Jay-Z - Magna Carta : Holy Grail (2LP)
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Like few other album openers, "Holy Grail" encapsulates what follows it and reflects a particular point in an artist's career. It's a vigorous if not particularly moving track, principally produced by Timbaland andJ-Roc, which expresses bewilderment and conflicting emotions about rising from poverty to opulence. The first of a few early-'90s references is made - the chorus of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is quoted - and Jay-Z is as triumphant and as troubled as ever. Jay-Z is armed with and weighed down by an immense back catalogue. Any given track is bound to be compared to a past highlight. The MC indeed can't help sounding more mechanical than novel and, as a 43-year-old referencing Internet memes, he's possibly a little desperate to relate to younger listeners. He still drops some casually brilliant reminders that he remains one of the best, as on "Oceans" ("Only Christopher we acknowledge is Wallace/I don't even like Washingtons in my pocket") and on "Nickels and Dimes" ("Pardon my hubris, Stanley Kubrick/With eyes wide shut, I could cook up two bricks"). The album is an adequate addition to one of the most impressive artist discographies within any genre, not great enough to overshadow the heavily scrutinized corporate alliance that assisted with its ascent.