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Music reviews for Thursday, July 11, 2013

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July 11, 2013

Jay-Z

'Magna Carta Holy Grail'

Kanye didn't care about satisfying radio with his latest album.

Neither does Jay-Z.

"Magna Carta Holy Grail," the rapper's 12th album, doesn't have the pop or mainstream appeal his past records have offered. The 16-track set, mostly helmed by Timbaland, is full of robust and moody hip-hop beats that maintain a nice groove, but don't expect any booming anthems or party jams here. Like Kanye, there wasn't a single or music video ahead of the album's release Sunday.

With the exception of rapping about fatherhood and infant daughter Blue Ivy, lyrically, "Magna Carta" doesn't tell us anything new about the superstar. We all know how he rose from selling drugs in the Brooklyn projects to become arguably the most important rapper of all-time, his multiplatinum feats, his awards, and the benefits of having a superstar wife, Beyonce.

But while Jay-Z continues to make headlines away from music, this album treads familiar ground, which makes the album-dare we say it?-average.

He'll remind you that Samsung bought 1 million copies of the record and gave it away three days early-on songs such as "Somewhere In America." There's similar flavor lyrically on "Tom Ford," with its freaky beats, and the bumping "Picasso Baby," where Beyonce gets a shout-out: "Sleeping every night next to Mona Lisa, the modern version, with better features."

It's when he talks about the other lady in his life, his 1-year-old daughter, where we see a rare side of the typically braggadocio rapper.

"Now I got tattoos on my body, psycho (expletive) in my lobby, I got haters in the paper, photos shoots with paparazzi, can't even take my daughter for a walk," he raps on "Holy Grail," a collaboration with Justin Timberlake. It's revealing and special coming from the often-unfazed Jay-Z.

While Timberlake works well with Hova, his collaborations with Beyonce and Frank Ocean on "Part II (On the Run)" and "Ocean" rely too much on the R&B singers. There are other big names on the album, such as Rick Ross, Pharrell and Nas, but "Magna Carta," it isn't designed like albums in the past. There are no catchy hooks to grab you in. The most excitement about the album hasn't been generated from the music, but its promotion plan.

-Mesfin Fekadu, Associated Press

Skylar Grey

'Don't Look Down'

Skylar Grey projects the kind of unshakable cool that suits fighter pilots and neurosurgeons well. For singers, it's a drawback.

Throughout Grey's long-awaited debut "Don't Look Down," you keep waiting for her to show some emotion-any emotion. The closest we get to one is playful in the oddly defiant "C'mon, Let Me Ride," which features Eminem, who served as the album's executive producer. Grey, who co-wrote Em's "Love the Way You Lie," has a good voice, but she seems intent on draining all passion from it, even in the murderous "Final Warning" or the heartbroken "White Suburban."

-Glenn Gamboa, Newsday



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