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HOLY GRAIL - 3/5
This is a strong album opener and features a hook that is better than anything on J. Timb's solo album from earlier in the year. The-Dream and Timbaland rarely disappoint. I think the Nirvana sample is a little out-of-place and off-putting, but it could have been done worse. Jay-Z's verses are mediocre and the references are all pedestrian (MJ, Tyson, Kurt Cobain etc), but the strong production and hook carry the song.
PICASSO BABY - 4/5
A track based entirely around art references. Rothko, Koons, Al Diaz, Picasso, Basquiat and several museums are mentioned throughout the song (along with a allusion to Nas's Illmatic) . Lyrically, it's easily one of the better songs on the album. The beat switches up in the last minute or so and Jay rediscovers his Black Album flow to further emphasize the contrast between the sterility of the white art world and his gritty, black upbringing.
TOM FORD - 4/5
Originally titled IZOD, this is a traditionalist rap song over a rather progressive and unique beat from Timbaland. Jay-Z laments the state of the world, wishing the Concord was brought back and that rap was real again, celebrating Smif n Wessun's Sound Boy Burial while attacking social networks and fake rappers/gangsters.
FUCKWITHMEYOUKNOWIGOTIT - 5/5
I'm probably biased due to my preference for southern hip-hop, but I think this is the strongest track on the album. It has a Pimp C intro, a dark Boi-1da beat, and Ross's catchiest feature since Trap House III. Jay's Italian-inspired mafioso verse is my favorite on the entire album.
OCEANS - 5/5
An elegant track with an anti-imperialist theme. Symbols of white imperialism (elephant tusks, Christopher Columbus, Ivory Coast) are contrasted with black symbols of excellence (black card, Basquiat, Biggie, Muhammed Ali, Billie Holiday). Frank Ocean contributes the best hook in his career to this song and Jay follows up with two excellent verses. This is the defining track of the album, produced by the masters Pharrell and Timbaland.
FUTW - 3/5
This track would be right at home on the Black Album. A subdued beat and Jay-Z's lazy delivery set up a humble, realistic song free of extravagant boasting. Jay can no longer relate with where he grew up in Marcy Projects and reveals that he feels he has more in common with federal targets Malcolm X and Ali now that he's at the top. It's not a particularly impressive song, but it's a personal track that grounds the album in reality.
SOMEWHEREINAMERICA - 4/5
Shout to old Jews and old rules... your time is up. This is Jay's most inspiring song yet. It's a shame it's so short and only one verse long. Jay-Z talks about the new rules he forced the music industry to adapt to; white minstrels that double as cocaine references (Miley Cyrus) - empowering blacks socially and monetarily, respectively; and blue bloods who can no longer look down on him.
CROWN - 1/5
Annoying beat from Travis $cott/some sixteen-year-old girl and Hov's weakest verses on the entire album that sound like he's trying to emulate Kanye. Skip.
HEAVEN - 2/5
A weak hook from Justin Timberlake and lazy (artistically speaking) religious references. The-Dream and Timbaland are probably embarrassed by what Timberlake and Jay did here.
VERSUS - INTERLUDE/5
It's an interlude. Jay-Z brags.
ON THE RUN PART II - 3/5
Jay-Z had to figure out a way to shoehorn his wife onto the album. It's a Bonnie and Clyde rehash/sequel, but it's not particularly awful nor is it really hip-hop. Timbaland did a nice job as always.
BEACH IS BETTER - 5 INTERLUDES/5
Mike Will Made It is the greatest producer in hip-hop nowadays. I've heard two reasons why it's so short (one from Jay himself). Jay says it's short because he feels vacations are always too short, but a more interesting theory is that he's wishing death on 'trap music' D.O.A. (Death of Autotune)-style (not particularly out of place considering his verse on Tom Ford) by using such a great beat as a throwaway.
BBC - 4/5
It's a musical advertisement for Billionaire Boys Club. It features a Japanese intro, a Korean outro, and great verses reminiscing about old school hip-hop from Nas and Jay. Unfortunately, it also features song-ruining Swizz Beatz adlibbing just enough to piss you off. Great production from Pharrell and Timbaland, again.
JAY-Z BLUE - 2/5
This is another personal song from Jay. This time about his daughter. Not as good as Nas's tribute to his rebellious daughter from Life Is Good, but it features an amusing sample from Mommie Dearest. The fact that it samples Biggie is just a tease and makes you wish that there were unreleased Biggie verses somewhere out there and does nothing to enhance the song.
LA FAMILIA - 2.5/5
My favorite Timbaland produced track on the album. Unfortunately, it features TWO lackluster Jay-Z verses. On a worse beat it would be a 0/5. Oh, and it features a weak bar directed at Lil' Wayne. I hope it's not the best Jay can do or he's done.
NICKELS AND DIMES - 4.5/5
Pardon my hubris, Stanley Kubrick. This track features a grandiose beat from Mike Dean and a strong hook from Gonjasufi. All three verses on this track are beautiful and proof that Jay-Z still has some great songs in him. A great album closer and the end to what will probably remain the summer's best hip-hop album until Kevin Gates drops Stranger Than Fiction next week.