Album Review: Yeezus vs. Magna Carta Holy Grail

Two of rap and hip hop’s biggest titans have released albums within a fortnight of each other. weighs up their contrasting sounds

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Album: Kanye West – Yeezus
Label: Def Jam, 2013
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Album: Jay-Z – Magna Carta Holy Grail
Label: Roc Nation, 2013

They may have both shared the throne but this July has seen Jay Z and Kanye West pit themselves against each other in a duel of albums. Kanye was first to drop his veritable atom bomb of a record, Yeezus, in late June. Jay Z choosing to reply on Independence Day – ironic for what is such an unoriginal album, although traditional might be a nicer way of putting it.

The contrast between these two mammoth CDs is obvious from about 5 seconds in to each opening track. Yeezus erupts with ‘On Sight’ and its techno glitchery. Immediately the innovation of this record is apparent. His last album might have been a dark fantasy, but Kanye‘s clearly found the basement in his rabbit hole. Turn over to Magna Carta Holy Grail – don’t worry I won’t forget to take issue with the most pretentious title of the 21st century – and we’re welcomed with some overly familiar piano chords and Justin Timberlake’s dulcet tones, in ‘Holy Grail’. This decidedly poor song isn’t even redeemed by the use of the chorus from Nirvana’s ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ which surely must have cost a minor fortune. Jay Z fails to capture any of his past lyrical genius, relying on name dropping and quotation in a vain attempt to seem clever. ‘Picasso Baby’ starts of promisingly with a thundering old school bass line, but again it’s Jay Z himself that’s lets the song down. He spends more time making that overly-enthusiastic wanking noise than actually rapping.

“Frankly, Magna Carter looks like a poor attempt at an album for 2013, even without the looming presence of Yeezus”

Back on planet Yeezus the filth continues with ‘Black Skinhead’. Snippets of screams distorted into an earphone busting riff. It’s from here on out, that not only does Kanye continue his musical advantage, but his lyrics seem to have matured into a perfect mix of surrealism, wit, and controversy. By the time he recites ‘I Am A God’, you’re pretty much ready to believe it and give him the “damn croissants”. This is not an easy listening album, but that doesn’t mean you don’t savour every second. Jay Z might well have Frank Ocean appearing yet again on one of the worst tracks on the album ‘Oceans’. Yet Kanye has Bon Iver (aka Justin Vernon), who delivers a much more emotional touch in several key moments across Yeezus. His eerily, reverbed vocals especially effective on standout song ‘Hold My Liquor’, conveying a very real sense of emotion utterly absent from Magna Carta, also contrasting perfectly with the ragga ferocity in ‘I’m On it’.

Jay Z makes a stride into the trap realm with the catchy and subtly future sounding, ‘Tom Ford’. It houses the best MDMA (molly) reference so far this year. As you delve further into Magna Carta Holy Grail an issue of stagnating formula begins to arise. Song after song features a household name, but goes nowhere. Sample. Rap. Sample. Break. Rap. Over and over again. Frankly it looks like a poor attempt at an album for 2013, even without the looming presence of Yeezus. Even Beyoncé sounds decidedly average on ‘Part II’. It takes the divine influence of ‘Heaven’ to resurrect this record. Jay Z back on form lyrically, with a touch of REM thrown in for the hell of it, this is the peak of the album apart from ‘Jay Z Blue’. A tribute to his child, the song is reminiscent of Jay Z’s early rawness in its brutal honesty. For all the hype however, Magna Carta Holy Grail never really stood a chance against the tirade of Thomas Bangalter (Daft Punk) produced filth that is Yeezus. Nina Simone is even thrown in the mix on the subtle ‘Blood On The Leaves’. Album closer, ‘Bound 2’ makes smart use of an annoyingly catchy, little sample. It’s a perfect conclusion, with the production much lighter in tone than the rest of the record. It sits awkwardly on the ears, as they’re still very much on edge considering the last nine tracks.

Critics might claim that you can’t compare these two records. Jay Z has produced a ‘rap album’ and Kayne’s is newwave-industrial-avant-punk-rap-hiphop. It doesn’t matter. They’re the two biggest names in Hip Hop and/or Rap. They both knew that by releasing albums in a similar window there would be comparisons. The definitive answer is Yeezus takes the Holy Grail every time. Jay Z may well have become the first artist to receive a platinum rating before general release, but if you ask me, selling out to Samsung is cheating. He needs to give Rubin a call next time.

27 comments

  1. As a rap album Yeezus is poor. Out of 10 songs 6 songs are about sex and some songs he only has one verse. Production is better than Magna Carta but at least each song on Magna Carta has a concept and the lyrics are solid. Yeezus new sound is refreshing but if you want to compare the two and say which is the better hip hop record. Magna Carta wins hands down.

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  2. I dont think you can compare both of them, but Yeezus is a terrible rap album and Magna is a solid one. Yeezus was a bait for critics because critics like Rock and Punk more than Hip Hop, so, Magna Carta Holy Grail wins this one if we’re comparing them as rap albums.

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  3. Who ever has wrote this article needs to take there head from out there ass. Both are fantastic records for very different reasons. Timberland’s influence is fantastic; love them old school dirty bass lines. The album flows from start to end. I think attacking his lyrical work is unfair as you are only judging against past work not on the credit of the record.

    Yeezus is a good listen but I do feel half the album has been wrote just to shock people and cause a bit of controversy. Still very well produced though.

    Think both of them had a lot to live up to after Watch the Throne, which is by far 10 times better than either of the new records, but only because it is such an exceptional piece of work.

    Jay Z still the best rapper on the planet!

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  4. The writer of this article is an idiot, and obviously doesn’t understand rap. Magna Carta may be the best Jay cd since reasonable doubt/black album. However, he can not look past the fact that Kanye dropped an album with a “new sound,” (no bloggers or hipster can ever look past that fact). Jay-Z made an album for his fans, for rap fans, not people like you.

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  5. Anyone who thinks Yeezus is a better “Rap/Hip-Hop” album than MCHG is LOST. If we are speaking lyrics…Kanye said NOTHING clever, however ample SHOCKING lyrics. Although Jay Z is not rapping as cleverly as he did prior to 2003 the lyrics on this album are 8/10 when compared to the rest of the hip hop industry (only Nas, J Cole and Kendrick/Black Hippy being ahead), while lyrics on Kanye’s album 5.5/10.

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  6. Yea.. hands down Magna wins. I hope yeezus isn’t the future of this music because if thats the case im really done listening to rap. By far Jay Z wins and me being from Chicago I always pull for the guy from my city but Kanyes album is garbage. Its a total mess and that daft punk track sounds like a little kid put the whole song together. That god “yeezus” better get back in the lab and try creating something else and never refer to himself as a god again.

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  7. See, real rap fans can’t sit around and compare these two albums. Watch the Throne was an above-average rap album, and even that’s being nice. When looking at a rap album to review it, you must drown out the beats and look at the meat: the lyrics. Kanye is inconsistent; some songs are pretty good, but some are complete garbage. He attempts to polish his raps by drowning them in mediocre-to-decent beats. Jay Z, on the other hand, made an albeit boring album, but did not try to pose, which is respectable in it’s own right. These two men got lucky in the rap game of chance. They aren’t particularly lyrically talented, they got lucky. Something Else By Tech N9ne deserves to be rap album of the year so far, however he has had rotten luck, so he won’t receive his well-earned recognition.

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  8. 1 Aug ’13 at 2:19 pm

    TheBedStuyDandy

    MCHG is, indestructibly, referable to Picasso’s “Blue Period” between the years of 1901 and 1904, a time frame where young Picasso was subjected to the pangs of modernity, poverty, unrequited love, suicide (death of his, closest friend in Paris, Carlos Casagemas) rendering, his work, the true components of expressionistic being, as his catalogue began to fluidly commence the, use of blue, with grim images of life stricken by regretted hope and reality. While Picasso’s personal tragedy steers emotional durable in comparison with Carter’s guild and successful transparency, offered through the orchestrated curation of Timbaland, the concept of progressive failure, impressionable conceptualism and beauty bind the two with maniacal strength. As Picasso’s work became entirely influenced by the self-inflicted death of his dear friend, Jay-Z acknowledges the change or death of the Carter, he presents on the album in order to creatively change his status, or distort what you already know, similar to the hue of blue Picasso used to strike the canvas, the figures and artistic being.
    http://thebedfordstuyvesantdandy.com/2013/07/30/magna-cartas-blue-period-a-sincere-ode-review/

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  9. you know here’s what i think,i think yeezus is better,i mean it has blacksin head,and i am a god,thats dope tracks over there

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  10. Everyone who comments on here talking about “real rap” is a pretentious asshat that doesn’t know jack shit. They’re also all mostly hurt that someone dare critique Jay-Z. Magna Carta was an uninspired album no matter the lyrics or content. Only a few songs dare break out of the stagnant sounds of the album. “Heaven” is hands down the best song on the album and the only reason why it doesn’t fail all together.

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  11. I feel like both albums were very well executed. For example, the production quality on Magna Carta is incredible (as was Yeezus), even if Jay Z’s lyrics weren’t the most inspired ever. Yeezus is also a beautiful fresh breath of air in the hip-hop genre. Kanye approached his album much more of an experiment, while his big brother stuck to a more corporate formula. I prefer Yeezus because Magna Carta is way too commercial for my taste. Magna Carta is just another braggadacio Hova album, and while it’s great to listen to for a bit, you can’t really take much out of it. The mesmerizing production on Yeezus is impeccable. The lyrics though, are not. I would say these rhymes are some of Kanye’s laziest, but it’s an album I can’t stop listening to. I love both albums though, despite their individual flaws. Yeezus has the upper-hand in my opinion, for such a head-scratching approach to the hip-hop genre.

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  12. typical student b***sh*t review.

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  13. 2 Aug ’13 at 5:22 pm

    michaels mum

    typical student b***sh*t comment.

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  14. this review is spot on

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  15. 2 Aug ’13 at 8:47 pm

    Youdunknowshitboutmusic

    yeezus is way better than magna shitter. In years to come people will remember Yeezus and applaud it and people will forget magna and always applaud blueprint, black album and rs. Jay-z’s days are numbered. Yeezus is a fucking work of art. Send it up is a better harder song than anything on magna… Maybe fuckwithmeyouknowigotit competes…Yeezus pushes rap forward, magna stays safe. give it time, people will come around and already are. People are so afraid to voice an opinion theyll fall victim to the hype…more swallowed than dicks I guess. Magna is shit…the opening song sucks ass, and. The only hot thing about the album is beats which jay z can pay for like a happy meal at McDonald’s…sad how fucking blind, or in this matter deaf motherfuckers are. Ah well….long live Yeezus!

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  16. This writer is a genius. So is Yeezus. Anyone thas t disagrees os an effing moron that know absolutely nothing about music.

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  17. Sick of dick grabbing materialist ego without irony Jay z bullshit. Kanye may be a wanker but yeezus is exciting to get into your head. Respect to both for what they have achieved before this but Jay z isn’t growing as an artist. Kanye is stepping it up and it’s good. Just my opinion.

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  18. As a Kanye fan can’t believe he put out that garbage. The grail for me

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  19. I like them about the same.

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  20. YEEZUS ALL DAY!

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  21. “Fear is your only God, get y’all to fear me is my only joB” Fuck Yeezus that shit for psychos unless you Rock star. Jigga once said on D.O.A “you niggas voice too light. You niggas singing too much, get back to Rap and T*#@ is too much(auto tune)

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  22. YEEZUS all d way!!! Fucking piece of art work, Kanye —- Genuis

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  23. As a fan of both, and I have every album both have ever made too… I have to say Yeezus is by far the better album.

    Kanye, as with every album, has once again evolved as an artist and created something completely different to what we’ve ever heard before. Yeezus is way ahead of it’s time, the production and variety on this album is amazing. With MCHG and Born Sinner we don’t see that and the sound is of them both is nothing that we haven’t already heard.

    Yeezus is a game changer, simples!

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  24. @youdontknow whatever the fuck your name is nice piece of shit you wrote there

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  25. Wow this article is crazy haha! MAGNA CARTA IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN YEEZUS!

    suprisingly kanye is my all time favourite. I am infact a much bigger fan of kanyes music than jay z’s music, but i think that yeezus was extremely disappointing.
    I have had magna carta on repeat since the day it was it released.

    magna carta holy grail is one of the best albums ever!!

    i also think its unfair for some of you to be saying “people know nothing about music if they like magna carta more than yeezus (or vice versa)”

    its all down to personal preference,
    im personally baffled as to how people think yeezus is the better of the two. But i wouldnt say all those who think that know nothing abut music.

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  26. Yeezus is a work of art and Kanye West is an inconsistent rapper but an innovator, and that’s what matters. Jay Z doesn’t innovate, he keeps doing the same thing: stagnating. He is a terrible rapper.

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  27. Just my two cents but Magna Carta doesn’t even seem like a Jay Z album I believe this is his worst album the lyrics beat and everything were inferior to yeezus which is not saying much considering 6/10 of the songs on yeezus were trash he just covered some of them up with the beat.

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