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CD review: Jay-Z’s ‘Magna Carta… Holy Grail’

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Jay-Z sold a million copies of Magna Carta… Holy Grail before it even hit the streets.
Photo: Evan Agostini/invision
Shea Serrano

Three and a half stars

Jay-Z Magna Carta… Holy Grail

Prior to the release of Jay-Z’s 12th album, Magna Carta… Holy Grail, the drug dealer-turned-kingpin capitalist negotiated a deal with Samsung that had the company pre-purchasing one million digital copies. It was the first and only time in the history of music that an album had been arranged to arrive with platinum certification.

Jay-Z has ascended to such a level of fame and influence that he’s managed to make his music secondary to the processes surrounding its genesis. It’s yet another accomplishment to add to his monstrously impressive career. What’s maybe even more remarkable: It wasn’t entirely necessary. Though moments on MCHG feel like chores to get through, it’s a mostly fun, mostly enjoyable spin.

We’re given production from, among others, Timbaland and Pharrell (who has positively owned this summer), guest features from Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, Frank Ocean and others and a remarkable cohesiveness that Jay never seems to chase. The loopy charm of “Somewhereinamerica” (where he bragsBragsBRAGS), the boom-bap bombast of “Picasso Baby” (where he bragsBragsBRAGS), the glory of “Heavens” (where he bragsBragsBRAGS), the distilled yet provocative aggression of “Oceans” (where he bragsBragsBRAGS), the slow burn of “Crown” (where, yep)—they’re all prototypical Millionaire Jay-Z Fun.

There are myriad lines one might deem clever, but the most enjoyable comes on “Crown,” where he trolls everyone with the cutesy “Uncle said I’d never sell a million records/I sold a million records, like, a million times.” Jay-Z is more famous than you. Jay-Z is better at business than you. Jay-Z is better at being creative than you. And Jay-Z is good enough at all three of those things that he can spend an entire album telling you so and not piss you off.

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