Let’s face it, there have only been two albums to come out this year that every body and their mama wants to talk about and it’s “Yeezus” by Kanye West and “Magna Carta Holy Grail” by Jay-Z. Ye and Hov are two of the most talked about and lauded emcees of the moment and have each made their marks in and outside the realm of hip hop, branching out to everything from fashion to (kinda) owning NBA teams. This article will not give a fuck about any of that though as all I care about is the music itself. Each album sets out with a different goal in mind and appeals to a different kind of hip hop fan but both are good indicators of just what hip hop has evolved into and still has the potential to become. So let’s just dive into shall we?
Best Production: Magna Carta Holy Grail
Both Yeezus and MCHG have a bevy of producers contributing to the soundscape with Kanye utilizing himself, Daft Punk, Mike Dean, Hudson Mohawke, Rick Rubin, S1, Travi$ Scott and a dumb large number of additional producers. Jay-Z keeps it a lot simpler and calls on Timbaland, Pharrell, Swizz Beatz, Mike Will Made It, Boi 1da, and 16-year old newcomer Wondagurl. What makes Yeezus so different from the average hip hop release (especially a Kanye West album) is the stripped down simplicity of most of the beats. Songs like “New Slaves” are basically just a few simple tones that put all the focus on Kanye’s vocals and lyrics. This translates well for hip hop heads that look more into lyrical substance but doesn’t always go over well with the casual rap fan who just likes to ride around listening to the melodies in the beat and pretend like (s)he knows any words beyond the chrous. Jay takes the opposite approach and makes sure almost every beat on the album is crafted with such care and depth that any struggle rapper could drop a freestyle to it and rack up more Youtube views than auto-tuned rednecks getting hit in the nuts.
Best Beat: Beach Is Better (produced by Mike Will Made It)
Best Lyrics: Yeezus
The biggest downfall present in MCHG is that Jay-Z puts 100% of his effort into his flow and the production quality but the lyrics themselves leave a lot to be desired from someone who is supposed to be the best rapper of all time. He’s in his 40s and still rapping about how he used to sell cocaine…which was nearly thirty years ago by this point. So we’re supposed to believe that in three decades you never did ANYTHING else in your life worth writing about? No. We don’t believe you, you need more people. Outside of “Jay-Z Blue”, the song about his anxieties in regards to being a father, Jay-Z sticks to the same content he has his entire career. Tried and true perhaps but it’s getting a tad tiresome by this point. Kanye on the other hand takes advantage of his stripped down instrumentation and tries to spit engaging lyrics that range from the thought provoking to the damn-near nonsensical. “New Slaves” sees him taking the same anti-commercialism stance he had on his early-career hit “All Falls Down” and revamp it with such rage and intensity you can just feel how few fucks he gives anymore. Lines like “There’s leaders and there’s followers but I’d rather be a dick than a swallower” combine crassness with a blunt declaration that’s hard-hitting and stands out in your brain. Then there’s “I’m In It”, which can be best described as the most hardcore sex song that the dude from Bon Iver has ever sang on, and has Kanye spazzing out with lines that make you question if you really know what anything means anymore with lines like “My mind move like a Tron bike. Pop a wheelie on the zeitgeist”. C’mon. Name one other rapper who has the word ‘zeitgeist’ in his vocabulary. I’ll wait.
“My mama was raised in the era when
Clean water was only served to the fairer skin
Doing clothes you would have thought I had help
But they wasn’t satisfied unless I picked the cotton myself”
– New Slaves
Best Collaborations: Magna Carta Holy Grail
One thing both Yeezus and MCHG share is a great use of guests. Almost everyone featured on each album brings their A-game (save for the abysmal King L featured track on Yeezus and the same-old shit verse from Rick Ross on MCHG). Both albums even have overlapping features as Frank Ocean and Travi$ Scott lend vocals on both projects. The only reason I have to give it to Jay on this one is that Kanye’s use of features tend to supplement his own vocals and never really feel like prominent additions to the tracks, the exception being the feature on the chorus of “I’m In It”. Whereas the features on MCHG really compliment Jay-Z and add to the overall experience of the song rather than just make Jay look good. Frank Ocean’s crooning chorus on “Oceans” is the absolute high point of the entire album and match the energy of Jay’s flow and create such a synergy that would be hard for any other R&B/rap collaboration to match.
Best Feature: Frank Ocean on “Oceans”
Yeezus and MCHG are not for the same kind of hip hop fan. Yeezus is experimental and goes against the grain in a lot of ways and definitely polarized the hip hop community between people who see it as Kanye stepping outside of his comfort zone and making art and those who see it as Ye waving a giant ass flag with the words “I’M A HIPSTER” scrawled across it. MCHG takes far fewer chances and is really just what you’d come to expect from a Jay-Z album at this point. It reminds me a lot of “The Black Album” in the range of its production and attempt to appease the most rap fans possible rather than try to expand upon anything. Neither is a bad album by any means but neither is perfect either. Jay-Z has yet to feature his wife on a good song and “Send It Up” on Yeezus was just all around an ill-advised thing to create. Both albums will end up on most critics’ top ten lists by the end of the year, potentially battling over the top two spots.
Best Song Overall (Yeezus): Blood On The Leaves
Best Song Overall (MCHG): Oceans ft. Frank Ocean
(links up there buddy)