MCHG may be divisive, ambitious and far from perfect, but Jay-Z is re-writing the rules, whether you like it or not.

Hov’s in a new place – he’s got a president representing, he’s “a business, man” and he’s arguably still Brooklyn’s finest.Magna Carta Holy Grailexplores the tribulations of getting all the success you imagined and more. How can you complain when, “Camera snapping, my eyes hurt / N****s dying back where I was birthed”? It’s classic Jay-Z – he can make you scoff and then stop and think with a simple turn of phrase.

Over the scattered, skittery Timbaland beat of ‘Picasso Baby’ Jay opines, “No sympathy for the king huh / N****s even talk about your baby crazy / Eventually the pendulum swings / Don’t forget America/ This is how you made me,” and it’s one lens through which to view the album. “Magna Carta Holy Grail,” Mark Anthony Neal wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “like Life+Times, finds Mr. Carter still trying to find his grounding in a world that expects little from him, yet demands much of him.” And that’s just it, really.

It’s impossible to capture Hov’s flow in words but on the whole it is staggering and unmatchable. A couple of the tracks do fall flat (‘Crown’ is a rare misstep), but the rest more than make up for it. ‘Oceans’ has Pharrell’s effortlessly cool fingerprints all over it, and if ‘BBC’ sounds like a bunch of friends having a great time, that’s because it was; just a late night studio session with an all-star cast, and the result is laidback fun. ‘Jay-Z Blue’ is straight up astounding, and on ‘Part II (On The Run)’ Beyoncé’s voice soars like an angelic apparition. ‘Heaven’ and ‘Nickels And Dimes’ are the most traditional hip hop tracks, with their spot-on samples stitching together Jay’s verses.

4/5 stars

BY NATALIE AMAT

Magna Carta Holy Grail is out now throughROC-A-FELLA/Universal.

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