This summer had the distinct pleasure of not only a Kanye West album dropping, but a Jay Z one dropping as well. I couldn’t let this opportunity pass without pitting the two head to head into a musical thunderdome. Full disclosure, I am a bigger Kanye fan vs. a Hova fan but I am trying to be partial in this battle. Yeezus dropped first so I have had a bit more time to listen to it versus Magna Cartaâ€¦ Holy Grail. Jay Z’s marketing of Magna was genius, using Samsung phones to promote the album. Put on your helmets, grab your favorite weapon, and may the odds ever be in your favor.
1. Opening Tracks
Opening tracks are important for any album as they are what grab listeners in. There is a reason they discuss Track 1 Side 1s in High Fidelity.
“Holy Grail” by Jay Z: This song was originally proposed for the Throne collaboration but Kanye does not appear on the song. I am curious if the Justin Timberlake part was originally meant for Kanye. I like the song and that it uses interpolations of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The lyrics are solid but not amazing.
“On Sight” by Kanye West: On a song produced and backed by Daft Punk, you can feel Kanye’s electrodance influence. Is it a great song? I am not sure. It is a little short for my tastes just because the beat is really damn good. Lyrically, it is a meh song.
Advantage: Jay Z
Every album is known for their stand-out tracks. OK Computer has “Karma Police” and “Paranoid Android.” Glass Houses has “You May Be Right” and “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” Blue has “A Case of You” and “River.”
“Somewhereinamerica” and “Part II (On the Run)” are the two songs on Magna Carta that really stand out to me on this album, even though neither are the best songs on the album. “Somewhereinamerica” has a really awesome horn and piano beat that really makes me shimmy. Bonus points for making fun of Miley Cyrus. “Part II” proves that Jay is at his best when collaborating with his wife.
“Blood on the Leaves” and “New Slaves” are two stand-out tracks on Yeezus. “Blood” has a haunting sample of “Strange Fruit” by Nina Simone and uses it so effectively. Kanye’s use of glitchy samples are over all both of these songs. “New Slaves” is a very simplistic song but his message is very clear, and Kanye is clearly channeling Saul Williams on “New Slaves.” Frank Ocean’s appearance on “New Slaves” is a very welcome addition to the song and I can see why Jay and Kanye both used him on their albums.
Advantage: Kanye West
3. Best Overall Song
Everyone has a favorite song on an album. It’s the song you listen to the most and makes you keep coming back to the album it’s from.
“Oceans” is my favorite song on Magna Carta, not only because Frank Ocean appears on it, but it seems to be the most pulled together and complete. It’s no surprise this song too was earmarked for Watch the Throne, though I have a hard time figuring out how it would fit into that album. Jay is very subdued on this song and I love that. He knows how to get the emotions to flow. He has come a long way from “Izzo” and “Hard Knock Life.” He is a much more mature artist now.
“Black Skinhead” is one of my favorite Kanye songs period, so it’s no surprise I consider it the best song on Yeezus. I previously included it in one of my ten song columns because I have listened to it a lot. The early ’90s Nine Inch Nails feel really sticks with me. This is a great cathartic song if you have had a horrible day. I put it on and get a bit angry. Caution: Weird Music Video ahead.
4. Overall Album
This was actually closer than I thought it was going to be going into this battle royale. Given my undying Kanye love, I figured Hova would get no love from me. It is a slight edge to Kanye only. Jay put too much filler on the album and probably could have shaved off ten or so minutes from it. Yeezus is a very tight put together album but that is no surprise given how much of a control freak Kanye comes off as. Magna Carta is not the best Jay Z album. That title still belongs to The Black Album. Yeezus is a close second to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as the best Kanye album. I can see myself listening to both albums for a long time so that bodes well for their influence. It is weird, though, that neither appeared on each other’s albums as they have in the past. I am wondering if they wanted some time off after the Throne tour ended. Kanye emerges victorious but Jay Z still comes out of Thunderdome.