Just to preface this I was extremely excited for this album for a number of reasons. It was another album from one of the greatest rappers of all time. It was being released in such a refreshing, genre-redefining manner and because it sounded like it was going to be great. The beats sounded huge and raw. The beats we actually received were great but more polished. I enjoyed them but they didn’t seem as sharp as the ones I saw on the ads. The first song is an example of that.
The album kicks off with arguably the most anticipated song, “Holy Grail feat. Justin Timberlake”, the beat was featured in the promotional materials for the album. Timberlake is a beast on this track, it almost seems like one of his songs with a feature from Jay-Z. Regardless, this song is sure to be a blast live on the Legends of Summer tour. This is the beat that intrigued me the most from the commercial. I love the hollow haunting sound of the piano. I did think it sounded more raw on the commercial and would have loved if it didn’t drop in and Jay just spit over the sparse landscape that the pinging piano would provide, but the beat we got was cool.
As for the song itself, I thought it had some neat moments. The hook is extremely memorable. I actually liked the use of the lyrics from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. I thought it was creative. I also like the idea of this track, that fame is fleeting, “Bright lights is enticing but look what it did to Tyson. All that money in one night. Thirty mill for one fight but soon as all the money blows, all the pigeons take flight.” Great way to start the album.
The next song, “Picasso Baby” is an homage to wealth and success painted with references to fine art. Here Jay-Z name drops Warhol, Da Vinci, Givenchy, Hublot and Basquiat just to show you how rich and cultured he is. The next two songs are trap music beats. “Tom Ford” is such a neat beat, you can’t help but bop your head to it. Ford is a legendary fashion designer and innovator. Jay-Z has proved that he is in the same league with the creation and promotion of this album. I love the tongue in cheek nature of the song especially in the chorus, “I don’t pop molly, I rock Tom Ford.”
I love how hard “****WithMeYouKnowIGotIt feat. Rick Ross” goes. This is another song where it feels like Jay-Z is featured on the tune rather than being a track on his album. The hook of “Oceans feat. Frank Ocean” sounds great because of Ocean, but except for a few clever lines, this song doesn’t really do it for me. “F.U.T.W.” is a jam. I love this song and the concept of shaking up the world and how things are done. I really like the line, “When you front row at the Knicks game, those the Spike Lees. You front row everywhere, you in the H.O.V.s”
“Somewhere In America” has a neat beat featuring a piano and some playful horns. This song has one of the most hilarious lines on the album. “Somewhere in America Miley Cyrus still twerking. Twerk Miley Twerk, twerk, twerk.” I also thought Jay was clever with the lines, “1 million, 2 million, 3 million, 20 million. Oh, I’m so good at math” and “When I was talking Instagram, last thing you wanted was your picture snapped.” The next song “Crown” was produced by 16 year old Canadian producer Wondagurl. “Crown” allows Jay-Z to explore his legacy as a king in the rap game. He talks about overcoming people’s expectations, “Uncle said I’ll never sell a million records, I sold a million records like a million times.”
Even though it really isn’t anyone’s business, Jay-Z addresses how his personal faith and religious beliefs have been called into question on “Heaven”. You do not get a lot of information from him but he says, “Question religion, question it all.
Question existence until them questions are solved.” He says more mockingly, “Conspiracy theorist screaming Illuminati.
They can’t believe this much skill is in the human body.”
Thank goodness “Versus” is only an interlude because it is my least favorite thing on the album, I didn’t like the beat, flow, or lyrics. Hey, they can’t all be winners. The next song, “Part II (On the Run) feat. Beyoncé” is a brilliant song. This tune seems like a continuation of one of my favorite Jay-Z songs, ’03 Bonnie & Clyde. Although the beat is different, the theme of being ride of die for your significant other, Jay-Z and Beyoncé here, is not only in tact but it seems even stronger. Beyoncé sounds great on here as expected. “Beach Is Better” is another interlude, that is at least better than “Versus”.
“BBC feat. Nas, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Swizz Beatz, Pharrell & Timbaland” just screams fun. It features a classic Pharrell beat and it also has a really cool gang vocal style hook featuring Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, Swizz Beatz, Pharrell & Timbaland. I also love the Nas verse, even though he is basically just talking about clothes.
I was not a huge fan of the Mommy Dearest clips on “Jay-Z Blue” but I love the strumming of the acoustic guitar that made up the beat. I also loved the lyrics and theme of the song about the responsibility of being a father. “Father never taught me how to be a father, treat a mother. I don’t wanna have to just repeat another, leave another.” Jay-Z shows how much he reps and supports his team on “La Familia”. On this song he talks about the crew he rolls with and how dedicated to them and building their dynasty he is.
The album’s finale goes to show Jay-Z’s maturity and how his fame has affected his life in terms of helping people financially. “Nickels and Dimes” is a somber but excellent way to finish the album. Jay describes the ‘mo’ problems’ his money has brought him, “Sometimes I feel survivor’s guilt. I gave some money to this guy, he got high as hell. Now I’m part of the problem far as I could tell. Did I do it for him or do it for myself?” He talks about his struggles with giving away money to people and what they ultimately do with it but it sounds like he has found a solution, “I got a problem with the handouts, I took the man route. I’ll give an opportunity though, that’s the plan now.”
Jay-Z is a legend and one of the most influential people in the rap game and the music industry in general. So, when he decides to put out a new album he does it in a big way. He gets together with some of the biggest names in music, Swizz Beatz, Pharrell Williams, Timbaland, and Rick Rubin and makes his next masterpiece. He then decides to drop the news of the album in a 3 minute commercial during the NBA Finals, that it would be out in less than a month on July 4th. If that wasn’t newsworthy enough he decided that the people that would receive it early on that day would be owners of the Samsung Galaxy S 3 and 4 phones in a deal that netted him 5 million dollars and a platinum record before even one copy hit the shelves. So hype, pageantry and buzz aside, what is the album actually like? I think Jay summed it up pretty well himself in yesterday’s twitter spree: It is a solid album and a great addition to his discography but it just doesn’t match up to his greatest works in the past. I want to make it clear that this album is great and deserves to be checked out. Just don’t expect it to knock all of this other classics off of the top of the mountain.