Magna Carta… Holy Grail

jayz-magnacartaholygrail-608x608-1373466607In 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.

 

Yeezus

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Kanye West remains one of the most controversial celebrities around but despite this he continues to be, probably, the most powerful force in modern hip-hop. With his last album, My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy, saw him move deeper into more artistic aspects of his music giving us one of his most personal insights into his thinking and living yet. Yeezus is a departure from his usual style, moving away from polished hip-hop to loud industrial tracks with a breath of the eighties creating his most experimental and unique record yet.

We all know that when Kanye does hip-hop he does it better than anyone, but that is why I think Yeezus is the best move he could have made in his career. It is a record that shows he isn’t phased by expectations (if we didn’t already know that) but it also shows us the he is more multi-faceted than we may have thought. His last album that was a complete departure in style was 2008’s 808s and Heartbreak which, in my opinion, was a poor album where all the songs sounded the same and there was no real punch to it’s overall sound, but Yeezus is something completely different. It’s a powerhouse of an album that grabs you by throat and yanks through a whistle-stop tour of noise-pop and vicious lyrics. His lyrics are on top form here, some of the most inspired lines yet he is both preachy at times and tongue in cheek, mixing up such lines as, ‘I am a God, so hurry up with my damn massage’ with, ‘Y’all niggas can’t control me, I know that we the new slaves’ and further spicing things up by throwing in things like, ‘Eating asian pussy, all I need is sweet and sour sauce.’ The production is as perfect as always as well, drafting in the talents of a huge number of producers including Daft Punk, but it’s also hard to miss West’s usual meticulousness in every single beat. It’s hard to pick stand out tracks from the album, simply because they are all so good. Despite being a short album at only ten tracks that last a total of just 40 minutes there’s not a single second that’s boring. It never stops being noisy but it does have its gentler moments particularly in ‘Hold My Liquor’ and ‘Bound 2’ provide some respite from the raw, minimalistic power of tracks like ‘I’m In It’ and ‘Black Skinhead’. Yeezus really is a complete package of a record one that you wish would continue but realise you couldn’t expect much more from.

The record is a bold move on West’s part, but a move that exemplifies an artist who continues to be at the peak of his game. And a hip-hop artist that can produce a record that is above and beyond what is expected of him. Whether his next album will be the same kind of thing or not I already can’t wait. Young Yeezy has fully transformed himself into the great Yeezus.

Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap

Ice-T directs us through an array of the top rappers around in this new documentary that aims to map the birth and rise of hip hop music. The OG has obviously managed to get hold of the biggest names on the scene from past and present to ask really what it was that got these people to where they are now.

Interspersed throughout are a juxtaposition of shots of ┬áthe sprawling New York City skyline, with poverty stricken black ghettos and a selection of street art, all backed by a beginners manual of the greatest hip hop tunes of all time. His interviews with the greats are successful in giving across the artists’ love of the music and the hardships they went through to make themselves known. He is less successful, though, on providing you with information on the history of the genre, he seems more preoccupied by the writing processes than where this stuff actually came from.

Every rapper in the film are credible rappers who have had big hits and helped make the genre to more accessible to people in all walks of life and the most interesting moments of the film come when the artists speak of their writing process. It’s also great to the see them rap straight into the camera with no backing tracks, this really makes you notice how passionate and meaningful rap lyrics actually are. The film is very enjoyable if you’re a hip hop but I can imagine, however, if you’re not it might be a bit more tedious.

When I heard about the film and saw the trailers I was under the impression it would be Ice-T taking us right back to the beginning, where was hip hop invented, who made it and then how has the genre progressed into the hip hop we have today. The personnel are there he manages to give a great range of artists from past and present but what’s lacking is the real insight into what it was that made this genre come from the streets and become one of the most profitable music genres in the world today. While I enjoyed the film whether it was a particularly informative documentary is another matter and on that front The Art of Rap doesn’t quite pick up on that big selling hook.