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.