Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail dropped exactly one week ago today, but unless you: A) Had a Samsung Galaxy or B) Pirated the album, you weren’t able to hear it until it officially was released on Tuesday. Reactions to the album have been pretty mixed, but one thing is certain: Whatever you think of the lyrical/thematic content, Hova had a world-class lineup of producers —including multiplatinum hitmakers like Timbaland, Pharrell Williams, The-Dream, and Hit-Boy— cranking out beats for him to lay down verses over. So, which of these producers were responsible for the LP’s most memorable beats? Let’s break it down.
Before we get started, a bit about our methodology: Three members of the VH1 Tuner team—myself, Felicia Daniels and Emily Exton—each filled out a ballot ranking the beats on the album’s 16 tracks from best to worst. It’s worth noting that we completely ignored the lyrical content of any given song, which includes any verses that guest artists like Beyoncé, Frank Ocean, and Justin Timberlake and made to the album; our focus was purely on the production of the tracks. The ballots were then collected, tabulated, debated, and cemented in stone. Here are the results, from worst to best!!
THE BEST BEATS ON JAY-Z’S MAGNA CARTA HOLY GRAIL
16. “La Familia” (produced by J-Roc & Timbaland) – There’s a reason that this track was buried in the fifteenth spot of the tracklist.
15. “Beach Is Better” (produced by Mike Will Made It) – Even Jay-Z got tired of this beat; he capped this song off at 56 seconds.
14. “Versus” (produced by Timbaland) – This Timbo interlude shows a smidge of promise at its outset, but it fails to develop in any sort of meaningful way over the song’s 52 seconds.
13. “F*ckwithmeyouknowigotit” (produced by Boi-1da, Timbaland & Vinylz) – There’s a haunting feel to this very minimalistic number, but it appears that Boi-1da saves his best beats for Drake.
12. “Picasso Baby” (produced by Adrian Younge, J-Roc & Timbaland) – This track is built around a sample of Adrian Younge’s downright funky song “Sirens,” which first appeared on his 2011 joint, Something About April. That song is hot fire, but neither J-Roc nor Timbaland did much to spice it up. The track, which Jay-Z performed for 6 hours straight yesterday, switches gears around the 2:30 mark; sadly, the guitar riff sounds like something Jay discarded while working on “99 Problems” with Rick Rubin.
11. “Crown” (produced by Mike Dean & WondaGurl) – This song captured the fancy of bloggers everywhere because it was developed by the 16-year-old female wunderkind WondaGurl. We applaud her for scoring such an impressive credit at such a young age, but truth be told, we feel like her best beatmaking days are ahead of her.
THE BEST BEATS ON JAY-Z’S MAGNA CARTA HOLY GRAIL (CON’T)
10. “Oceans” (produced by Pharrell Williams & Timbaland) – “Oceans” is definitely one of the five best songs on the album, but not because of its beat. There’s another Pharrell and Timbaland co-production on this album that we’re over the moon for, but not this one…
9. “Part II (On The Run)” (produced by J-Roc & Timbaland) – Snooooooooooooooooze.
8. “Heaven” (produced by J-Roc, The-Dream & Timbaland) – Now we’re starting to get to the good stuff! “Heaven,” much like “Picasso Baby,” is built around an engaging Adrian Younge sample. (It’s pretty clear that his LP Something About April is in heavy rotation at the Timbaland household.) This time around, though, J-Roc, The-Dream and Timbaland add a few stylistic flairs —spoken word sections, additional percussion— to an intriguing section of “Reverie,” elevating it as a whole.
7. “Jay Z Blue” (produced by J-Roc & Timbaland) – Things really get interesting right off the bat here with an out-of-left-field Faye Dunaway sample from the 1981 camp classic, Mommie Dearest (“NO! WIRE! HANGERS!”). When you add Jay trading words with the late Notorious B.I.G. in the song’s second verse, you have the makings of a really memorable track.
6. “Nickels and Dimes” (produced by Mike Dean) – This song is pretty much a straight lift of a song called “Nikels And Dimes” by an obscure artist named Gonjasufi. And you know what? We’re totally okay with it. If you dig through enough crates to find a beat like this, you should be applauded.
THE BEST BEATS ON JAY-Z’S MAGNA CARTA HOLY GRAIL (CON’T)
5. “F.U.T.W.” (produced by J-Roc & Timbaland) – The song’s opening 20 seconds are a bit underwhelming, as lonely horns play over a weird organ noise. But when the beat drops after that? We dare you not to raise your hands in the air.
4. “Somewhereinamerica” (produced by Hit-Boy & Mike Dean) – Ryan Lewis didn’t earn a producer credit on this song, but he almost deserves one considering how much the track resembles his hit with Macklemore, “Thrift Shop.” You can always tell when Hov is feeling a beat, because he’ll often shout out something before the song’s “real” first verse starts. In this song, it’s “See what you made me do?” And that little piano riff? Reminds us more than a little of Yeezy’s “Heard ’Em Say” (in a good way).
3. “Holy Grail” (produced by J-Roc, The-Dream & Timbaland) – The first time we listened to Magna Carta Holy Grail, we were surprised that the album’s first 80 seconds were a spare piano beat, but the moment when Timberlake tags Jay to hop in the ring, we are treated to a beat that’s classic Timbaland: Elegantly minimal yet very impactful.
2. “Tom Ford” (produced by J-Roc & Timbaland) – There were two beats on the album that, to the three of us who worked on this piece, stood heads and tails above the rest of the material on Magna Carta Holy Grail. “Tom Ford” was one of them. This contains the INSANE beat that we first heard teased during one of the album’s many Samsung commercials, something that can stand alongside “Get UR Freak On” and “Are You That Somebody?” in the canon of Timbaland’s best beats. It’s the kind of zig-zaggy beat that can ONLY come from the mind of Tim Mosely and, if we’re being perfectly honest, is infinitely hotter than anything he gave Justin Timberlake for The 20/20 Experience.
AND THE BEST BEAT ON JAY-Z’S MAGNA CARTA HOLY GRAIL IS…
1. “BBC” (produced by Pharrell Williams & Timbaland) – Turn the volume UP! Pharrell most definitely got his chocolate in Timbaland’s peanut butter on this amazing track, and the results are even tastier than a Reese’s peanut butter cup. Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake’s voices swirl around one of the catchier piano loops in recent memory, as a cacophony of other instruments (do we hear a cowbell in there?) create a frenzied yet melodic beat. It’s one of the few beats on the album that makes us want to get up and dance, and we won’t be the least bit surprised when we’re still hearing this song play at the club six months from now.
Well, there you have OUR opinion on the best beats on Magna Carta Holy Grail. Now, your turn!
[Photo: Getty Images]