Magna Carta Holy Grail – The STiXXclusive Review

RT @PimpNamedGator @S_C_ how would you define success? [Your way, your terms #newrules]

— Mr. Carter (@S_C_) July 8, 2013

12 albums – all platinum, but this one in particular is essentially what is a new document in the music industry, which has become a digital industry as of more than a decade ago (it seems longer), and it’s pretty ironic that the first half of this title is Magna Carta since that was the document that implemented new rules to determine how future civilizations would be ran. A lot of people wouldn’t have got the significance of that unless you looked it up in an Enclyo(Wiki)pedia. After Watch The Throne, the world was exposed to a newer form of Jay-Z because people essentially thought that he’d run out of things to rap about; personally, I think that’s stupid because life inspires rap, so as long as you’re living, isn’t there something to talk about? Jay-Z (also known as the God MC Jay-Hova) has more political ties, business endeavours and innovative ways in helping push a culture in which he has played a major part in building, and that is Hip Hop. Because of Jay-Z, there are a lot of opportunities for rappers that can open up because he decided that it was time to break out of the old habits and introduce ‘new rules.’ As you may or may not know, this album went Platinum by RIAA certifications, because they implemented a new rule that incorporates digital sales. Samsung bought a million copies of the album to distribute to Galaxy S3, S4, and Note customers (I being one of them) 5 days in advance through a mobile app before the retail copy came to be. The innovation of it all is genius in itself because you get to experience content directly on your phone without having to navigate to YouTube for exclusive videos or whatever blog uploads the lyrics to their site (that’s for the iPhone & Blackberry users acting salty because they didn’t have the app). Jay-Z changed the game not because of the app (because many artists have apps), but on just how he used it with the exclusive content and having the album able to be downloaded directly to the phone; he also changed the game by getting RIAA to implement the rules to accommodate digital sales, which Jay said in a Hot 97 interview was “bound to happen anyways; it was just a matter of time,” and he’s not lying, because it’s probably one of the smartest ways to get sales in a digitally driven era. Stepping away from the business side of the music, a lot of people really didn’t know what to expect from this album, because it would be the first solo album since Blueprint 3, and that still leaves a sour taste in a lot of people’s mouths. How would he come back from that? He’s had time to prepare, and Hip Hop has changed since, but since Jay is such an innovator, would we really be surprised? Yeah, maybe.

Part of the experience of the Magna Carta app that I enjoyed was the exclusive content that was available, and that you had anticipation everyday as to what new content would come next – would it be a new video? Would it be new lyrics? Who knows? For Holy Grail (which was the initial beat that we heard in the first commercial) he provided a preview in a way that was evident of his Best-Seller Decoded the way that the lyrics and videos merged together the explanation of a particular song (take that Rap Genius). On the actual song itself, Justin Timberlake was first feature on the first song on the album (Jay helped out on Suit & Tie, so why not exchange the favour).

The trappings of fame, that’s pretty much what Holy Grail is about. We’re trying to achieve something that they can’t grasp. It’s dealing with all of these tragedies that’s all grown up. ‘Look what it did to Hammer; the bright lights is enticing, but look what it did to Tyson.’ All of these moments that I saw and I was like whoa – how could that be? One moment it was at the top of the world and now it’s all gone. It’s like it gets to the point where you could chase something so much and end up with nothing. Had you asked me that question before: yeah you could help everyone around you and your situation, would you do it? If you had asked me when I was in Marcy projects, would I deal with a couple of people taking pictures, I’d be like – that sounds like a great deal.”

The only relative information that I know about the Holy Grail comes from The DaVinci Code, and it’s the fundamental basis of the book – a wild goose chase for something so rare and historical that sometimes you end up with nothing to begin with, or something that was completely different from what you were after. It’s funny because Justin (in his 2nd coming on the track) says a line that references to a ‘code’, so I’m guessing we’re on the same page here.

“And baby it’s amazing I’m in this maze with you I just can’t crack your code”

The epitome of success and glory is what all want, but at what cost and how far will they go for it? He uses the examples of MC Hammer & Mike Tyson because we all know that MC Hammer had millions of dollars and blew it, and Mike Tyson’s life has pretty much went down the drain for a number of years (a lot of people saw it coming, but it was shocking to see). Jay has a daughter now (which we all know), so he has something to protect – not saying that his marriage with Beyonce isn’t anything to protect either, I’m just saying. You get a sense of a more forward thought process with Jay on the initial track because we know he’s rich and successful, but of what comes with that in his particular position – that has always been the mystery. The star studded production team of The-Dream, Timbaland, Pharrell (and others to come) started off with a bang, and based on the beast from the commercial, there were a lot more to come from here.

Picasso Baby was the first beat that I heard in the first MCHG commercial that I said “wtf is this” because that was exactly how I felt. I had to literally watch the commercial over and over for that one beat that made me screw up my face and nod like I had no sense – it was that serious, you did it too so you can’t even judge me. Remember when Kanye West had his G.O.O.D Fridays? He put out a song called Christian Dior Denim Flow and on his verse he did nothing but name drop over 20 models that he’d wish to have relations with (I’m trying to keep it a little PG – for the kids). Jay-Z basically did that on this track, but he name dropped classic artists that he’d like to one day own – including a Picasso (which he tweeted the other day that he didn’t have one…yet). It’s luxury rap but with a raw beat to come with it, but he explained it best himself through another video

It’s pretty much about acquiring these things, like all these dreams and all these aspirations that you have coming up. Like: ‘I just want a Picasso, no I want a castle.’ You don’t want a job? You don’t want happiness? At some point you’re gonna have to shut that off, or you’re gonna go off a cliff. The song starts ‘I just want a Picasso’ and it ends with ‘yellow Basquiat in my kitchen corner, g’head lean on it Blue, you own it.” It comes to this arc and gets to a place where it’s really important”

It isn’t the first time that we’ve heard mentions of luxurious artwork from Hov, and you can sort of thank Kanye for this, because (in my own views) that’s where this new appreciation and praise of art came from

Basquiats, Warhols serving as my muses
My house is like a museum so I see em when I’m peeing
Usually you have this much taste you’re European
That’s the end of that way thinking, nigga never again

I’d actually love a Picasso (to go with my Jackson Pollock, Van Gogh and Modigliani) to own, because art is something worth having to be appreciated, discussed, and it adds character to a space, much like how music adds character to an environment, and has been for hundreds of years. The last half of the song gets into a vintage Jay-Z when he addresses the whole Foxy Brown rumours that he had sex with her and was infected with an STD. Also he addressed the heat that he’d been catching since releasing Open Letter and the whole ‘Obama/Impeach’ line. White America didn’t know what to do with themselves, but for the Jay-Z fans that wanted that ‘old Hov back’, there was a flash of it, but I know for a fact that it wouldn’t hold their satisfactions on high because ‘it’s not the same,’ like he didn’t already state that on ‘On To The Next One’

“Hov’ on that new shit, niggas like “How come?”
Niggas want my old shit, buy my old albums
Niggas stuck on stupid, I gotta keep it movin’
Niggas make the same shit, me I make The Blueprint”

I’m probably not going to be the first to admit this, but I had absolutely no idea that Tom Ford was a designer label until I heard this song. Call me uncultured or no fashion forward, but I simply just don’t pay attention. This song has bounce (beat is crazy), but as far as lyrics are concerned, this was a whole lot of nothing that will catch on easily off the hook. The problem is now you’re going to get this wave of people who knew about Tom Ford years ago that will be eye rolling the hell out of people who will be new buyers (Tommy Hilfiger, Gucci, Prada, and newly Versace know about this all too well). Oh well, trends start somewhere, s just deal with it and move on. Funny story about this is just the other day, my mom (doesn’t listen to Hip Hop really) heard this beat on a commercial promoting the album and she said “I want this song.” Marketing at its finest, right?

F*ckwithmeyouknowigotit is a weird title, but there’s CanCon (Canadian Content) production on this track that will justify it (shout out to Boi-1da). Rick Ross’s features have usually been strong on marquee albums (MBDTF, Life is Good, and Take Care for examples), but on this one, I couldn’t have cared less for him to be on it. Unnecessary filler is how I looked at it beyond the hook, but then again it was a track that had a wicked beat but no substance (I hoped that there wasn’t going to be a lot of this, or it could get ugly quick). When you have enough luxury to back up all claims to what you boast about, the people really have no choice but to go with you than against. Rick Ross & Jay-Z are some rich ass men, and they’ll make it well known just how rich they are, and they did exactly that on this track. It gives the people something to ride to in their 2002 Honda Civics with the confidence that they’re driving a Ferrari – flourish on all levels.

Now enter in Oceans with Frank Ocean as a feature (and the sound of that noise is the collective ‘I see what you did there’ by the audience) with production by Pharrell. Last time we heard Frank Ocean collaborate with Hov, it was on the hit No Church In The Wild & also on Made In America (both from WTT) and he proved that he could hold his own, but this time around he had his own verse, and I’m a fan of Frank so it was nice to hear something new from him since Channel Orange. This song is about the ‘waves’ of change – historical change that is, and this song was also featured in a video explanation that I found to be pretty interesting

“It’s like me now, no matter where I go in life and the things that I accomplish, you walk in that room, and your past comes in with you. You hear people talk about ‘oh that guy was the dealer from the projects and dododododo.’ Backing into that duality, it’s like a celebration of where we are now; on a big yacht and throwing champagne into the water, but the undertone of the thing is that that same water is the water that brought us here originally as slaves. So it has this whole duality and also on how we’re rewriting history; the stories that we were told about the history of America. ‘I’m anti-Santa Maria’ – talking about these stories; ‘only Christopher we acknowledge is Wallace’ – Biggie Smalls. Silk & fleeces lay on my Jesus, oh my God I hope y’all don’t get seasick – playing with the theme now; getting sea sick or seeing these things and being jealous of it.”

Jay-Z is the king of double (and triple) entendres, and he really brought a flurry of poeticism to his rhymes over the years and he hasn’t lost step from keeping people guessing that something has to always mean something, because he’s able to be complex with his rhymes. Why I like this song has a large part in the video explanation of it, because history (and I’m giving my thoughts from a Canadian point of view) wasn’t always laid out to us the way that we were explained to as kids. I find that as I grew up more, and you discover new information, your views on history shift more and you grow to become either more inquisitive or blind to what the real truth is.

“White boat white robe, can he be more cleaner
The oil spill that BP ain’t clean up”

Just like when people commit crimes and they say that no matter how hard you wash your hands, the stain will never come off, that’s pretty much how Jay is relating the water in this case. The same water that brought black people across as slaves is the same water that he shot the Big Pimpin’ video on, which is the same water that will always have that linger history around it (which is probably why so many Black people would prefer not to go on boats). The contrast in the portrait that Jay paints brings truth to the definition of a ‘double meaning,’ and this was a pretty good song to portray it.

“Don’t be good my nigga, be great”

You know, those are words of advice that you don’t usually get on an everyday basis, but you find yourself having to tell yourself that instead (unless that was just me for the longest time). F.U.T.W has that sort of boom-bap flavour that vintage fans can embrace, but there’s a message behind it. When you’ve reached a certain pinnacle of success, and you go back to your roots, I’d imagine that it would seem surreal to walk through your past, but at the same time you’d want to reshape what you came from to redefine what it is now, and what it can be for the future.

It’s like us putting our imprint on the world, and this is what America is now. What are we gonna do to change it? To tailor make it into how we feel; the things that we’re gonna contribute to the world? [Rick Rubin]: To make it ours.”

This reminded me of T.I’s Fuck Tha City Up, but with less anger, and more of a positive spin on things. This is Jay saying that there’s more to it than what we’re currently sitting at – we haven’t even reached the potential of what we can do (by ‘we’, I’m just assuming Hip Hop or the Black race). There’s always room for progress and potential to grow into something huge. I’ve been noticing that a lot of people want more for their culture and want to be more unified in bringing it (it, being Hip Hop) back to its Golden Era, but at the same time, they just want each other to win as much as they want it for themselves. I’ve had multiple conversations about this, and witnessing it happen is something serious.

“We have yet to see a ceiling, we just top what we top
Cause the bars don’t struggle and the struggle don’t stop”

Somewhereinamerica brings back the collaboration of Hov & Hit-Boy who helped produce the mega-smash Niggaz in Paris. Jay-Z is redefining the rules, and the old rules won’t cut it anymore, which is why he shouted out the older rule makers in the music industry (almost all of the heads of major record labels are Jewish). This is all first verse (well, just one verse), but the point he makes is that there’s new rules to be upheld, and from the old society’s point of view, they fear change in America because their worst nightmares are coming to life: Wealthy coloured people and their daughters (in this, Miley Cyrus) shaking their asses for the hell of it (your forefathers must be proud, America). The “twerk, Miley Miley, twerk” is probably the most catchy line you’ll hear on the album, because it really is crazy how her one twerk video (let’s be real, she can’t even twerk – we were just boosting her ego) made it this far in popularity, and eventually on a Jay-Z album. Insane how pop culture runs in every facet of media now, huh?

Now, the Crown jewel (it was too easy not to use) comes from a 16 year old Canadian female that goes by the producer name of WondaGurl. She was the creator of this beat although Travis Scott is credited for it on the album, which is a bitch move and he should be slapped. The first WondaGurl beat I heard was on a Travis Scott song (ironically) and that was Uptown. What’s funny is that if you listen to both beats, they’re pretty similar in style – most people would say that they’re the same thing (although it’s not), but be that as it may, she’s still a 16 year old Canadian female who has a beat on a Jay-Z album – doesn’t matter if it’s his best or worst; she made it in life already (the same age in which I got my first job). The Sizzla sample had me swaying in my seat holding my belly and imaginary red stripe before the thunderous beat kicked in (it’s one of those beats that I need to listen to in a car). What’s a king when no one is gunning for your crown, right? Since taking on new advances in life (friends with Obama, being cleared to go to Cuba by the U.S Treasury, starting Roc Nation Sports, and becoming an official sports agent), there’s a lot of threats that he’s imposing to a newer world – the corporate one (he’s even throwing shots to other agents – amazing).

“Niggas always try to knock a nigga down, knock me to my knees about a million times
Uncle said I’d never sell a million records, a sold a million records like a million times”

The aggressive Hov on a trap inspired beat is very different, but it was full of punch that you could lean with and strike towards the body like a boxer. It had a major impact on the way he was airing out his grievances (ala Seinfeld), and it brought to light just how important it was for him to be successful coming up, or he wouldn’t have made it this far to see his reign last as long as it has been.

“Wasn’t for the bread, probably be dead
Best friends become your enemies
Niggas knives be double edged”

There’s a lot of truth to that because when you’re not feeding the ones closest to you, that blade that fights for you can easily be the one plummeted in your back (ask Julius Caesar what that’s like). But, that’s a lesson of success that many people have repeated over and over – that there will always be people jealous of you because of what you have and will try to tear you down so that you be as miserable and broke as them; crabs in a bucket. It’s a poisonous mindset to have, and difficult for many to overcome.

Heaven is my favourite song on the album (it’s hard to disagree that my 3 favourites play back-to-back-to-back of each other) and the reason being is because religion is such a topic that many have been divided against for so long, and an argument that will never come to a common peace. The main thing that people have linked Jay-Z to in terms of his religion is the Illuminati. He addressed it on his verse for Rick Ross’ Free Mason, but I guess that wasn’t enough to silence the critics.

“This song is toying with that idea of it being on Heaven and Hell on Earth. No matter what religion you are, accept other people’s ideals okay? ‘Cause have you ever been to Heaven? Have you ever seen the gates? You know what I’m saying? For me, my idea of Heaven is in your daughter’s laughter. For Hell it could be your child’s missing for 3 minutes; you’re in 3 minutes of hell. It’s just not my beliefs that just God will make you burn for eternity for free will that He gave you.”

This song has a deep message because when you read the transcript and you listen to the song (and even as he’s been referring himself as a God for years), you understand that his religious view isn’t one to be taken all that serious because he himself doesn’t look at it in a way that someone as devote would.

“Conspiracy theorists screaming Illuminati
They can’t believe so much talent is in a human body
He’s 6’2, how the fuck he fit in the new Bugatti? Aw shit you got me”

I don’t think that people understand the sarcasm that comes with Jay’s personality, as he’s been displaying it for years. Toying with the audience and leading them to believe that he’s something that they conjured up in the first place is a sign of playing to your strengths, but in all seriousness, the whole Illuminati foolishness was always stupid to me because some people would watch a few YouTube videos and assume that they knew everything about everyone involved because some person said ‘open your eyes’ and ‘wake up.’ How about you wake up and get a job, with your broke ass? I’ve flown off topic, but you can understand what I’m trying to say. Timbaland has definitely taken advantage of his time off from producing fire because he’s had a lot on this album to this point. If there was a follow up to Lucifer, I’d say that this is it 10 years later.

The two songs that a lot of people (including myself) wished were full length songs are Versus & Beach is Better. One has a vintage feel; one has a modern day trap feel. Jay did confirm and say that Versus would be a full song, but the doubt of ‘Beach’ becoming a full song was evident when he answered a follower’s question about it (and it SUCKS, but it makes sense). Maybe he’ll change his mind one day – but for now, I wouldn’t count on it.

A lot of people were confused as to why the title for Part II (On The Run) was just that with no words in front of it – part 2 to what? Well, when I saw Beyonce as a feature, the Part 2 made a lot of sense – ’03 Bonnie & Clyde. Bonnie & Clyde were a couple who robbed together and they were always (say it with me now) On.The.Run.

“Mami’s a rider, and I’m a roller’, put us together, how they gon stop both of us?” – 03 Bonnie & Clyde

This might as well have been a Beyonce song featuring Jay-Z, because as much as I’m not really a fan of hers, I can’t deny the fact that she took this song and made it something great (because Jay really wasn’t adding much to it in the first place). This is definitely going to become the unofficial anthem and status for women who have been in relationships for all of 6 months acting like they have the same type of relationship that high profile celebrities do – so cute. Ja Rule said it best when he said he wanted a Down Ass Chick, so what did Hov go out and get? A down ass chick, and this is the song that solidifies her loyalty to her man. It’s a lovely piece by Beyonce to her husband (as the hopeless romantics shower their jubilance in admiration for their love).

BBC (Billionaire Boys Club) was supposed to be the greatest song on the album, because of the line-up of people on the song (Jay-Z, Nas, JT, Pharrell, Swizz Beatz, and a partridge in a pear tree). It didn’t exactly turn out to be that way, but it was interesting hearing Nas on a song of this pace, and a lot of people were surprised to hear Jay on a song like this (I guess we’ve forgot that he made Show Me What You Got all of a sudden). This beat had Harlem Shake all over it, but it was a simply just bunch of rich rappers flaunting. Jay-Z’s verse reminded me of Money Ain’t A Thing with Jermaine Dupri, but only with more luxury, so that part I enjoyed. The hook is probably what I didn’t like the most because the vocals didn’t do the beat much justice – it’s still a fun song; filler, really.

A lot of people have compared Jay-Z Blue already to Eminem’s Hailie’s Song and Nas’ Daughters. The comparison comes from the fact that these are all songs from father to daughter, and Jay-Z is the latest to join the chapter of Fatherhood in the Hip Hop World with Blue Ivy. I can’t imagine what being a father is like, but I can relate to this song mainly because of the explanation that was given from Jay.

“It’s something that we [Hov & Beyonce] both created; we still marvel at her. It’s most obvious when the song is called ‘Jay-Z Blue.’ It deals with the fact that my pop left when I was young and he didn’t teach me how to be a man nor how to raise a child, or treat a woman because he left. So of course, my karma, the two things I need, I don’t have, right – and I have a daughter. It’s the paranoia of not being a great dad.”

I think it’s something that a lot of (in this case, I’ll go racial) Black men encounter when they are faced with parenthood – simply because a lot of their fathers weren’t around to teach them just how to treat a woman, although most of them (including myself) live with their mothers, and you don’t exactly treat every woman you’re with the same way you’d treat your mother (you can take that for whichever context you’d like to break it in). Even the most powerful men have fears, and the fear of repeating the past and becoming a deadbeat dad like how yours was to you is something that lingers on the minds of many, because it happens all the time, and just when you think things will get better, there’s more single mothers out there because men won’t commit. This isn’t a bash on men, this is simply the explanation of one man’s fears to stay in his daughter’s life to ensure that he breaks the cycle of the unfortunate stereotype that has been giving black men a bad name forever.

“Now I’m starting to pray that things don’t get ugly
And I’m stuck in that old cycle like wife leaves hubby
Fuck joint custody, I need a joint right now
Just the thought of it fucks with me”

I won’t be a father for a few years (God willing), but I can imagine myself playing this song when I do, because of course it’s something that’ll be scary, because I don’t know what type of situation I’ll be in when it happens – I can only hope it’s the best one. There are a lot of lines in this song that many can relate to out of experience now or of witnessing it first-hand with their parents or others. This song has a double meaning; yes it’s about his Daughter, but Jay-Z is also blue – sad, upset, down in the dumps, in his feelings, etc. No one wants to be the continuation of a bad cycle, so I think that Jay opening up his fears and saying that he doesn’t want to makes him more mature towards many, because he was the one who said that he’d mack forever and that he’d never give his heart to a woman. Times change.

La Familia felt like Jay was bored when he recorded this, because there wasn’t really a lot of energy put into it (at least, I didn’t feel anything out of it), but this isn’t Roc La Familia anymore, this is his actual family; assuming that he’s in a Godfather role and with all of his endeavours in life and threats on his family, he’d do anything to protect it – makes enough sense to me, but it wasn’t one of the tracks that I particularly liked on the album. It’s like it was just there to hang out for the ride, but could have been left off for something else (sort of like how I feel about a few songs on WTT, but this isn’t the time for all of that).

The final song of the album, and the final explanation by Jay-Z shed light on something that a lot of people can relate to – being charitable towards others when we acquire a bit of money (okay, a lot of money).

“The last record on the album is a song called Nickels & Dimes. The whole song is like charity, like how do you deal with charity, even with your family? At what point are you enabling them and causing more harm than good? If I go outside at One Oak; all those guys love me because I always give them money. I’m giving them money, and I’m like ‘am I helping them?’ Am I doing it for them, or am I doing it out of some survivor’s guilt? Am I giving it to them to make myself feel better? Because at the back of my mind it’s like ‘I know I’m not helping them, they’re probably gonna get drugs,” and what he [Rick Rubin] said was ‘once it leaves your hand, you’re not in charge of the outcome’”

The survivor’s guilt brings me back to that line in Crown where he was saying that if it wasn’t for the bread, probably would’ve been dead, and to a certain degree you have to believe him on that. On this track he makes more sense of it, because when you have money, you’d rather have more people loyal to you than against you because without some sort of protection, you have nothing. You do what you can to help those around you, but what they do to help themselves isn’t in your control, and that’s something about charity – you give money to support a cause, but you don’t know where the money is going (and then you have documentaries like Pink Ribbons, Inc that give you an idea to just what goes on in charities. Your heart is in the right place, and you’re doing what you can, but at the end of it all, you just don’t know.

The last Jay-Z (solo) album I bought was The Black Album and that grew to be one of (if not) my favourite album of his. That was 10 years ago, and 10 years later, he drops an album that doesn’t exactly have the same sound, but it’s 10 years of Jay-Z to grow in a newer part of the world, which was displayed by this album. This album isn’t groundbreaking because of the music per-say, but because it’s a bigger digital world than what it used to be 10 years ago, it redefines just how albums will be treated when the trend catches on. With Magna Carta Holy Grail, you got both sides of Jay-Z: The Innovator and The Chaser. The Magna Carta implemented rules for all to govern, and the Holy Grail is a treasure in which most spend their lives trying to find. Jay-Z will always be a figure to set trends for others to follow, and he’ll always be a figure that people wish to aspire to be (and that’s every race). He’s not just the American dream that people pursue– he’s the dream that people dream about and never have a chance at being. The album is a reflection of his accomplishments and new challenges that he faces in his still young life (Dude’s only 43), while letting us know that he’s human and faces ordinary issues even with the level of success that he’s built. It’s crazy to know that with so much time in the rap game, he’s still a dominant force and reinvents new ways to create more success for himself. He welcomes new challenges and accepts the fact that there’s more competition, but that’s just what Jay-Z thrives for, so until there are no more competitors, we’ll just have to watch him reign from his throne. This album isn’t his best, but it’s definitely not his worst – he’s moving with the times, but at the same time, he’s doing it his way and is winning from it. It’s worth the listen and purchase. But for now, this is my opinion, this is my review

That’s My Word & It STiXX

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