Jay-Z might be feeling the fatigue of living up to his legacy. His new album was much-hyped (who didn’t get a little teary-eyed listening to Jay talk about Blue in the Samsung commercial?) but once the tracks started landing the buzz started to sting.
“…one of Jay-Z’s blandest offerings. Over 16 joylessly professional tracks, our hero laces up his sneakers for his bazillion-thousandth victory lap around the hip-hop universe. There’s no mood, no verve, no vision to this music. It’s the sound of champagne being sprayed around an empty locker room.”
He cites some of the worst offenders of the album as “Tom Ford” and “Nickels and Dimes” (songs may contain NSFW language):
“He name-drops convicted D.C. gangster Wayne “Silk” Perry on a song named after fashion designer Tom Ford.”
“The last wheel falls off during the album’s final cut, “Nickels and Dimes.” After coughing up a weak Lady Gaga pun — “Taking food out my little monster’s mouth/That’ll drive me gaga” — and rekindling a weird media beef with 86-year-old Harry Belafonte, he closes the album by insulting the listeners who made him a superstar: ‘Y’all not worthy/Sometimes I feel like y’all don’t deserve me.'”
So how did we get here? Did his most recent endeavors hint at the failure that is “Magna Carta” all along?
HOV as a mentor: 2011’s “Watch the Throne” concert, Jay-Z solidified his influence on the game and his status as mentor. Richards praised Jay-Z’s command of the stage, saying:
There is, of course, an even greater creative symmetry in this partnership…. Jay-Z played the workmanlike mentor, dressed in a black Yankees cap and cargo pants. West was the rambunctious pupil, sporting a black leather kilt, looking like the coolest man on Earth. And while Jay-Z’s easy rapport with the audience often made the concert feel like it was his alone, it would be foolish to ignore how big a role West has played in keeping this man relevant.
S.Carter as collaborator: “Watch The Throne” was a “galactically hyped collaboration” with Kanye West that proved Jay-Z has 99 problems but money, cars and jewels no longer make the list.
Those expecting a disastrous ego clash will have to wait for Congress to reconvene — or until Jay-Z and West hit the road together this fall. Here, the duo volley between the contemplative and the petulant, dreaming contorted American dreams in which your worth is defined by your Rolex, your tenacity, your Warhol collection, your desire, the cars in your garage and the chips on your shoulder. Over the course of 16 tracks, rebellion is consistently tempered with gluttony — the two dissonant spirits that make this country great.
Jay can’t repeat the past: Richards cited “The Blueprint 3” as the “…first full-scale disaster of his career.” (Throw your hands up if you forgot there even was a “Blueprint 3”?)
… a collection devoid of the mega-jams we expect from hip-hop’s undisputed alpha male. Instead, we suffer lyrics that suggest a new credo: Shrug that dirt off your shoulder.The rap game? He’s over it. Hip-hop’s next generation? Yawn. The haters? Pffft. They say it’s lonely at the top, but for Jay-Z, it’s just incredibly boring. After 13 years of thrilling auto-hagiography, the man sounds fed up not only with hip-hop but with himself.
But not everyone was unimpressed with “Magna Carta.” Ellen Grossman — remember her? — the woman who sat next to Jay-Z on the R train? She praises the the album for making her want to use her limited dance skills to bop along. But she also admits she can’t hear the lyrics, so…
“Because of my hearing problems, I had a little trouble understanding the words, but I got it. I got the beat and I got the energy… Because I wasn’t hearing the words exactly, I think that he was talking about possessions and objects. I got that kind of stuff. And it was wonderful.”