Updated: August 10, 2013 6:29AM
Jay-Z, “Magna Carta ... Holy Grail” (Roc-A-Fella/Roc Nation/Universal)
“Magna Carta ... Holy Grail,” Jay-Z’s new album, doesn’t have the pop or mainstream appeal of his past records. The 16-track set, mostly helmed by mega-producer Timbaland, is full of robust and moody hip-hop beats that maintain a nice groove, but don’t expect any booming anthems or party jams here.
With the exception of rapping about fatherhood and infant daughter Blue Ivy, lyrically, “Magna Carta” doesn’t tell us anything new about the superstar. We all know how he rose from selling drugs in the Brooklyn projects to become arguably the most important rapper of all time and how he reapsthe benefits of having a superstar wife — Beyonce — at his side.
While Jay-Z continues to make headlines away from music, “Magna Carta” treads familiar ground, which makes the disc just average.
He’ll remind you — a couple of times — that Samsung bought 1 million copies of the record and gave it away three days early — on songs like “Somewhere in America.” There’s similar flavor lyrically on “Tom Ford,” with its freaky beats, and the bumping “Picasso Baby,” where Beyonce gets a shoutout: “Sleeping every night next to Mona Lisa, the modern version, with better features.”
It’s when he talks about the other lady in his life, his 1-year-old daughter, where we see a rare side of the typically boastful rapper. “Now I ... can’t even take my daughter for a walk,” he raps on “Holy Grail,” a collaboration with pop star Justin Timberlake (his tour partner this summer). It’s revealing, especially coming from the often-unfazed Jay-Z.
While Timberlake works well with Jay-Z, the rapper’s collaborations with Beyonce and Frank Ocean on “Part II (On the Run)” and “Ocean” rely too much on the R&B singers. There are other big names, like Rick Ross, Pharrell and Nas, but “Magna Carta” doesn’t follow the pattern of past Jay-Z discs. There are no catchy hooks to grab you in. The most excitement hasn’t been generated from the music, but its from promotion plan — Jay-Z announced the album in a commercial during the NBA Finals and launched a series of videos explaining the recording process and songs. Though he deserves kudos for his marketing prowess, the songs on “Magna Carta” don’t boom like his business plan.
“Knock me to my knees about a million times, uncle said I’ll never sell a million records, I sold a million records like a million times,” he brags on “Crown.”
Yes, you’ve defied the odds, but we want a little more from the king.