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Last updated: July 6, 2013 5:00 am
With typical canniness Jay-Z has sold his own leak, licensing 1m downloads to Samsung to distribute before Magna Carta Holy Grail’s official release. But he needs to do the business musically too: aside from his Kanye West collaboration Watch the Throne , the rapper’s recent records have been dull.
Opening track “Holy Grail” is unpromising, Hov comparing himself to Mike Tyson, Kurt Cobain and, er, MC Hammer as Justin Timberlake sings a weedy hook – but the rest does the job in style. Fine production, mainly by a rejuvenated Timbaland, combines rap classicism with innovation, from Space Invader bleeps and cowbells to chopped-up modern classical arrangements, while Jay-Z deploys his verbal tricks (uh’s, drawn-out syllables, lyrical run-ons) with masterly fluency.
He explores the theme of black success with wit; but beneath the clever boasts there’s also an intriguing layer of ambivalence, as with the pun on slavery and shopping when he depicts himself in a designer clothes store “picking cotton” with a black Amex card.
Magna Carta Holy Grail
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