugs dealer either. But there’s something about that hustle and trying to climb the social ladder that feels a lot closer to my life than buying a 49 million dollar Basquiat painting.
  4. Yes, I’m one of three people in the world who don’t think of Kingdom Come as a bad record. It isn’t great, but really bad? Nah.


Leave a Reply