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.
When I first read about Baz Luhrmann’s latest movie, The Great Gatsby, a few months ago it became something that I was quietly excited about. While Gatsby sees him return to adapting an old classic, something he did especially well with Romeo + Juliet, it also saw him reunite with DiCaprio for the first time since then. Also starring Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan I was expecting The Great Gatsby to be another hyper-stylish, clever retelling of a story. Going in to the film I didn’t know the story at all so I was looking forward to seeing it for the first time too.
As you may have gathered from the tone of my first paragraph what I was greeted with was not what I was expecting or wanting at all. For at least the first half of the film the plot is just a background element of the film. What Luhrmann is more interested is shoving CGI locations and lavish costumes in your face. One scene in particular that really got to me was when Nick Carraway (Maguire) first meets Gatsby (DiCaprio) and they go for a ride in the car, Gatsby is telling Carraway his story of how he got to be where he is but we can’t hear what he’s saying because we’re supposed to be more entertained by his stylish car zipping round the city streets with engine roaring so much so that the dialogue may as well not even be there. It’s moments like this that really make you not care at all about what’s going on. As you will probably know Jay-Z did the soundtrack, another thing I was quite excited about, but again for the majority it just did not work. We’ve previously seen Luhrmann use modern music in a period movie before in the fantastic Moulin Rouge and in that he manages to make it work, in the case of Gatsby it does not fit at all. When you’re seeing people partying 1920’s style it just seems odd to have Niggas in Paris playing in the background. It’s obvious as well that everyone involved think it’s the coolest thing anyone could come up with making it all the more excruciatingly annoying. The last massive thing that really got to me about the movie was our narrator/protagonist Carraway, played by Tobey Maguire, who is the most boring character I have ever seen in any movie. He has no personality, no traits, he just does as he’s told and somehow manages to be friends with people. I wouldn’t say it’s the fault of Maguire, although he is never much good, its more the writing that gives his character no time whatsoever to develop a personality. I haven’t read the book but I’m almost certain it’s main character can’t be a boring old sap.
While I’ve ranted a lot there were some elements of the movie that weren’t so bad. DiCaprio’s portrayal of Gatsby is spot on and he completely steals the show in the role. Carey Mulligan is another exemplary casting decision and she does well as Daisy Buchanan, a more devious character than I’m used to seeing her play. The third act of the film as a whole improves greatly. It stops caring about the style and starts caring about the story, when it gets down to the real drama of the plot it becomes a much more gripping and enjoyable watch. But unfortunately it just leaves you wishing it was like that from the start, and ultimately its bad points heavily outweigh the good ones, a huge disappointment.