Magna Carta ... Holy Grail |
"Welcome to the magnum opus," announces Jay-Z on his immodestly titled latest, Magna Carta ... Holy Grail. But don't believe the hype: His real magnum opus remains 2001's The Blueprint. This isn't even on par with 2009's The Blueprint 3, the rapper's last solo album. In fact Magna Carta - uneven, sometimes tossed-off and lacking a killer single - is easily Hova's weakest effort since 2006's Kingdom Come. Still, this is Jay-Z we're talking about, and he knows that he doesn't have to bring his A game to beat most of the competition. "Your best s--- ain't better than my worst s---," he boasts on "Versus." Certainly Jigga is in capable hands with much of the production by Timbaland and Jerome "J-Roc" Harmon, who also worked on Justin Timberlake
's The 20/20 Experience. JT himself returns the favor for "Suit & Tie" by appearing on three tracks, best of which is the melodic, melancholy "Holy Grail." The song notably riffs on Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," while the hypnotic "Heaven" borrows from R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion." Elsewhere Mrs. Jay-Z, Beyoncé, pops up for "Part II (On the Run)," a smooth sequel to '02's hit " '03 Bonnie & Clyde." And their daughter, Blue Ivy, inspires "Jay Z Blue," a daddy's indulgence.
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He's the hype man imploring "everybody get up" on Robin Thicke's No. 1 single "Blurred Lines" (which Pharrell also produced), and he's the creamy crooner giving soul to Daft Punk's neo-disco hit "Get Lucky." Here are some others who have gotten lucky by featuring Pharrell.
"I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)" (2000) and "Excuse Me Miss" (2002)
"Beautiful" (2002) and "Drop It Like It's Hot" (2004)
"Shake Ya Ass" (2000)
"Pass the Courvoisier, Part II" (2002)
"Money Maker" (2006)
Next year is the 20th anniversary of Hole's landmark album Live Through This. Planning anything?
I haven't thought about it. But that's a lot of time! It was a great record for that time, but it doesn't mean as much to me as [Hole's '10 disc] Nobody's Daughter, which sold about four copies.
You're working on a book about your life. Any big revelations?
Lots of shenanigans with fun movie stars! [Laughs] Really, it's a memoir without much sex in it. You'd think I was the Virgin Mary reading it.
Have you reconnected with your daughter with Kurt Cobain, Frances Bean?
I'm talking to her a lot, which is great. It's good to have her on my speed dial.
What do you think Kurt's music would be like now if he were alive?
I have no idea. But he was a melodic genius and he would still be in the game.
After many delays—and a title change—Ciara's fifth album finally arrives, and all that back-and-forth proves not to have been a great sign. Too many tunes sound like Rihanna
leftovers, but the hit single "Body Party" is a sexy grinder.
Pet Shop Boys
Synth-pop vets Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe show that Daft Punk aren't the only duo making groovy electro-dance music in 2013. Pulsating tracks like "The Last to Die" display that they still have plenty of life left in them.
The Blessed Unrest
The singer-songwriter continues to be her generation's answer to Sarah McLachlan with the piano pop on her fine fourth studio album. Highlights include "Manhattan," a breakup ballad that hurts so good.
Don't Look Down
She's been hyped since cowriting Eminem and Rihanna
's 2010 hit "Love the Way You Lie." (And Em appears here on the playful "C'mon Let Me Ride.") But forgettable moments make Grey's debut somewhat disappointing.