The internet's favourite contrarian takes a look, track by track.
Sure it's good, but is it better? Cuz that’s all anyone really wants to know isn’t it? Almost as soon as videos of Jay and various others sat in a hotel room emerged, looking like a new team on The Apprentice trying to work out a name like ‘Envigour’ or whatever, the question on everyone’s lips was, "yeah but is it gonna be better than that there Yeezus?" Well seeing as Mag-sung Carta Holy Grail-axy is now out on phones AND computers, we’ll have a look at some of the stand-out tracks and see whether they match up to West’s supposed game changer. Leh go!
Not off to a stellar start to be honest, piano chords and Justin Timberlake sounding like any amorphous feature-vocalist who could be on a K Koke or any road-rap guy’s track. Gets better once Hov drops in, though, as does the instrumental, the heartfelt chords turning into cheeky little taps. Shame about the Nirvana lyrics, though. Jay should’ve learnt his lesson from the ill-advised blend with nu-metal vag rags Linkin Park. Fool me once...
IS IT BETTER THAN YEEZUS YET?: No, not yet. "On Sight" shits on this as an opener.
Here’s Jay getting a bit confused about what he wants, successively requesting larger and larger things (casa to castle, million to billion, brothel to... wife?) By the end he’ll be asking for a Subaru, then a Bentley, then a Monster Truck before settling for a nice Golf. Picasso’s OK, very New York, but done been done.
IS IT BETTER THAN YEEZUS YET?: At the moment it’s matching Yeezus’ misguided attempts at experimentation with overdone boring shit. So no, I guess?
This is a real-ass Timbaland and Hov mind melt, sounds like Timb has been taking cues from peeps like Lunice et al, which is good. "I don’t pop molly/ I rock Tom Ford" hints at Jay's unwillingness to "get involved" with any other rap shit going on right now, and just stick to being "that guy", which can be viewed as either an exercise in purism or self imposed out-of-touchness.
IS IT BETTER THAN YEEZUS YET?: Getting there. I’m still annoyed at "Black Skinhead" to be honest. Sounds like a fucking Green Day song. A bonus Green Day song, not worthy of a Green Day album.
Joining Jigga on this one is Rick "my lyrics were so date-rapey I lost all my sponsorship" Ross, and there’s a lot of talk of old art/historically relevant shit so far: Picasso, Magna Carta, bitches as masterpieces etc. It's as if Jay’s cementing himself as a living, timeless relic.
IS IT BETTER THAN YEEZUS YET?: "Black Skinhead" is not the first time Kanye ruined a rap song with a guitar either. Remember the "I Don’t Like" Remix? You’re not in fucking Guns N Roses Ye.
Obligatory Frank Ocean feature alert. Here Frank seems to be doing an impression of The Product G&B in "Maria Maria", some weird quasi-Spanish accent that don’t sit right with me. This is Jay’s ~ deep slavery ~ song, so there’s nothing more I can do than say "sorry" over and over whilst listening to it and give the proceeds of this first listen to the NAACP (it won’t be much, just a heads up). Weird how dramatic the horns are with how cheap the drums sound.
IS IT BETTER THAN YEEZUS YET?: Starting to feel like they’re as OK as each other. Both trying to do things but not quite doing them properly.
This is the sort of song that would play at the end of a movie about internet billionaires. Also turns out that he watches Homeland, which makes me wonder why there’s been no shouts to Don Draper, who seems like he should be a bait rap icon by now?
IS IT BETTER THAN YEEZUS YET?: Is shit better than piss? Is a shelf better than a ledge?
I can definitely relate more to laughing at Miley Cyrus twerking than being angry about being black. So for that reason "Somewhereinamerica" gets a big white thumbs up.
IS IT BETTER THAN YEEZUS YET?: You know what? I don’t really know. I don’t think either of these records are doing what they set out. I feel like Kanye set out to make a polarising, weird, semi-controversial black punk album, and while that was achieved in some sense it also fell flat by being plain shit in some places. Being different is great and cool but if the music comes second to your own hubris and Godly claims then what’s the point?
Magna Carta is just a Jay Z record, nothing more nothing less. It’s a good Jay Z album but it doesn’t do anything you wouldn’t expect it to. It’s a masterclass in playing it safe. It’s up to you whether that’s a good or a bad thing. Rap fans will prefer Jay's record, people who like The Knife will prefer Kanye’s album. But both of them strike me as people who’ve lost touch with with anything that isn’t their own quest for musical immortality. Stood on the balconies of their respective ivory towers bellowing the average as the pinnacle.
Magna Carta’s superiority over Yeezus will depend on who you ask, and vice versa. Me? I’ll be steady bumping this until Watch The Throne II steamrolls into my life and tells me how to feel.
Follow Joe on Twitter @joe_bish