Album review: Jay-Z, Magna Carta Holy Grail (Roc-a-Fella)

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Album of the Week: Some rich pickings among the boasts and garish beats

The business rationale of Jay-Z's pre-release giveaway deal with Samsung was bluntly obvious: on his side, he got $5m without having to manufacture or deliver a single CD; and on Samsung's side, they got a foot in the door of Apple's OS dominance for their Android app system.

Now, non-Android punters can get to hear Jay-Z, as is his wont, banging on about how rich he is, how brilliant it is being married to Beyoncé, and how irritating it is that some people don't admire his success. The album is splattered with brand names, the familiar litany of nouveau riche ostentation now expanded to include modern-art tat by Koons, Basquiat and Shepard Fairey.

But at least he deals the boasts out with some panache – one of the funnier aspects of the album is hearing Rick Ross trying to do the jet-set brag thing, and still sounding like a hired doorman. Other guests include Justin Timberlake, mellifluous on “Holy Grail”, Frank Ocean musing on African origins in “Oceans”, and Pharrell Williams on “BBC” dropping the drollest couplet on the album: “My whole life is leisure/Gangsta lean like the Pisa”.

Elsewhere, Beyoncé and Jay-Z indulge an erotic outlaw fantasy over the miasmic electro-R&B of “Part II (On the Run)”; and on the album's most revealing track, “Jay-Z Blue (Daddy Dearest)”, he uses parental anxieties to reflect on his own upbringing with an absentee father. It's a rare glimpse of the human behind the hubris, along with the closing “Nickels & Dimes”, where he muses about his philanthropic urges being a result of “survivor's guilt”: “

Musically, the album leans heavily on Timbaland productions, the most notable moments including the aptly rude, garish trombone groove behind the new-money boast “Somewhere in America”, and the sadly sinister horn motif underpinning “F.U.T.W.”, in which he takes liberties characterising his success as emblematic of the emancipatory struggle: “America tried to emasculate the greats/Murder Malcolm, gave Cassius the shakes”. But as he acknowledges in “Holy Grail”, “We're all just entertainers/And we're stupid and contagious”.

Download: Holy Grail; Jay-Z Blue (Daddy Dearest); Somewhere in America; Nickels & Dimes

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