In a year that promises to be big for hip hop, last week saw Jay-Z’s hotly anticipated latest album released. With the undoubted genius of Kanye West’s Yeezus fresh in everyone’s mind Magna Carta Holy Grail had a lot to do if it was going to stand out. But while Jay-Z’s celebrity profile only seems to grow and grow his music lacks a punch it once had and this latest studio effort hasn’t really changed things.
With his last record, 2009’s Blueprint 3, we saw the rapper move further into the realms of slick, pop-like hip hop and with Magna Carta… he continues that direction. With collaborations from Justin Timberlake, Beyonce and Frank Ocean it was obvious that really his interests are in other areas than hip hop nowadays. His rhymes here a mostly lazy and uninspired, back when he was coming up with classic albums like The Black Album and the first Blueprint there was a real emotional charge to his lyrics as he told stories of hood life, drug dealing and breaking out of the projects, with Magna Carta… we get him comparing himself to Picasso numerous times with no real justification, and giving us a poor sample version of Smells Like Teen Spirit. At points his lines don’t even make sense its clear he’s put them in for a nice rhyme, with things like ‘Leonardo Da Vinci flows, Riccardo Tisci Givenchy clothes’. The production can’t really be faulted continuing in the polished style of Blueprint 3 the beats tick away nicely providing a distraction from Jay-Z’s less than gripping vocal performance. Some of the tracks are great to listen to F.U.T.W and closing track Nickel and Dimes are a couple of stand outs but this is overall a disappointing record.
It’s been a long time really since Jay-Z has been a hip hop genius but I had had a bit of hope for this album after the unique sound found on his collaborative Watch the Throne album with Kanye but Magna Carta… really fails to deliver. In this busy year for hip hop the record will be lost well below the quality of what else is on offer.
Back when The xx’s debut was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2010 I decided to give the record a listen, since then the album has become one of my favourites of all time. Chilled, yet thought provoking, melodic and intelligent. The best thing about the album is its maturity, the band never give in to any inhibition to suddenly just burst into a bout of heaviness and instead bring brilliance in subtleness, and that ultimately is what sets them apart from any other band on the scene at the moment.
It was, in fact, in doubt whether The xx would even do a second album but I, as I’m sure most of you were, was very pleased to hear that they were. And this time their was a lot more hype surrounding it. Numerous articles, interviews and statements in the run-up to it finally being unveiled. The most interesting things being the claim that the album is heavily dance influenced and that Jamie Smith’s ultimate aim is to write a song for Beyonce. Both of which gave me the impression that Coexist might well be a world away from their previous effort.
When I first listened to the album, I have to say, I felt underwhelmed. I think I discovered for a short period of time that I was actually really hoping they had gone in a wildly different direction. They haven’t, and immediately I was disappointed. As I was listening I thought to myself, ‘My reviews are going to be the complete opposite of what I was expecting. I listened to Billy Talent and I thought it was going to be something to slate, it wasn’t. Then I listened to The xx thinking I’d have another album to gush about, but it wasn’t that good.’
Then, lo and behold, I gave the album another chance, and another, and another and it was on these repeat playings that I realised I was slowly falling in love with it without even fully knowing what was going on. In many ways now when I listen to it I find its actually so much better than xx. It is another masterpiece. They’ve taken everything they did on the first album and made it more defined and more profound creating another album that’s genius lies in its subtlety. This has got to be a shout for another Mercury Prize nomination although the win may not be quite so set in stone with newcomers Alt-J being the early favourites; but Coexist certainly deserves some recognition and it is definitely worthy of a high amount of praise!