Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Jay Z - Magna Carta Holy Grail

"I'm not a businessman. I'm a business, man."

That's right kids. Shawn Carter, entrepreneur, the one-hundred-million dollar man, owner of a chain of bars, a sports team, a clothing label, soundtrack producer on The Great Gatsby, impregnator of the not-so-single-lady Mrs Beyonce Knowles, has taken some time out of his busy schedule of making money to do some art for you. This is because he's an artist. But not an artist with much spare time.

Mr. Jay Zed had to come up with a plan to become an artist in the smallest amount of time possible, so as not to interfere with his business affairs. To do this, he got a blender and jam-packed it full of anything vaguely considerable as culture: Italian sculpture, Middle Age English legends, a few painters, conspiracy theories, and - as not to sound too out of touch with the youth of today - some Nirvana karaoke and a few brand names.

What came out was 'Magna Carta... Holy Grail', an album named as though to sound like a satire on pseudo-intellectualism, complete with ellipses to make it sound like he literally came up with it off the top of his head, giving the title of the album the same feel as most of the songs on it. This may sound mean, perhaps duly so, but the main feeling garnered from this album was of pure incredulity. Let's look at the context of release:

Before it was even whored out to Samsung and became a bestseller on the day of it's release (A sure sign of artistic quality, if you wanted one) there was tension in the Roc-a-fella ranks. Written at the same time as Jay-Z's and Kanye West's collaborative LP Watch The Throne, West was there to hear much of the material on MCHG before anyone else. And boy was he pissed off. In fact, the bromance between the two was broken for days, because Jay didn't let West put the material on Watch the Throne. To some this may make the material just sound even better, but it smarts of an attitude towards music that sounds more like it's a commodity than an art-form. 

A year or two later on the release, Mr. Carter sure is happy he held onto it - to put it lightly, MCHG has barely been released and has made him a lot of money.This may be a valid point to begin criticism of the actual music on the album, but that'd be missing the point entirely: this isn't music. To get an idea of this, try listening to the album on Spotify, and see if you can spot where the advertisements start and stop.

It's 2013. Tupac is dead. Dr Dre is hawking headphones on a street corner in Hackney, and 50 Cent is being arrested for beating his wife. Kanye West recently admitted that he is a 'proud non-reader' - and, for a sense of context, this was on the occasion of the release of his own book. You might remember, on his most notable track 99 Problems, Jay-Z telling you all he's not dumb. He clarifies his lack of stupidity on MCHG, and you know what? He's right. 

What Jay-Z has been trying to tell us all along is that he isn't the dumb one - the people who are still buying his albums are. In Tom Ford, track three on the album, he raps 'Numbers don't lie / Check the scoreboard'. Jay-Z may be old, but he's still in the game - a game of numbers. If you believe in his artistry, go ahead: it's your turn to Insert Coins.


Lewis Shaw

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