Magna Carta... Holy Grail review by Jay-Z

logo Ultimate Guitar
  • Released: Jul 4, 2013
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 7
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 7.7 Good
  • Users' score: 3.9 (41 votes)
Jay-Z: Magna Carta... Holy Grail

Sound — 8
Jay-Z has a pretty crazy history that leads up to his modern day domination of mainstream rap. He is at least authentic in growing up in a rough neighborhood and doing the legwork to earn his place in rap. He worked hard including rap battles with his contemporaries, working with other rappers in the late '80s and early '90s trying to get established, selling his CDs out of his car and finally having huge commercial success after coming to a distribution deal for his first album, "Reasonable Doubt." He has gone on to have released a total of 12 studio albums and 5 collaboration albums over the course of his career. He has maintained the forethought to diversify as a businessman and multiply his earnings and is currently one of the wealthiest living rappers with a value somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 million dollars. "Magna Carta... Holy Grail" is Jay-Z's 12th solo studio album and has 16 tracks with a total runtime of just under a full hour. There are various guest vocal appearances including his wife, Beyonc, as well as Rick Ross, Frank Ocean, Justin Timberlake, and others. Numerous producers were used as well, including Timbaland, J-Roc, Boi 1da, Pharrell Williams, Swizz Beatz, WondaGurl and many others. Notably, this is the debut of WondaGurl, who is a 16 year old Canadian girl who was discovered by Boi 1da. The album's greatest strength is the diversity of subject matter and beats, so when a track comes on that you aren't necessarily digging if you give it a minute something different will come on. The album opens with the track "Holy Grail," which is sung by Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z coming in to rap the verses. I've had a hard time coming to terms with his use of lyrics from Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on this track. The next track, "Picasso Baby" starts out with a really nice bass line and is a slow-burn type of track and one of the slower tempos on the album. The third track, "Tom Ford," has an interesting groove with an Atari-like synth coming in to complete the groove. The fifth track, "Oceans," includes Frank Ocean on guest vocals and has some of the deepest lyrics. The track "Crown" uses a beat created by the 16 year old WondaGurl, and is a pretty interesting track. The album closes out with a track called "Nickels and Dimes" which contemplates the implications of success and philanthropy.

Lyrics — 7
Jay-Z did a great job with picking most of his collaborators on this album. While I'm not 100% behind anything that involves Justin Timberlake, the use of Frank Ocean, Rick Ross and Beyonc is well-placed. Jay-Z's voice has aged well and he still has the strength behind his voice to deliver the aggression that he needs to deliver. So, let's get on to some of these lyrics. Jay-Z is undeniably a talented wordsmith, but there are occasions on the album that I find myself raising an eyebrow. As an example, from the track "Oceans" (featuring Frank Ocean): "See me in sh-t you never saw/ If it wasn't for these pictures they wouldn't see me at all/ Aww, whole world in awe/ I crash through glass ceilings, I break through closed doors/ I'm on the ocean, I'm in heaven/ Yachting, Ocean 11." The "Ocean 11" reference was a little off, to me. Then you have a lot of references to rock song lyrics, like the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" fiasco mentioned above. There is also an R.E.M. "Losing My Religion" reference on the track "Heaven": "Have you ever been to heaven? Have you ever seen the gates? / Have you bow down to your highness? And do you know how heaven taste? / Lie me down/ That's me in the corner/ That's me in the spotlight/ Losing my religion." Mostly the lyrics are okay, and at times really clever little turns of phrase pop up, so I cant really complain here. Jay-Z is a professional at what he does.

Overall Impression — 8
The strong point on this album is some really good beats that is the one thing that stays strong from beginning to end. The lyrics are kind of hit or miss, but they are at least more hit than miss. The collaborators on the album were well chosen for the tracks they are involved with. My favorite beats on the album would have to come from "Crown," "Picasso Baby," and "Somewhere in America." "Somewhere in America" would have to be my overall favorite from the album because it has a whimsical twist to it, and who can resist Jay-Z chanting "twerk, Miley, twerk" while he's trying not to crack up. I don't really have a least favorite track from the album the songs are really all fairly solid with the exception of a few week vocal lines. As far as mainstream hip-hop goes, Jay-Z is king of the hill.

22 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I listened to this album and tried my hardest to like it. I found it subpar and doesn't stack up against his other more well known albums. Infact, I think blueprint 3 was still better this. The beats aren't that great and his lyrical integrity on this album is questionable. I would say theres certainly a problem when the strongest track on this record could potentially be the opener where Justin Timberlake does his best Bruno Mars impersonation. The limit for me was "tom ford" where his lyrical verses are intercut with him yelling "tom ford" as some sort of chorus. We get it Hov, you have style and money, but how much longer will we be subjected to this "high fashion rap" nonsense brought on by him and Yeezy on "watch the throne?!" At least "watch the throne" had some choice cuts on it, this just felt like a half assed attempt to recapture some of that glory. Clearly he's been hanging around Kanye for too long and it shows. I'm no longer feeling this "high fashion rap" baloney. Its the same excess and superficial nonsense as the "bling-bling" attitude from like 10 years ago, they just slap designer name brands on it now and expect me to be impressed. Some fanboys might say he can do whatever he wants because he's this and he's that. But don't spin turds and expect me to be blown away and accept it. I think he's really alienating everyone with nonsense like this and I'd like nothing more then for him to strip it all down and put out some real hardcore hip hop that showcases WHY he became the phenomenon he is now... Hate on my opinions all you want, but gimme the new Talib Kweli in all its talent and genuineness over this crap any day. I never thought I'd get to hear a rap album by a rich jewish guy or the chairman CEO of some cold, heartless board. But with "magna carta, holy grail," I finally have.
    Really? I thought BBC with Nas was better. Mind you...Nas' verse was the only good part! LOL. Yeah I really wanted to like this album too but it sucked big time. The name of his next album should just be called Money because that is all he talks about now.
    This was garbage. Sorry but some rap is just going downhill fast. And the crazy thing is it gets super hyped and fanboys go crazy over it still no matter how bad it is. Like Lil Wayne. I loved the Carter 3 and a lot of his old stuff. But have you listened to any of his recent stuff? I swear, every song that comes out, or any verse he's featured on, all he talks about is "popping that pussy." Yeezus, was trash too. I only see how fanboys can like that shit. That's just my opinion I guess, but seriously. J. Cole's born sinner is amazing. Mac Miller new album is excellent too. Macklemore's the heist is stellar. Like somebody mentioned in these comments, the bling bling era is over. Why are rappers still talking all about money and being famous. Its so old. Whatever, rant over.
    The "bling" era may be over, but what's happening now with Jay Z and Kanye, is a different sort of bling. They are at a new height of fame for rap artists. Rap artists would never have been accepted into high art or fashion circles before, and they're breaking these barriers down. While it seems disingenuous to some, they're advancing hip hop in a different direction. I didn't love the album though, I'd give it a 6 or 7, but I did love Yeezus. I'll definitely agree with you on Born Sinner and The Heist's excellence though.
    After the first full listen I gave to The Heist, by M&RL, this just sounds simple and standard and no big deal. I mean, I wouldn't go as far as calling Jay-Z the king of mainstream hip-hop... He may have the cards of career and time and dedication, be he ain't got to sparkle to make you wow.
    Why is this rubbish on UG? I dont understand.
    I don't understand this comment. Perhaps Hyper was saying this, because there's no guitar on the album, and this is a guitar site... also, making fun of that ridiculous attitude only perpetuates it, like what is happening with YOLO hipster swag and all that crap. It's best just let the retards sort them selves out
    Beats are great, but that's the only real great thing about this album. His flow is slow. It's too bad how overhyped this album was. Surely, not as bad as Yeezus, but I was still highly disappointed. 6/10 at best.
    doesnt belong but still a dope ass cd. he even says for you guys to up your a/v so, you know. he knows whats up with audio and engineering