Jay-Z promised to write some “new rules” for the music industry with the release of his latest album, Magna Carta Holy Grail. Rappers make a lot of bold claims, of course, but Jay’s $5 million pre-release deal with Samsung did manage to set a new precedent for the music industry. Post-release, well, it’s too soon to say.
But in the meantime we can look at how Jay-Z’s Magna Carta (2013) stacks up against that other Magna Carta (1215), the basis of English law and inspiration for the U.S. Constitution. The historical document just marked the 798th anniversary of its signing by King John, while the hip-hop version has been available for 12 days.
Magna Carta: “The guardian, moreover, so long as he has the wardship of the land, shall keep up the houses, parks, fishponds, stanks, mills, and other things pertaining to the land.”
Jay-Z (who also had some things to say about “stanks”): “House like the Louvre or the Tate Modern / Because I be going ape at the auction.”
Magna Carta: “Let there be one measure of wine throughout our whole realm; and one measure of ale; and one measure of corn.”
Jay-Z: “Champagne on my breath, Yes”
Magna Carta: Walter of Worcester
Jay-Z: Miley Cyrus, Jean-Michel Basquiat
Magna Carta: Soundtrack unknown, probably featured lutes; 63 long verses
Jay-Z: Features Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, Frank Ocean; 59 minutes long
Ability to Empower the Common Man
Magna Carta: Reined in the power of English royalty for the first time, putting limits on a lot of pretty nasty things, such as collecting payments in lieu of military service and throwing people in jail willy-nilly.
Jay-Z: Declares himself monarch: “You in the presence of a king.” Also: “They will never ever take my crown.” (Note: Probably also what King John said.)
Advantage: Magna Carta
Magna Carta: Articulated for the first time the right to due process of law, established royalty’s place within that law (not above it), and solidified the rights of the English church.
Jay-Z: On pace to be Jay-Z’s 13th No. 1 album, setting a record for most chart-topping albums by a single artist.
Advantage: Magna Carta
Overall Winner: Magna Carta
The Magna Carta certainly isn’t flawless. Do we really need a whole verse on “fish weirs” or another on bridge-building requirements? Couldn’t that shout-out to Walter of Worcester have been cut by the producers? The historic document definitely could have used some velvety hooks from Justin Timberlake. But here’s the thing: Will anyone be singing about Jay-Z 800 years from now? Doubt it. Beyoncé? Maybe.