The first thing listeners will say to themselves upon clicking play on Magna Carta Holy Grail, the latest in music and technology synergy (or whichever industry buzzword one is wont to use), is, “Wow, Timbaland produced this?” Jay-Z has a list of producers with whom he’s had legendary rapport (Just Blaze, DJ Premier, and Kanye West, for example), but MCHG reminds us to not forget about Timothy Moseley. Unlike Timbaland’s subpar contributions on The Blueprint 3, Timbo completely avoids “Timbaland-isms” that would otherwise make a cut sound like “Jay-Z on a Timbaland track” rather than just a Jay-Z track. Whether it’s the Soul-Rock intro that is “Holy Grail” or “F.U.T.W.,” which sounds like it would be right at home following up “So Ghetto” on Vol. 3, Timbaland hits the right notes time and again on this one.

Hit-Boy’s excellent work on “Somewhere In America” lays the foundation for Jay to reveal that even as he shakes hands with Presidents and headlines Rock festivals, he still doesn’t feel welcome: “New money, they lookin’ down on me / Blue bloods, they tryna clown on me / You can turn up your nose, high society / …You should come to the housewarming / Come and see what your new neighbor ‘bout / Yellow Lambo in the driveway / One-thirty-five, I’m on the highway.” It may just seem like more stock Jay-Z braggadocio, but there’s real bitterness here.

Magna Carta Holy Grail is where Jay-Z’s emceeing finally meets his “High Rap” ambitions. This is easily the best rhyming Jay’s done since American Gangster. But a sharp Shawn on the mic isn’t a surprise. What is a surprise is that this is the most cohesive project Jay’s put together since The Blueprint. The project is smartly produced, with Timbaland’s aforementioned contributions rewarding Jay’s faith in his old “Big Pimpin’” buddy, with contributions from Adrian Younge (of Twelve Reasons to Die withGhostface Killah fame) and others adding fine touches to the record. 

What really makes this project stand out from the overwhelming majority of major label Rap release in 2013: everything on this project sounds like it was recorded for this project. Beats don’t sound like they were chosen from a producer’s C:/ drive, and Rick Ross’ verse doesn’t have nothing to do with anything (see “Accident Murderers” from Nas’ Life Is Good). Who knows whether Jay-Z knew what he had in mind when he got into the kitchen, but instead of adding every spice available to him, he used only what he needed—and the recipe benefitted because of it.-HipHop Dx

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