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Saturday 21 October 2017

He has the money down, but Jay-Z is light on tunes

Famous friends: Jay-Z has some all-star guests on his latest album
Famous friends: Jay-Z has some all-star guests on his latest album
John Meagher

John Meagher

Album Review: Jay-Z, Magna Carta... Holy Grail (Virgin EMI) 2 STARS

"I'm not a businessman," Jay-Z once noted in song. "I'm a business, man." Forget self-aggrandisement – the doyen of rappers was just stating a fact: Jay-Z could teach Donald Trump and friends a thing or two about making moolah.

He struck a mega-bucks deal with Samsung in the weeks leading up to the release of his latest opus and, as part of the arrangement, the electronics company was able to give one million downloads of the album free to customers via a smartphone app five days before official release.

But at what true price? In order to download the tracks, users were asked to share access to their social media accounts, their phone calls and their GPS location.

The irony is that Jay-Z has railed against the growth of surveillance society in song before.

Now, he's having to contend with suggestions that his new money-making venture is PRISM by another name.

But what of the actual music? Where does Magna Carta... stand in the vast Jay Z canon?

Prepare to be disappointed.

This long, meandering 16-track effort is arguably the blandest he has yet made.

It feels like the work of a committee, with a phalanx of producers and guest contributors being wheeled in to indulge the rapper's every whim. And yet there's precious little innovation, practically no surprises.

From one joyless track to the next, Jay-Z reminds us what a superstar he is and what a wonderful world he lives in.

But there are none of the vulnerabilities that you'll find on a Kanye West album, for instance: this guy, it seems, just doesn't do weak.

While Jay is treading water, it's left to his guests – Justin Timberlake, wife Beyoncé and, best of all, Frank Ocean – to provide much needed gloss.

KEY TRACK Oceans

Irish Independent

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