Day 124: Summer’s For Music – Jay-Z’s “Oceans (feat. Frank Ocean)”

by Tom Noonan

It’s the summer of the blockbuster album, and Jay-Z’s star vehicle Magna Carta Holy Grail has been rightfully criticized as being more Transformers than Dark Knight.  Great albums, as well as great movies, are made by artists who are hungry, who have something more to say, and Jay sounds pretty content on MCHG, as if he’s finally in a Lebron state of mind.  And while the greatest to ever do it deserves a victory lap, there was a feeling of “event” around this album, a three-minute intimate preview during half-time of Game 5 of the NBA Finals feeding this unwieldy momentum.  When MCHG dropped and it was quickly recognized as more or less an excellently produced, more thoughtful episode of “MTV Cribs”, we weren’t necessarily right to be disappointed.  After all, MCHG had always been more product than art project, so expecting something as provocative as fellow blockbuster Yeezus was misguided at best.  Basically, we got what we should’ve expected.

Even with the corporate tie-ins and “you know how many bad paintings I own?” list-making that shape how we relate to most of the album, there is still a part of Jay that is unsettled and angry on MCHG even if he lets that part lie dormant beneath high priced Timbaland beats for most of the album’s running time.  What ends up mattering, and redeems a small portion of this disappointing blockbuster, is that hungry Jay eventually does show up to air out these feelings, and when he takes aim, the shots are right on target.  The best example is “Oceans”, a song featuring the game-changing Frank Ocean that houses the most contemplative line on the record: “Only Christopher we acknowledge is Wallace/I don’t even like Washingtons in my pockets.”  There are references to Basquait shows here, too, but only to let you know he’s ditching them to go change the world.

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