It’s a mid-life crisis of an album. That’s the gist of it.
Decoded was published and he did an interview with CNN. His stature as an artist, a businessman, but more importantly a person, seemed elevated as a combination of his maturity and savvy communicated a man head and shoulders above his peers. Kanye West once said “So many people get caught up in re-making their first album … More than a artist, I’m a real person. And real people grow.” His biography a literary manifestation of his diary on verse, Mr. Carter’s next solo project was sure to reflect this growth, right? Wrong.
The title, rich with the symbolism of political upheaval (Magna Carta) and religious significance (Holy Grail) draws us in and hints at a piece of art so great that it, too, will be as widely revered. Hubris magnanimous as he revealed the artwork next to the original Magna Carta document in Salisbury Cathedral.
Our introduction to the album, “Holy Grail”, is an attempt at an ode to Hip-Hop; her tempestuous characteristics, her religious following, her addictive nature. Problem is; Common did it breathtakingly, Erykah did it exceptionally, so if you’re going to do it, the metaphor has to be so skilfully enunciated that it does justice to her. He failed this task spectacularly. What he also did was sample one of the greatest tracks in metal history. And for the sheer desecration of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and the memory of Kurt Cobain attached to it, he gets no love.
“Picasso Baby” follows on with empty bragging. If you’re going to allude to comparisons with some of the greatest artists the world has ever seen, Mr. Carter, you’re going to have to serve up other-worldly excellence. This track is banality and mediocrity personified. “Tom Ford” has a slight re-incarnation of Drake’s “Worrying bout your followers, you need to get your dollars up” in “Fuck hashtags and retweets nigga, 140 characters in these streets n*gga” but it’s still no country for spectacular so far.
“FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt”. No, you don’t. You lost your flow to a mimicry of the likes of A$AP Rocky, Rozay and Chief Keef and your bars are cruising down Struggle Avenue (despite your claim to the contrary with the line “Cos the bars don’t struggle and the struggle don’t stop”).
A glimmer of hope with “Oceans”. Great concept but woefully under-delivered. Where Ye likened modern-day lynching to greedy consumerism in the Strange Fruit reference on “Blood On The Leaves”, Hov clearly celebrates the opulence and juxtaposition between modern-day black excellence to its humble beginnings with that same reference here. He then follows on with “F.U.T.W.” Some light, finally. The best writing on this album. Aspirational, touching and some wordplay!
This is all there is to be said on “Somewhere In America”: Stop encouraging Miley. Please.
Now here’s a bit of insight into the album title on the following two tracks; “Crown” takes on the theme around Magna Carta and “Heaven” (with yet another desecration, this time of R.E.M’s “Losing My Religion”) takes on the theme around Holy Grail. They follow each other, aptly, but still fall below par in what imagery could have been conjured up with a solid effort in creating it.
It’s hard not to approach the rest of this album the way our esteemed President adjusts his spectacles; with a middle finger and a blank stare. But we trudge on, and come across “Part II” (of ’03 Bonnie & Clyde’), “BBC” (where not even Nas’ feature could save it) and “La Familia” (the continuation of truncated flows).
There’s a particular way guys revere the birth of their daughters and how they subsequently crumble into little piles of softness at the mere suggestion of a smile from their little princess. “Not saying that our sons are less important” but it’s enchanting to behold. We expected this sentiment from Jay Z’s “Blue” but got more of it on “Glory”. It’s still touching though, filled with the paranoias of inadequacies as a parent and expectations of the journey ahead.
Then, with arguably the best track on the album, we’re drawn into a truly poignant moment as Jay-Z tells a tale of grounding yourself as success stares in your face with its ugly head reared and the ‘survivors guilt’ of getting out of the game with Nickels and Dimes. A perfect way to end off the album.
The production work, as an evolution of boom-bap rap, is particularly solid. It’s great, but not amazing. Two of the best beats on the album are on “Holy Grail” and “Tom Ford”. They get your head bopping involuntarily but overall come across as overproduced and typical of Timbaland’s production style. The usage of drum kits was overwhelming at times and because the same producer was used on most of the album, the production on the album sounded mostly the same.
As a whole, it’s an over-hyped attempt at a fun, youthful album with its little anecdotes into pop culture, such as the Miley Cyrus reference. It reeks of a man trying to stay at the top of his game by changing it. #NewRules, right? It plods along, complacently, yet all the while trying to convince us that he still has it in him to chug out dance floor bangers. Here lies the mid-life crisis at the crux of it. I wanted him to bleed onto a record; he refused while chuckling that trademark chortle of his.
The deal with Samsung that saw the electronics giant buy 1 million digital copies for free distribution on a mobile app to their customers was undoubtedly a landmark that had the industry left aghast. It was a great move to have Samsung buy the albums because it would have never gone platinum on its own strength. How has the man who wrote the whole of The Blueprint in just two days been reduced to this travesty of a record? Easy. ‘I’m not a businessman/ I’m a business, man’.
Written By: Mercia Tucker (@MissMercia)