Yeezus or Magna Carta Holy Grail?

2 Posted by - 07/04/2013 - One Timer

I typically try very hard to ignore the release of major albums for the purposes of this blog. This is for a variety of reasons, but mainly because this is an indie blog. I was going to break my code of silence with Yeezus, but Kanye squelched streaming of the album for some time and put a damper on that, so I let it slide by the wayside. Now, Magna Carta is here and we’ve got a real discussion brewing. Conveniently, streams of Yeezus have also popped up for comparisons sake within the blog itself.

The second (or first) most anticipated hip-hop album of 2013 (sorry J. Cole fans) dropped last night to Samsung device users, free of charge. Anyone who wanted to hear Magna Carta Holy Grail has likely already heard it. I know folks were foaming at the mouth for Kanye West’s newest LP, but I have to tip my hat to Samsung and the Jigga Man. There is no arguing that Magna Carta Holy Grail had less hype, at least among the circles I travel. What they lacked in hype, however, they have more than made up with sheer saturation. It’s on phones, it’s on Youtube, it’s all over Soundcloud, it’s on P2P networks. Shit is ubiquitous. You can’t go anywhere music-related without encountering it this morning.

First impressions are everything. You read a thing, you hear a thing, it’s hard to come back from a major negative. The first sound you hear on Jay Z’s new LP is Justin Timberlake’s silky vocals on “Holy Grail”. The difference between Yeezus and MCHG is immediate, as I can only assume that “Holy Grail” is gonna absolutely destroy the radio with it’s Jay + JT combo and Nirvana sampling lyricism. I’m no hip-hop head, but the beats on Magna Carta are absolutely incredible.  “Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit”, “Crown”, “Somewhere In America”, “Tom Ford”…it’s a pretty long list of tracks that are going to burn down the speakers in your vehicle. MCHG is clearly the light to Kanye’s dark in 2013.

Hold up, you say. Yeezus had some amazing beats, what about ‘Ye? That’s where I’m having some issues. When I first heard “Somewhere In America”, I was in love. I don’t give a damn about Jay’s lazy lyricism or his fascination with Miley Cyrus. That beat (Hit-Boy was the producer, I believe) is absolutely beautiful. This is the story of both MCHG AND Yeezus…that first time you threw on “Bound 2” you thought the same thing, right? For all the dogging on Kanye’s lyricism on Yeezus, how is Jay Z’s delivery on this new LP that much better? It’s pretty forgettable, to be honest.

I’m firmly in the tank on “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves” from Yeezus – both of those tracks deliver something for me that I don’t expect from hip-hop. The viciousness of “Black Skinhead” and it’s Marilyn Manson inspired crunch is something I’ll always be drawn to. The track is a cathartic, brutal release. It’s like nothing I’ve ever heard before in this genre, and when you throw in the underground nature of all the production on this LP it’s interesting realizing that it’s got 60% of it’s influence from the very kind of music you find on Sirens of Decay. For all it’s highs (“Blood On The Leaves”, “Bound 2”, even a throwaway like “On Sight” has a sound I love), though, Kanye’s lyricism is pretty terrible on Yeezus.

My mind was well blown when I heard Yeezus the first time. I could have never imagined Kanye going that far off the mainstream deep-end, and it’s no surprise to me it’s so divisive. Most strictly hip-hop fans have probably never heard anything like “On Sight”, and have rarely encountered music like  the production found in “Black Skinhead”. I’d have been shocked as well if I didn’t traffic in this music daily. I can’t lie though – through the occasional bad delivery, subpar lyrics, and Kanye’s god complex I find Yeezus to be a hell of an achievement. It’s a glass ceiling destroyer for the hip-hop genre.

Magna Carta Holy Grail was marketed as Jay’s attempt at that, but it’s clear that was mere marketing and not his real intention. Sure, Jay Z talked about dualities and, yeah, he raps about Picasso and the Louvre, but we all know Jay is playing at being a high brow rapper, right? That’s not him. Jay’s been known for biting rappers’ styles, words, and now apparently their (in this case, Kanye’s) inspirations. There’s nothing wrong with that – hell, I admire it. This dude absorbs influences like a chameleon, flitting from business to business and rap to rap without a conscience. In essence, he is the new age American Gangster. Yeezus might be the new ground, but when I’m in the car I’m going to bump Magna Carta Holy Grail like I was 17 again. I don’t think there will ever be another Kanye West album (without Jay Z co-headlining a-la Watch The Throne) that can lay claim to that. He’s gone too introverted since Late Registration, and Jay seems all too glad to fill that mainstream role.

If Yeezus was meant to be the album of the summer, someone forgot to tell Kanye. It’s too dark, too intimidating. Hell, it hurts my psyche. Dualities and marketing aside, Jay Z threw together some of the most club and radio ready production I’ve heard in a while from his camp. It’s track after track of radio and club ready tracks, from the Timberlake guest spot to the engrossing Rick Ross feature on “Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit”.  “Crown” with Travi$ Scott is another track that I was really digging on the first couple listens. Listening to this new Shawn Carter just makes me feel bad for Kanye. Why did he release Yeezus in June and not in October? It would’ve had a completely different feel in a cold weather month.

So, what’s the verdict? They both have amazing beats and subpar raps, and that’s pretty much it. I wouldn’t kick either of them out of the bed. I admire Yeezus and what Kanye tried to do, but it’s not something the average fan can listen to on repeat. Magna Carta is far more palatable, and as such, I fear that it might be the album best remembered by the general public. Regardless of the truth, the internet is already well underway tearing Magna Carta Holy Grail to shreds, where it can join Yeezus as a complete and utter failure…ah, to be an artist in today’s age.

Yeezus or Holy Grail? Depends on the season. Oh, and these dudes are rappers, right? Right? That’s the only disappointing thing about these albums. They are both great to listen to. Just don’t dive too deep on the, you know, actual raps (outside of a few spots on Yeezus). They didn’t.

12 Comments

  • Derek 07/05/2013 - 7:11 PM

    Wonderful duel review.

  • Estella 07/06/2013 - 10:38 AM

    Kanye probably released his album in June because of his birthday

  • Terkz 07/08/2013 - 9:02 PM

    Stopped reading when you mentioned Bound 2 as lazy lyricism

    • Jason Harrison 07/08/2013 - 9:22 PM

      I’m pretty sure there’s no where I said Bound 2 had lazy lyricism.

      “For all it’s highs (“Blood On The Leaves”, “Bound 2″, even a throwaway like “On Sight” has a sound I love), though, Kanye’s lyricism is pretty terrible on Yeezus.”

      is what I wrote. I was referencing the first two as the standout tracks, and “On Sight” having a beat that I enjoyed. I love “Bound 2”, it’s one of the first “Kanye” tracks we’ve gotten in a bit. Still…

      Bound 2’s lyricism compared to similar soul-sample/soulful tracks on College Dropout (“Jesus Walks” and “All Falls Down” for example) or Late Registration (“Gone” & “Hey Mama” for example)? It’s not even close. I don’t see how that can be argued.

  • Grendel 07/09/2013 - 1:25 PM

    You lost me at Bound 2 as well… Bound 2 was a throwaway and the album would have been better if they’d just cut it to 9 songs. I got the feeling that they felt it had to be 10.

    MCHG is just boring. The whole thing is monotonous. The JT thing at the beginning was horrible and I was thinking of skipping the track until Jay jumped in. Nothing much is standing out to me in this whole thing so far (currently on Part II).

    Yeezus is truly groundbreaking. Maybe it’s just because I love angry music and I’m old enough to have been at those Lollapalooza’s with Ministry, Primus, etc. that the sound on Yeezus was a refreshing mix of the old and the new for me. MCHG on the other hand is just a bland remix of the current, mixed down to a ready-for-muzak background sound.

    • Jason Harrison 07/10/2013 - 1:17 AM

      Grendel,

      So you found MCHG boring? I can see that, from the perspective of an indie music fan. MCHG does what it’s intended to do, and basically what all Jay-Z albums have done for some time now…sound good on a system and/or play well on the radio. If you find that boring, I don’t know why you listened in the first place. It was an inevitable conclusion. I personally don’t mind it all that much, simply because the production was good. Sure, it’s not groundbreaking like Yeezus, but hell, if everything I listened to had to be groundbreaking I’d walk around mighty disappointed.

      As for the Timberlake being horrible/Jay rap being good on “Holy Grail”, I gotta stop you there. I don’t know where this came from. The track leaves a lot to be desired, considering the folks participating in it – but to say JT dropped the ball and not Hova? Wow. There’s only two things to complain about on this track. 1) It was a Justin Timberlake single with a Jay Z feature and therefore should’ve been on 20/20, and 2) if you’re gonna sample the most famous track in the Nirvana catalog, you gotta do it in something better than this. They should’ve left that shit out, IMO.

      As for this Yeezus is groundbreaking thing…I don’t know, dude. The production is groundbreaking for hip-hop, I’ll give you that. I absolutely love it. I’ve not gotten down with “angry music” since early in my twenties, really, but I still have an appreciation for it.

      Outside of “New Slaves”, “Black Skinhead”, “Blood On The Leaves”, and “Bound 2” (which you discount), though, the whole thing lacked a lot of focus lyrically. Some have argued it’s kind of a window into Kanye’s psyche, like ADD in a funhouse filled with nightmares or something, but when you’ve got a catalog with highlights like CD/LR/MBDTF, it’s hard for me to swallow personally. I expect HUGE with Kanye. He’s my favorite hip-hop artist going and one of the few artists with mass appeal willing to take risks with their career. He has better in him than this though, and this just doesn’t compare to his past work when you count it on “overall” and not just “production”. As an aside, you are only the third person I’ve encountered who didn’t like “Bound 2”, for what it’s worth. I enjoyed it immensely, minus a few “uh huh baby’s”…

      All that said, thanks for the thoughtful post. I get your point, I guess I just see (hear?) some of it in a different way.

      EDIT: I also wanted to add, this is a large part of the appeal of Kanye for me. Folks are extremely passionate in both directions about him and his music. You can’t say that about a lot of hip-hop artists.

  • jeff hopely 07/09/2013 - 2:05 PM

    While i did agree with some points i found this review spent too much focus on the individual tracks and lacked focus on the overall development of both the albums, although jay’s is definately sonically consistent throughout especially by todays standards it cannot even compare to the overall aesthetic a full listen of yeezus creates. It feels almost as though its a musical journey through kanye’s psyche and his brialliant juxtaposition of controversy and art breathe a lot more life into the lyrics. Rather than producing singles he was able to create one cohesive work that almost functions in itself as a single. While i commend jay for the excellent individual tracks he placed on mchg the overall listening experiance felt too drawn out with filler tracks like futw. I can honestly say yeezus will destroy any overall album experiance i will have for a long time because i dont believe anyone in hip hop today is capable of creating an overall work like that, except perhaps kendrick lamar

    • Jason Harrison 07/10/2013 - 1:43 AM

      Jeff,

      Thanks for reading, and to your point about my review – I can jive with that. I did focus a bit much on the individual tracks, but I had intended it as a small piece touching on the highs and lows that sort of morphed on it’s own into that rather lengthy comparison. I do this for kicks, type it up, hit publish…no editors. It could probably use some sprucing and tightening up…not unlike both of these albums.

      I enjoy hearing that Yeezus will destroy any new album playthrough experience for you in the future…that’s what we crave from music, to be blown away and to become attached to an album or sound. For my part (and MCHG was the first beneficiary of this), Yeezus is going to actually enhance other albums and showcase them in a far better light than I would’ve possibly given them before simply because I don’t normally delve into things this dark anymore.

      Yeezus was an experience. It should’ve been released in October when folks are standing in line outside haunted houses and corn mazes. It’s that kind of sound. Dark, intimidating, schizophrenic. I appreciate it and respect it, but I’m just not there as a person anymore. In short, it’s too dark for me to find myself hitting the replay button on the regular, no matter how awesome some of the tracks sound, and that’s not even getting into my problems with it’s consistency.

      As for Jay Z + MCHG = some filler, I consider “I Am A God” and “I’m In It” to be filler, at bare minimum. Many would argue “Guilt Trip” and/or “Hold My Liquor” as well, but I happen to like those. “I Am A God” had nothing compelling going for it, just shock factor and corny lyrics. I’m used to corny K. West lyricism, but this wasn’t even funny. “I’m In It”…well, I’ll leave that one alone.

      As for your Kendrick comment, I’d definitely take good kid m.a.a.d city over either of these albums in both cohesiveness and overall quality. It had substance, but it still had some singles. He made his point, but didn’t go off the deep end with it. And that lyricism…damn! These two albums can’t even touch that aspect of Kendrick Lamar.

    • Grendel 07/12/2013 - 2:41 PM

      I agree with this. Yeezus was an album, MCHG was a collection of songs. Perhaps it’s that I’m old and I listen to albums from beginning to end rather than singles, but Yeezus seemed much more cohesive and had a single voice, whereas the only overriding message I got out of MCHG was “Hey, I’m Jay-Z and I’m really rich”.

      Jason, yeah, I agree that Jay-Z is probably just not my thing. Kinda like Drake… I know people love Drake but he puts me to sleep. I guess I don’t’ know what hip-hop fans are looking for… I thought it was an angry outlet, and that’s what it is for me. My girlfriend didn’t particularly like Yeezus because she’s not into angry music or 90’s industrial, but she also found MCHG bland. She loved the new J Cole, though… and I found that boring. The only one we’ve both agreed on is A$AP Rocky. THAT was an amazing album AND amazing individual tracks.

      • Jimbo 07/16/2013 - 11:10 AM

        You just read my mind. Jay and Cole seem to paint a picture for you, while Kanye gives you an idea and you paint it yourself.

  • adam 08/10/2013 - 12:00 PM

    i completely agree with your take on these two albums. IMO MCHG is just so much better to listen to, its appealing in that it doesn’t try to be different at the expense of being good like Yeezus. Call it playing it safe or whatever but the themes and sounds of the album are so much better I can’t fathom why it’s getting such bad reviews. By comparison Yeezus is just painful, impossible to relate to and crass.