ALBUM REVIEW: Magna Carta… Holy Grail

I’m not sure people understand what an album is anymore. It’s a complete story, not just a compilation of records (as in tracks or songs). So, if you’re not going to really do an album, just release singles. The ghost of The Beatles are still haunting cats. Post-Sgt. Pepper’s, every Pop artist feels compelled to make albums and everyone is not an album artist.

That said, Jigga has been to the mountaintop, but the air up there is quite thin. Every now and then, you gotta come down to sea level or below if you want to have expressive range. The kind of range I think is required to really have something to say, musically. Lyrically, Shawn Carter is brilliant. He’s lost nothing. I think he may even be a better rapper, but I’m not sure I hear much growth, overall, which I feel is required if one continues to release product into the marketplace.

I’m not a fan of lyrically driven Hiphop albums. We have cats like Eminem to thank for that. Hiphop is supposed to be a pastiche of the Black American diaspora. That’s the foundation— samples from great Black records and a cat rockin’ the mic. It starts with a beat. If the beats aren’t on point, it calls everything else into question. If the MC’s flow isn’t indicative of the tribal DNA that stems from Africa through the Americas, he can’t be considered a musician.

Jay has built a good life for himself—and though I’m not one of these cats who thinks one must glorify struggle to make good art—you must stay in touch with the ancestry. Lineage is the primal thing, but Hiphop doesn’t belong to the Black community anymore. It’s been bought out by Mainstream America, just like Jazz and R&B. It’s become way too linear to really have much that can identify itself with the ethos of Black culture. It’s all distortion and stereotypes. Miley Cyrus—who’s somewhat channeling Vanilla Ice—is now twerking, wearing grillz and making Hiphop records.

Vanilla Miley

What I hear is an album in conflict with itself. Not the kind of conflict that breeds great artistic output, but the kind of conflict that creates imbalance. This is the crux of my issues with Magna Carta… Holy Grail. The record starts off in this Boutique Nouveau Hiphop style that he and Kanye are becoming known for, except Kanye is much more comfortable here than Jay appears alone. And though, for the most part, Magna Carta is a more pleasurable listen, Yeezus is at least stylistically cohesive and breaks new ground—something Holy Grail lacks.

Midway through this collection of pieces, Hov hits his stride. On the span from F.U.T.W. to Part II (On The Run), he reminds us why he is who he is. Beyoncé also reminds us that she’s capable of giving us way better songs than she does. As far as I’m concerned, Mr. Carter phoned the last 3rd of the record in. It loses steam.

I’m not anti the new technology in record making, but if you’re going to make these highly compressed, sonically flat records, you have to find diverse ways to alter texture throughout the album to sustain interest. And if you’re a millionaire, I expect beats that sound better than something a kid can do on his computer with FruityLoops.


And what up with these Eurocentric album covers?


– Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop

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