Jay-Z, "Magna Carta Holy Grail"
Jay-Z, "Magna Carta Holy Grail" ( Picasa )
Magna Carta Holy Grail was doomed to be overshadowed by Jay-Z's business decisions. It should really open with a call back to “I'm not a businessman / I'm a business, man.” The music might have overshadowed the Samsung partnership, app format and data-mining controversy if it felt like there was a point being made, but instead, it's an hour-long mix of Jay-Z casually doing his thing.

Lucky for him, even complacent Jay-Z is solid. “BBC” and “Somewhereinamerica” are surefire hits. There is a callback to earlier years in the form of “Part II (On The Run),” on which he and Beyonce follow-up “03 Bonnie and Clyde” (awww). Then there's the far more 2013, minimalist trap and 8-bit production of “Tom Ford,” followed by a more old school-sounding “Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit” featuring Rick Ross.

Sometimes Jay gets lost among the guest spots. It seems like forever before he finally comes in on “Holy Grail,” though listening to Justin Timberlake's voice is far from the worst thing. But you start to wonder where he is when he lets these guys -- plus Nas, Frank Ocean, Beyonce, Pharrell, and on and on -- take over a track.

And oh, the references. He's quoting or comparing himself to a long list cultural icons -- Picasso, Tom Ford, Kurt Cobain.


The chorus of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” shows up on “Holy Grail” and “Losing My Religion” sneaks into “Heaven.”  But why all the name-checking? It doesn't feel like there's a larger point, partly because Jay is equally iconic.

It's why MCHG is flawed and it's also why the record will do well anyway. It's Hova. He's still at or near the top of the game for his flow and ability to make a purely fun and infectious track. “Somewhereinamerica,” with it's vampy piano, funky horn hook and his signature laugh (now a twitter thing thanks to his tweet spree on Monday) kicking the song off, is the playful side of him people love. He can rap “twerk, Miley, twerk” and we'll smile (and wonder if this was really recorded in the short time between Miley's twerking music video and this album release date).

So, no, MCHG is not the most coherent collection and Jay-Z is throwing off a vibe of complacency, but everyone is having fun and business is still booming. #mylaugh