Jay-Z's 'Magna Carta Holy Grail': What the Critics Are Saying
The rapper's latest album was made available by app at midnight on July 4.
Thanks to a sponsorship with Samsung, Jay-Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail has already sold briskly -- but just how good is it? Early reviewers who tuned in to the album, released via an app download, gave their first impressions on Thursday.
"Jay's trying to be a lot of things to all people, as one does when as big as he is," found Billboard reviewer Jeff Rosenthal. "And while it's unfair to measure Jay against others, we're living in a world where Yeezus has risen, and it feels like Jay's dipping a toe rather than fully diving in. ... That's not to say it's not good -- it is -- sometimes you just want to see some sweat."
Meanwhile, USA Today's reviewer, Steve Jones, gave the album a stellar four out of four stars in a brief write-up. "The breadth of his subject matter ... is matched by his lyrical acuity," mused Jones. "His perspective is that of someone who has achieved much but hasn't lost sight of what brought him to this point. ... [H]e stays on top, because he refuses to do anything less than epic."
In a three out of four star review, New York Daily News music critic, Jim Farber, zeroes in on a lyric where Jay-Z deems himself the "the Bob Dylan of rap" and appraises the line. "That may sound like a stretch -- especially since not all the music on Magna Carta has the freshness of its verse. But the fact that Jay has allowed more vulnerability and rumination to balance out his continuing wit and fun means he may be well on his way to becoming his genre's answer to the great bard," Farber writes.
MTV's reviewer Rob Markman finds that, despite the release strategy, the album is vintage Jay-Z. "[W]hat the album actually contains is the same old recipe which has made Jay-Z so brilliant beginning with his 1996 debut Reasonable Doubt," Markman writes. "If Magna Carta proves anything it's that no matter how futuristic your music distribution method becomes, banging beats and choice rhymes will always remain timeless."
Los Angeles Times reviewer Randall Roberts, who wrote that he'd been up since 4:30 a.m. on Independence Day processing the album, posted a short list of first thoughts and answered the all-important question: "Is the album any good? It really is."
In an unusual admonition of the app's invasive permission requests -- and glitchy download -- the New York Times' veteran pop critic Jon Pareles chose not to write about the music, per se. Instead, he opines: "If Jay-Z wants to know about my phone calls and e-mail accounts, why doesn’t he join the National Security Agency? ... On some level, Jay-Z knows better. A streak of paranoia has been running through his lyrics for years. One recurring theme is that his prominence as an African-American success story makes him a high-profile target, always under scrutiny. 'Feds still lurking/They see I’m still putting work in,' he raps in a new song, 'Somewhere in America.' Yet now, it’s Jay-Z who’s lurking -- in my phone."