Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail: Critics’ Album Review Roundup

(Jay-Z’s subway pal Ellen Grossman reviews Magna Carta Holy Grail)

By Henna Kathiya

Jay-Z surprised fans when he revealed during Game 5 of the NBA Finals that he planned to drop a new album just three weeks later.  He partnered with Samsung for an early, July 4, release but Hov’s 12th studio album officially hits all other retailers on Tuesday (June 9). With a name as powerful as Magna Carta Holy Grail and a release date just a couple weeks later than Kanye West’s Yeezus, expectations were high. Did Jay-Z’s album live up to its larger than life name? Check out what the critics had to say after the jump.

Contemplative, Transitional
Even with its thoughts of apprehension and death, the song is a cozy refuge from the album’s ups and downs, its sometimes awkward mixture of Jay-Z’s reflexes and his determination to sidestep them. Though Timbaland’s productions always hold some sly surprises, “Magna Carta … Holy Grail” comes across largely as a transitional album, as if Jay-Z has tired of pop but hasn’t found a reliable alternative. But Jay-Z is still striving on “Magna Carta … Holy Grail.” He ponders faith, superstition and free thinking. The songs aren’t cocky or neatly resolved; they’re Jay-Z thinking aloud, grappling with complications that can’t be resolved with cash. A million sales are in his pocket; he can keep searching. – Jon Pareles, New York Times.

Decent But Safe
As an event, it’s good, it’s great, it’s disappointing and back again. As an album, though, it tends to be safe. He’s surrounded by friends, in the commercials and on the tracks: there’s Beyoncé, Pharrell Williams, Swizz Beatz, Nas, Rick Ross, Frank Ocean, Timbaland and Justin Timberlake. It’s in the same vein as “Watch The Throne,” where there’s much talk of revolution, of race and class, but – while they championed Occupy Wall Street in Occupy All Streets shirts – now, these words have been co-opted by a giant phone company. Jay’s trying to be a lot of things to all people, as one does when as big as he is. And while it’s unfair to measure Jay against others, we’re living in a world where Yeezus has risen, and it feels like Jay’s dipping a toe rather than fully diving in. When Kanye is heaving bombs from across the court, you can’t clap so loud when Jay lobs lay-ups.That’s not to say it’s not good – it is – sometimes you just want to see some sweat. –Jeff Rosenthal, Billboard.

Sonically Stunning
For Jay-Z, this object, one rich with history and metaphor, is nothing but a fancy cup, one notable only because it’s the Most Awesome Cup in the World, and only he can drink from it.”Magna Carta Holy Grail” certainly is shimmering, heavy and at times sonically stunning, and Jay-Z can toss a brilliant metaphor like it’s nothing.But a true masterpiece harnesses intellect and adventure to push forward not only musically but also thematically. Which is to say, sure, call it a Picasso — but just don’t compare it to “Guernica.” – Randall Roberts, LA Times.

Platinum Status Guaranteed
Jay-Z set the bar high for himself with the buildup given this album in the three weeks since the surprise announcement that it would be available for free to 1 million Samsung customers on Fourth of July. But that’s just the kind of challenge the rapper, who once claimed to walk on water, thrives on. The music was more than worth the wait. With platinum status guaranteed even before his album goes on sale July 9, he could have just mailed it in. But he stays on top, because he refuses to do anything less than epic.- Steve Jones, USA Today.

App-Rap
Most of the lead-up to this album has been a business story, which makes sense, given the businesses (man and multinational, respectively) that brought this particular, peculiar product to market. #Newrules, right? So Jay-Z takes ringtone rap to the next level. Or maybe we should be calling it app rap? Because the medium really is the message here. The best and most ridiculous song on MCHG — the stupid, fun, and stupid fun “BBC” — is an homage to the “D boy drug-dealer look,” a before/after portrait that juxtaposes yesterday’s Fila sweats and rope chains with the kind of shit you can only buy once you start slinging cell phones for a multinational like Samsung. –Philip Sherburne, Spin.

He’s a Businessman and a Business, Man.
Kanye infamously proclaimed “I Am a God” on Yeezus; you could either gape in awe or call it heresy, but you couldn’t doubt his conviction. And just as the brutal and blasphemous Yeezus is true to its title, Magna Carta…Holy Grail offers a jumbled juxtaposition of the regal and divine– hear Jay-Z gasp “You in the presence of a king/ Scratch that, you in the presence of a god” on “Crown”. It’s one of the few lines here that scans as wishful thinking. The album is a celebration of unlimited financial privilege and power that even used its literally game-changing release as a Samsung Galaxy app to separate Jay-Z’s fans into haves and have-nots. Only a small subset could acquire Magna Carta Holy Grail on its release date, and it seems safe to say that fewer still will relate to it in a meaningful way. – Ian Cohen, Pitchfork.