‘Magna Carta… Holy Grail’ underwhelms

James Farmer

Jay-Z is 43 years old. He owns clothing lines, his own record label and part of an NBA franchise. He hangs out with the president. His wife is one of the queens of pop.

Honestly, rapping feels like a side project for him at this point, as much of a business venture as it is artistic expression. “Magna Carta… Holy Grail” only enforces that feeling.

The initial release was worked out to be part of a deal with Samsung and a special app that contained the album. The fun part is that Jay-Z has seen fit to find a novel way to collect customers’ money, and then rap about how much money he has. Starving artists don’t write songs about fashion designer “Tom Ford.” Or songs called “Crown.”

Similarly, younger artists don’t write songs about fatherhood, like “JAY Z Blue.” Newer artists don’t create songs like album opener “Holy Grail,” which crams in an underwhelming Justin Timberlake appearance and a re-do of the chorus to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – a song that was released the same year I was born.

Outside the more contemplative tracks – “JAY Z Blue,” “Heaven,” “Nickels And Dimes” – the 16-track album plays like the musical equivalent of an episode of “Cribs,” except he doesn’t even have a gaudy, overblown mansion to show us. He just has a really nice house with a lot of money in it.

The one thing keeping “Magna Carta…” from falling into boredom or mediocrity is the production from Timbaland and other helpers. Some of the beats – the bass-heavy “Picasso Baby” or the weirdly retro “Tom Ford” – keep things fresh, but it’s all vanilla next to the sheer lunacy of Kanye West’s “Yeezus.”

“Magna Carta… Holy Grail” is solid, well written, well rapped and well produced. It covers all bases, from smooth introspection to the party-friendly bounce of “BBC.” It’s just too hard to get excited about, and it’s impossible to relate to Jay-Z, inc. at this point.