Jay-Z dropped his twelfth studio album, Magna Carta Holy Grail yesterday exclusively to one million Samsung Galaxy users worldwide. If you were one of those users, you’ll want to read this. If you’re waiting until the 7th of this month, like the rest of the world, you’ll want to read this also. Everything from Jigga’s wealth, intimate details about him and Beyoncé, his feelings about fatherhood and even the fact that even as you read this, somewhere in America, Miley Cyrus is still twerking, is all included in the 59-minuter. We called it the biggest hip hop record of the year before we had even heard it. Here are the facts: for one, it very definitely had the biggest PR campaign of the year and since Jay-Z is a god – yeah, he also said it – this isn’t unlikely. The production on the art piece is out of your stratosphere and the subject matter compactly dense.
A significant, but however not so large part of me, wants to say it really is this year’s biggest hip hop record. But I write this straight after a gruelling nine hours of chewing, digesting and unpacking Jay-Z’s most densely packed album in terms of subject matter. You will love it. You’ll be far less exhausted as I am after listening to it since you’ll be given a comfortable ride from my toiling below. That said, brace yourself.
The opening track on any album is, in my estimation, the most important song on the album simply because it lets you know whether or not you should listen to the rest of the record. That said, this song should without a doubt be the first single off the album. It’s something of a retrospective “Empire State of Mind” both in its feel and its lyrical content. In it, Jay contemplates the price of fame as Justin Timberlake echoes his sentiments in what sounds like the new infectious hook of the year: “You’re so unfair / Sipping from your cup ‘til it runneth over / Holy grail”. And allow me to say, JT sounds better and better each time we hear him. The J-Roc, The-Dream and Timbaland produced track is the sound you’ll remember from the initial Samsung commercial that even got Jay wondering, “What is that?” We still have no clue what it is but we know we love. The Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit” sample doesn’t hurt either.
There’s a reason why we all hail Jay as king. He is. While your favourite is rapping about getting a mansion, stretched Hummer or Lamborghini and some hoes – or whatever it is the youngins rap about these days – Jay’s on a completely different bar. He don’t want a cassa, he gon’ get him a castle. Your dream performance venue? Jay would rather perform with his missy at the Museum of Modern Art. Forget all them hoes, he wants a wife that can do him like a prostitute. And as for material possessions, he could do with some Picasso and Rothko. Even Blue’s balling out as she leans on a yellow painting by Brooklyn-native Basquiat in their kitchen. All of this and a billion. Fuck it, a trillion! But it would all mean nothing if it wasn’t for his modern day Mona Lisa sleeping by his side every night. Adrianne Younge, J-Roc and Timbaland score production credits on this one and I’ve gotta take my hat off to them for the intricate detail that is this track. The former’s, “Sirens” is sampled for the art nouveau track. The switch up from bass to electric guitar midsong is everything and then some.
In a song titled after a premier menswear brand, you’d expect nothing short of a premier display of wealth. Where he lists what he would like to acquire in “Picasso Baby”, in “Tom Ford” we get an insight into what he’s got. A bad bitch from Houston in his imported Toyota Crown while all these hoes try to make themselves pretty by putting on weaves when they see him pass by, are among the compilation of the Tom Ford swagga he’s rocking. But it isn’t just about what he’s got and who he’s got. Jay got a killa flow like notorious gang leader Wayne Perry. And what do you know about Jay? You ain’t sick enough to spit back at him so you hide behind the security of your social network’s 140 characters. All the while, Jay’s laughing to the club in Tom Ford while he parties with weirdos and watches Magna Carta rise to number one. Of course, he can’t do it on his own: J-Roc and Timbaland scoop further production credits on this one but also look out for an uncredited vocal collaboration by Jay’s H-town baddiebey and elements from M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls”.
“They say money talk / Tell these other niggas speak up / Wassup”. That’s what Jay said back in 2011. Fast forward two years and “Money talk I speak fluent nigga” – Rick Ross joins Jigga on the fourth Magna Carta track. Truthfully, it’s more Ross’ song than Jay’s if you consider airtime. But the Maybach Music leader’s verse quickly fades into a distant memory soon as Jay spits his bar. A quick lesson in Italian before we proceed: “Cent’anni” is a traditional toast wishing good health for a hundred years. “Ciao bella” is a greeting directed to a woman meaning, “Hello beautiful”. If you thought rappers were shallow, you’re probably mostly right. But then you get the exceptions like Jay: smart, stylish and cultured. And of course, we’ve just been explicitly shown in preceding tracks just how wealthy he is so no surprises then to his inviting his bella to come money dance with him and his good fellas. This just happens to be the namesake of the classic DiNero film. Even after all of that, Hov’ keeps getting that dinero – and in today’s Spanish lesson, that translates to English as ‘money’ – even if he’s got to Robert. Rob it? Just let that sink in.
For your information, I spent the longest time decoding the “best-selling author Decoded” on this song more than any other. Arguably the most emotionally charged and sentimental song on the record, Jay-Z and Frank Ocean take us on trip back to the days of slave trade and how their very ancestors got to the United States. Jay gives a myriad of controversial political points of view: everything from how he is anti-Christopher Columbus; how he doesn’t like certain politicians; and why he would rather use his black card than American dollars to make purchases; is detailed in this song. While Jay’s technique in this track only remains at a constant momentum that has been maintained by the first four tracks, it is possibly Frank O’s hook that is most poetic and poignant. His hook is loaded with images of ivory adorned ships on Cote d’Ivoire harbours, and beautiful metaphors comparing seawater to the then slaves of America, their journey and some of their deaths along the way and even modern day African Americans. Something says to me that the opening monologue on “FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt” should have made its appearance on this song. Perhaps they’ll consider it for the video. There is going to be a video, right, Samsung? To end off where I started, don’t make the mistake I did by keeping this song on rotation: Frank’s hook almost had me in a trance-like state.
This next track sees Jay take a walk down memory lane and then a look forward to the future. He mentions the drug-ridden projects he grew up in and how the used to live off cheese purchased by government stamps. Today, of course, we know Jay can afford more than just steak – his upgrade to the government cheese. D’USSE cognac – the new cognac brand he’s recently jumped on to – as well as Maybach make some of the things he’s been able to attain to date. And not to mention his high yellow wife who he quickly corrects, is not high yellow but gold. Perhaps the most important thing about this song is its message to his people of the projects to resist being good and to strive for being great like Cassius Clay, who, in case you did not know, is Mohammad Ali’s birth name. What quickly becomes confusing then is why he calls for “us” to “fuck up the world”, the phrase that the abbreviated title owes its namesake to. Could he mean that things as they stand aren’t the way they should be and that we should be doing something to shake things up?
This is possibly my favourite song on the record, even although it’s the shortest. And no, it’s got nothing to do with the fact that even as you read this, somewhere in America, Miley Cyrus is still twerking. Instead, this has got everything to do with the fact that Jay is as trill as it gets. His #newrules campaign has been a huge slap in the face of Billboard. You’ll remember they released a statement confirming that Jay’s initial 1 million downloads wouldn’t count towards their data capturing for their charts. Following this, the RIAA released their own statement citing that they had officially changed their rules to do exactly the contrary. “By the way fuck your math [Billboard]”, the number to remember here is 20 million: $20 million from Samsung for securing the deal and 20 million requests in the first hour of the launch of the Magna Carta app, which consequently caused it to crash. Any questions? Producers you say? Mike Dean and Hit Boy take those credits.
Y’all got mad at Yeezy for claiming he is a god. Well this time a “bitch asked if [Jay] was God”. His response, “Fuck I’m supposed to say? No?” Well, to be clear, not only does he crown himself king in this one but he also makes sure that all around him know that they’re in the “presence of a god”. He spends the rest of the record illustrating exactly that. The day of the announcement via Samsung’s commercial after the NBA finals game, Jay’s Magna Carta Holy Grail was advertised for six minutes every hour. PR of that nature is unheard of and if I may, I’d sooner call Jay a rap god than Ye and that said, who better to attain such a campaign? I mean he did turn Kanye into a G.O.A.T.: greatest of all time. So you’ll say that that’s subjective but if Jay said it, it must be true. Also, with Biggie and 2Pac gone – rest their souls – who else but Jay-Z could be the rap god? The track samples Sizzla’s “Solid as a Rock” and what a poignant intro it provides for the rapper display of royalty. The exact same sample appears as an intro on Fiddy’s “My Crown” – make what you will of that information.
Without a doubt, the most controversial song on the record and probably one that’s going to have the social networkers Jay laughs at in “Tom Ford” buzzing. It wasn’t too long ago that when if you were to punch “Jay-Z” into the Google search bar, “jay z illuminatti” would be one of the top 3 suggestions. Since Magna Carta Holy Grail, the album itself has taken up the places of almost all the Jay-Z suggestions. Could this be Google’s response to this very song? Jay, with the assistance of an uncredited Justin Timberlake, asks the all-important question: have you ever been to heaven? Assuming, and I mean only assuming, you haven’t, how would you know what is Illuminatti and what isn’t? Furthermore, how would you know what the Illuminatti is in the first place? Wait. I have to stop myself right here because that’s me pushing my own agendas. Back to Jay. The R.E.M. hit single, “Losing My Religion” is the perfect retro-reference for this song. Jay sees religion as something folk use to create division. This is interesting to note because what definitive evidence do we have that Jay is on the opposing team of Christianity or whatever you deem anti-Illuminatti? To be elusively clear, Jay calls himself a “heckler” and a “secular” in this track. A definite single this J-Roc, The-Dream and Timbaland-produced should be. You’ve gotta love this though: “Y’all dwell on devil shit / I’m in a Diablo / Yellow shit” What!
So Jay spends nine tracks showing these youngins exactly why he’s king. Come track 10, he decides to add the cherry on top in four short quatrains. Basically, all they aspire to in their verses is what Jay actually has. Have a stadium of seats y’all. Thank you, Timbo.
Part II (On the Run)
Beyoncé makes her first and only official collaboration on the record in an intimately revealing song about her and her hubby’s relationship. I was hoping after listening to the song that I wouldn’t have to say this but after listening to it a couple times it’s actually a good thing: this new collaboration between the powerhouse couple is a modern day, “’03 Bonnie & Clyde”. However, there’s a twist. This time, Jay is the baddie who finds his good girl, Bey, who herself hopes to turn him good, but he in turns her into our baddiebey instead. In case you’ve been living under a rock, they’ve got matching tattoos on their ring fingers of the Roman numeral, “IV” and as Jay says in his verse, you can take their rings but the ink is forever and you must admit that there’s something really poetic about that. Probably the most beautiful line of the song is the Beyoncé-sung, “Without you I’ve got nothing to lose”. “Heaven” raises an eyebrow since we’re well aware of Bey’s bold and proud religious beliefs. The other thing to note is that Beyoncé has spoken out in interviews about how her mother was very sceptical of her dating a rapper. Then the next we knew, “I don’t care what my mama say / Let it play” and she was ready to cater to her man. Who are we to judge? Well, actually, who are we is exactly the question. They give it to us to listen to record-after-record so I guess they’ve assumed our positions as those who’ve got 2 cents. I must conclude by saying though, that the J-Roc and Timbaland-produced song is arguably the best collaboration we’ve ever heard from Mr and Mrs Carter and in light of that, we have no concerns but rather all compliments (and envy).
Beach is Better (Interlude)
Even although it sounds very similar to Yeezy’s Daft Punk-produced, “On Sight”, you best believe that Mike Will made it. Jay talks about waiting for some girl to get ready. She takes so long that he hopes her efforts would have her looking like Halle Berry by the time she’s through. Or better yet, Beyoncé. But that would mean he’d have to marry her. Who is she? FYI: The Darby is an exclusive restaurant and 1 Oak’s a club he booked out to celebrate the release of his The Blueprint 3. Our badgalriri made the guest list. Could it be? We know she’s gotten in trouble with Jay before for missing a flight. You guys! Jay makes really random interludes sometimes.
For arguably the most highly anticipated song on the record, you’ll either love or hate Jay for this one. Or Pharrell. When we first heard this beat on the Samsung commercial everybody said that that must be Pharrell. Okay, so Timbo earns the co-producer credit but let’s be serious… So. Why would you hate it? Well, a lot of hype preceded this track when we found out that Jay would be cramming Pharrell, Nas, Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, Swizz Beats and Timbaland into one track. Interestingly enough none of them are credited as featured artists. You’ll note that the song is 45 seconds short of a four-minuter which already sees this as a mammoth task. Needless to say, it’s safe to say this is probably a Nas, Pharrell and Timbaland collabo more than anything else. So you may say that doesn’t matter – it’s still a cool tune with a great groove. Well that it is and soon as Magna Carta starts circulating the clubs, I sincerely hope to hear “BBC” on the dancefloor. What it lacks, however, is precisely what makes the rest of this album: content. It’s a celebration of (or wank over) the Billionaire Boys Club, which allow me to say I’m a huge fan off. But even in an interlude as short as “Versus” Jay’s showing off is more exciting. All things considered, at least you’ll have left the record having learnt four new languages. Brace yourself for your next lessons: Japanese and Korean.
億万長者少年クラブ : Which is pronounced “Okumanchōja Shōnen Kurabu”, the Japanese for BBC
億万長者 : Okumanchōja is Japanese for ‘Billionaire’
少年クラブ : Shōnen Kurabu is Japanese for ‘Boy’s Club’
자기 신발 끝내주는데
자기 돈 좀 많나봐
자기 스타일 진짜 멋있다
백만장자 소년들의 모임
The Korean translates to English as:
Baby, your kicks are sick
Baby, you must be rich, huh?
Baby, you have great style.
Billionaire Boys’ club.
Jay Z Blue (Daddy Dearest)
This is without a doubt the saddest track on the hip hop mogul’s twelfth studio album. In this J-Roc/Timbo-produced song, Jay-Z apologises in advance for any hurt he may possibly cause Blue Ivy. Both Jay-Z and Beyoncé haven’t really spoken about their daughter really. Correction: Beyoncé had Life is but a Dream. Jay on the other hand, speaks out for the first time on this one and admits that he is scared of becoming his father. The same father he says did not only teach him how not to be a good father but also mistreated his mother. He describes a scene where Bey’s already changing Blue’s diapers by noon and all he can think is he needs to get away for three weeks to the Hamptons. Then a flashback to their beautiful home in Paris with a view of the Eiffel Tower where they obviously had a beautiful time…before Blue. Jay is so scared in this track that I’m scared for him. If all else fails, there’s always Uncle Rush – we all know he likes things.
And finally, to conclude our Spanish series of lessons: “El Padrino” means ‘the godfather’. In this penultimate track of the record, Jay assures us – immediately after he freaked us out about the possibility of leaving Blue like his daddy did – that he truly is a family man. And one that goes to war for his. Good luck with trying to kidnap wifey lest he come for your entire family, is one among a myriad of other threats Jay makes as the head of the family, El Padrino. For him the honour and integrity of family comes first. This responsibility extends further than just to his immediate family and blood relatives, it includes the R.O.C. family as well coz all his niggas bosses. There’s a repetitive telephone ringing sound that can be heard faintly in the background. We have no idea either.
Nickels and Dimes
For the longest song on the record, it feels shorter than it actually is. The final song takes us back to “Lost Ones” as we see Jay cutting himself to remind himself that he’s human because “success is so sublime”. Is Hov’ a closet masochist? He compares being poor, counting nickels and dimes and still knowing you’re alive to the wealth and fame that comes with being Jay-Z and splurging on others to make sure he feels like he’s doing something with his life. His sentiments are underscored by the vocal talents of uncredited Gonjasufi in a sampling of his song “Nikels and Dimes”. But it’s the way Jigga wraps the song that’s got me confused as to whether I should be honoured or insulted: “Y’all not worthy / Sometimes I feel like y’all don’t deserve me / My flow unearthly”. Okay, Sean. We see you. It seems the most appropriate song to end a record that has just been an overhaul of how amazing it is to be Jay-Z. Moreover, it brings us full-circle from the opener, “Holy Grail” where he contemplated the price of fame. It leaves us asking, is it really all that amazing?