I asked my buddy DJ Snips, one fourth of London's best hip-hop night Livin' Proof, Jump Off TV's resident loudmouth and DJ (well, duh), for his opinion on Jay Z's 'Magna Carta Holy Grail'. Mainly because I thought he was going to go off on one and I'd end up throwing my phone across the office. Instead he gave me the most reasonable assessment of it ever. The conclusion? Jay Z needs to retire.
"The hype around it means I’m guilty of expecting more than I should. In contrast, when I listened to Joey's Summer Knights straight after, I didn’t know what to expect, so I listened to it openly and enjoyed it more. It's the exact same problem I had with Yeezus. Obviously with an artist like Jay Z, there’s a huge expectation because he's arguably one of the greatest ever to make hip-hop, but in 50 years time when we look back at his career, no one will remember this era. It’s like when you look at Stevie Wonder, he made an alright album with the Jungle Fever soundtrack but nobody thinks back to that when they think of his body of work. Whether hip-hop has got better or worse is entirely subjective but I think people who embrace Jay Z, whatever generation, won't be hyping this stage of his career.
“Heaven”, “Crown”, “Summer in America” and “Oceans” were really amazing records, “BBC” wasn’t bad and “Fuck Up The World” was the one I thought was incredible. But you just always know what you’re going to get lyrically from Jay. It’s braggadocios; there aren't many social or political statements on there, but when he brags, he brags in a clever and witty way. But with this, the production was just all over the place. The great thing about hip-hop at the moment is you have all these styles so there's no need to fuse them into one. Like, when I listen to Rick Ross I want to hear 808s and that ignorant trap sound. When I listen to Joey Bada$$ I just want to hear boom-bap music. When I listen to A$AP I want to hear floaty electronic stuff. On Magna Carta I think he’s guilty of playing it safe by trying to capture all those elements and it ends up sounding a little disjointed.
If you’re an amazing artist and you’re not breaking new ground, then it puts the listener in the position where you’re just doing the same thing over and over except not as well. Whereas if you’re trying to break new ground it’s a risk because it’s either boundary pushing or you completely flop but at least you tried to break new ground, Kanye was guilty of the latter with Yeezus. I saw the execution of Yeezus as bad BUT I don't knock Kanye for trying.
With Jay, he had Blueprint that was pretty much Reasonable Doubt...but better. By the time he got to the Black Album, he sort of just plateaued because there was nowhere else for him to go. Then with Kingdom Come, American Gangster and Blueprint 3.0 they were breaths of fresh air by default because we'd all been listening to stuff like French Montana, and there was familiarity and comfort in hearing him over soul samples and using those clever lines.
But really, where can he go now? I think he needs to retire, it's a wrap for him. He’s not going to gain any new and younger fans through this album who weren’t aware of him through his previous music. He’s hanging onto relevance through Justin Timberlake and Watch The Throne. He jumped in on Kanye’s biggest track at the peak of his career, but his music still doesn’t resonate with the next generation of 16 or 17 year olds. You’ve got one half of the demographic that are listening to 2 Chainz and Chief Keef and another half listening to Ab-Soul and Kendrick, I don’t think Jay really fits in with either.
Maybe this is the old man in me who loves this era, but if he'd just gone off-road and made a whole album with Pete Rock and Premiere that could have been a classic. That is what would’ve attracted a new demographic of the people that are into Kendrick and Joey Bada$$. These newer artists love and are inspired by Jay...but by Jay at his prime. When you’ve already made such a massive impact with your previous work, what more can you really add to this culture? What can you really bring now that’s going to stand the test of time?
Magna Carta... is a good album by a great artist in a now lacklustre genre."
Foilow Snips on Twitter @djsnips
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