On November 14, 2003, Jay-Z dropped The Black Album, a project he was promoting as his last. There was great hype leading up to the album’s release: The catchy radio-bating single “Change Clothes” was the album’s first single, while “What More Can I Say” was killing the mixtape scene. Then there was the farewell concert at Madison Square Garden, which sold out in less than a day and happened two weeks after the album was released.
Here’s the thing that’s often forgotten: this wasn’t the initial plan.
Jay-Z originally wanted The Black Album to be harder and he wanted the album to have little promotion. Clearly that didn’t happen, and it might have been because he didn’t have the clout back then.
He has a lot more clout now. Which might explain Magna Carta Holy Grail. The album drops on July 4th and even though that’s less than a week away, the LP is completely shrouded in mystery, with not even a single being released.
To put this in some kind of perspective: Drake, arguably the second most popular act in rap (a case can be made for Kanye) has an album dropping in September and “Started From the Bottom,” the album’s first single, has been bubbling since February.
We don’t know much about Jay’s new album, but he has been dropping off some clues of what to expect.
So using those little tidbits, here’s everything we currently know about the project.
The sales pitch
Jay-Z first announced the existence of the album during an epic three-minute commercial that aired during Game 5 of the NBA Finals. However something was clearly cooking for a while. Jay-Z’s pal Lenny S had been posting pictures of the rapper kicking it in various studios with the likes of Raekwon, Nas and Drake.
In the beginning of June, Jay signed a $20 million contract with Samsung, which would explain why the commercial was backed by the phone company. As soon as the commercial came out, details of the new album were released. Samsung bought the first million copies of the album and announced that they were going to give it to Samsung-users on July 4th — before anyone else. All Samsung users had to do was download the Magna Carta app.
This new model had people speculating that the album had gone platinum before it was actually released. It was something that Billboard addressed with a cover story that explained why the albums Samsung bought wouldn’t count towards a platinum plaque.
#NewRules is the mantra Jay has been using for this album. And so far he has stuck to these lawless rules. So instead of just leaking the tracklisting, the folks at Roc Nation set up a scavenger hunt for fans.
Here’s the final tracklist:
- 1. Picasso Baby
- 2. Heaven
- 3. Versus
- 4. Tom Ford
- 5. Beach Is Better
- 6. FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt
- 7. Oceans
- 8. F.U.T.W.
- 9. Part II (On The Run)
- 10. BBC
- 11. La Familia
- 12. Jay-Z Blue
- 13. Nickles & Dimes
- 14. Holy Grail (Bonus)
- 15. Open Letter (Bonus)
Nothing has been confirmed yet, but the picture above has been floating around as possible cover art.
During the first commercial that was released, Jay was seen in a room, talking to Pharrell, Swizz Beatz, Timbaland and Rick Rubin about the new album and what the direction was going to be. It’s safe to say that all four legendary producers will have work on the album. And in fact, some have already talked about the project.
During an interview with Rollingout, Pharrell was asked about Magna Carta. He said he was not allowed to comment, but he revealed that the album was “special.”
In an interview with VIBE, Swizz was a little more revealing. Speaking on how the album ranks with some of Jay’s other classics, Swizz said:
“It’s always going to be that. For the first time in a long time I think somebody solved that problem and I think he did that with this album for sure.”
Swizz also revealed that he worked on the album, but he wished he could have done more.
Rick Rubin and Timbaland have been mum, but you can expect them to be featured on the LP. It’s already been rumored that Timbo produced the track featuring Justin Timberlake.
Social media has given us some more hints. Back in March, a picture of Jay kicking it with Mike WiLL Made hit the Net. That doesn’t prove anything, right? Well let’s add that pic to the fact that he sent this Tweet a couple of days ago:
Beach is Better. Effortless
— Mike WiLL Made It (@MikeWiLLMadeIt) June 24, 2013
Then there’s The-Dream, who a couple of weeks ago sent out this tweet:
Holy Grail. Yeah we did that!
— THE-DREAM (@TheKingDream) June 17, 2013
As for collaborators who lend their voices: Justin Timberlake will appear on “Holy Grail,” Frank Ocean on “Ocean” and Beyonce on “Part II (On The Run).”
We know these for a fact because lyrics for all three songs have been released by Jay’s camp as some kind of marketing tool:
There’s rumors that Rick Ross is on the track “FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt” and it was produced by Boi-1da. We haven’t seen anything confirming it. However, dream hampton, who is friends with Jay-Z, Tweeted details about the album, which she heard already:
— dream hampton (@dreamhampton) June 19, 2013
Dream is not the biggest Rick Ross fan, partially due to his rapey line on “U.O.E N.O,” but this tweet should kind of tell you Ross is on it. And, for the record, she also tweeted that Magna Carta is Jay’s third best album:
Hov’s Top 5 Albums: Reasonable, The Black Album, Magna Carter, American Gangster, BluePrint. @MAT_digital
— dream hampton (@dreamhampton) June 19, 2013
There’s a rock influence on it
When some of the lyrics for Jay’s “Holy Grail” hit the ‘Net, there was one interesting line that stuck out:
“And we all just / entertainers / and we’re stupid / and contagious.”
If you know anything about music, then you know it’s a line from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Sprit.” Courtney Love, the ex-wife of the deceased Kurt Cobain, who was the lead singer of Nirvana, confirmed that Jay paid to use the line, saying:
“I’m letting Jay-Z use lyrics…Jay-Z’s huge and we’re friends. I mean we’re not besties or anything….”"
On “Heaven,” Jay uses lyrics from REM’s 1991 hit “Losing My Religion.” In the song, Jay uses the line:
“That’s me in the corner/That’s me in the spotlight/Losing my religion.“
Also, in one of the commercials Jay talks about using live instrumentals on this project.
Jay-Z is getting deep and super personal on this project:
We still haven’t heard anything yet — grrrr — but we have seen lyrics, like we mentioned before. He’s getting personal here, folks. “Jay-Z Blue” is a song about daughter Blue Ivy and he also mentions her on “Holy Grail.” “Part II (On The Run)” is a song that is clearly dedicated to Beyonce. “Heaven” has him pondering his own personal faith while Jay talks about his come-up and race on “Oceans.”
Even in the commercials we’ve heard, it’s clear Jay-Z has been thinking deep:
“The album is about this duality, of how do you navigate your way through this whole thing, through success, and through failures, and remain yourself?”
It seems like this album is gonna be quite the departure from The Blueprint III, which was more commercially influenced and superficial.
Since the release of the first commercial, Jay has released a number of videos where he decodes songs off the album for the legendary producers in the room. It’s something that Swizz says was real, not staged.
Here are all the videos we’ve seen so far: