Review written by Mitesh B. (@PardonMy808).

Whenever Jay-Z releases an album, there are simply two comparisons that listeners can make. Critics and fans can either judge his 13th studio album to recent 2013 releases or his own hall of fame library of hits and number one albums. It appears as if Jay-Z has focused on the latter, as Magna Carter Holy Grail appears to be one of his greatest commercial successes to date. Jay-Z promoted an entire album within a matter of weeks thanks to a series of Samsung sponsored commercials of him other legendary producers hanging out. It was later revealed that he would exclusively release the album via Samsung, to whom he he pre-sold a million copies to, and that they were to be released a week early exclusively to Samsung users on one of America’s greatest holidays. In an industry in which first week sales unfortunately matter in determining the worth of an album, Jay-Z beat the system by having a million copies sold before his album was even released.

However, fans and critics don’t all obsess over numbers and have the same expectations as most Jay-Z fans; will he ever re-create the magic of a Reasonable Doubt, Blueprint, or Black Album? Hov mentioned that this album might be tied for the 4th best of his catalogue but with West’s Yeezus, Cole’s Born Sinner, and Wale’s The Gifted releasing weeks prior, hip-hop is buzzing nationally and the bar is set a little higher. And while any fan might listen to MCHG time and time again for the remainder of the summer, Jay-Z missed par for delivering past the hype of “breaking all of the rules.”

At times, the variety of topics one rapper can cover throughout his lifetime can be impressive, especially one with eleven previous albums. At 43, Shawn Carter continues to avoid complete redundancy of dope stories and rich raps. He discusses the undeservingly glorification of America’s discovery in “Oceans,” questions religion in “Heaven,” faces the torments of his own childhood while learning to be a parent in “Jay Z Blue,” discusses his own opinions of opportunity and charity in “Nickels and Dimes,” and even references Miley Cyrus’ twerking as a metaphor of the clashing of cultures in “Somewhere In America.”

However, he continues to play it safe and remain on the shallow end of these themes. Whether his lifestyle raps are considered repetitive or creative (he name-drops so many exquisite artists and brands that you’d give yourself a cultural lesson after a visit to Rap Genius), there’s not much more he can brag about after the epic of Watch the Throne. He tries to mask himself as sophisticated member of an elite class with tracks like “Tom Ford” and “Picasso Baby,” but just bores audiences with his desire for material objects. While he has the reigns to call anyone to join the grail (and does with an impressive lineup of features), Jay-Z struggles to create complete fulfilling tracks. He seems to be at a point of his career where he cannot push his music to new levels, only of those surroundings around him. The highlights of the album are nearly all from features. JT opens up the album with an impressive melodic that introduces a strong theme of the album, embracing the fame while staying true to yourself and your past. Rick Ross contributes to one of the few bangers on the album in “Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit” and Nas shines on his quick verse on “BBC.” Even with “BBC” being my favorite track off the album, I leave the song wanting another verse from HOV. Despite the incredible beats from Timbaland, Pharell, and others, Jay-Z rarely mixes flows and forces to stress his lines with plain repetition and pauses. He even loses momentum in the second half of the album with gimmicky interludes and uncompleted tracks. While Magna Carter Holy Grail continues to prove his relevance and impact on the game, it’s clear he has no true ambition to change the rules.

Purchase Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail via iTunes and let us know what you think in the comments!