In three days, it will be America's 238th anniversary. It will also be the one year anniversary of Jay Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail. (One is just a tad more important than the other.) For all the "new rules" mumbo jumbo, the album didn't really change much; Ms. Carter has done more since then to change the game than Mr. Carter. I think I know why, though: Magna Carta Holy Grail was overwhelmingly mediocre. I can count the number of times I have listened to the album in the past year on one hand. In fact, it was so blah, people began to believe that Jay was past his prime, me included. However, there is just one problem. Following MCHG, Jay has been crushing it on the feature tip. The latest - a guest appearance on Jeezy's "Seen It All" - is one of his strongest to date, which makes me wonder how Jay has been so on point with his guest features, but so average on his own album?
It's gotten to the point where, if you told me that Jay was set to release a new solo record - hell, maybe even MCHG2 - I'd be less excited than if you told me he had a new guest verse on rapper ____'s new single. It's almost like the Andre 3K paradox, except Jay is releasing albums. Why is it that his guest spots are (for the most part) high quality and his solo material isn't? Is he merely a great emcee who released an average album, or an average emcee who elevates his game for guest features? Both? I'm not totally sure, which is why I'm writing this, but I think the first step in finding out is to break down his most noteworthy guest spots since the start of '13.
"Suit & Tie"
By no means was this revolutionary, but Jay is a great addition to the song. He fits in so well. Loving this combo, which is perhaps why JT was featured on Jay's album too. (Plus, they toured together last summer. Convenience!)
"Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe (Remix)"
One of my favorite Jay Z guest verses in years. I love everything about it. The proverbial passing of the torch from Jay to Kendrick, the fact it's a remix to one of my favorite records in recent memory and Jay's crazy White House imagery. Greatness!
I don't really care one way or another about this record. Nathan, however, does--it legitimately makes him mad--so I'll let him handle this one. Get 'em!
Interjection from Nathan S: I've said it once and I'll say it again. Fuck Jay's verse on this, fuck it to death. If you're Drake, don't you hear Seen It All and get mad that Hova saved his ill storytelling verse for Jeezy and basically just rhymed cake with cake 47 times on your shit?
"Drunk in Love"
Ok. Not great, but it definitely fits the song. Plus, "I do say I'm the shit if I do say so myself" is fun to say. I like it, but it's not one for the record books.
"Devil Is A Lie"
Woooooooooo! Loved the energy on this one. Sometimes Jay is just so much fun to listen to. I'd place this verse right up there with "BDKMV." When Jay is attached, and the record is done right, he adds to that over the top, fun vibe. He has the ability to turn an average song into certified banger; like Pimp My Ride for rappers.
"They Don't Love You No More"
This record is pretty underwhelming, but Jay happens to be a lone bright spot. I'm not saying it's his best work, but he takes a song I want to hate and turns it into something better than awful. So, that's a win, right?
"We Made It (Remix)"
Nathan Update: Can't believe we originally forgot this one, word to Miles in the comments for the reminder. Jay just absolutely ripped this one.
"Seen It All"
This is classic Jay. I'm not into drug raps, but I'd much rather Jigga rap about bricks instead of Basquiat. I could care less about Jeezy; Jay made this song.
I just don't think we can say Jay is past his prime. Sure MCHG wasn't great, but these guest features, for the most part, are phenomenal. He may be in his 40s, but Jay still has that magic in him. When he's on, he's on.
Still, why was MCHG so flat? Well, allow me to use another basketball analogy. If you asked Dwayne Wade to go play 40 minutes a night, night after night, there is no way in hell he would be effective. But in limited minutes, he is more fresh and mostly effective. He may not be what he once was, but there is no denying he's a great player and can still contribute. Jay, too, may not be at a Black Album level anymore, but he's still a damn good rapper. His energy is great for a guest spot or a one off loosie, but in terms of creating a complete album, I don't think he has that kind of stamina left in him. Bangers like "Holy Grail" are borderline memorable, but so few want an album of full of only bangers. There needs to be a story, something extra, and I just don't think Samsung-Picasso-Jay has a compelling story to tell anymore. That being said, I will always giver him a shot; he's given me too much great music, and continues to do so, to ever be counted out. Maybe there won't be another Blueprint, but I can certainly live with a few dozen more like "Seen It All."
Album Jay versus guest verse Jay, who you got? And what do you think explains the Hova guest verse phenomenon? Is it even a new phenomenon, or am I just noticing it now. Let's get to debating below...
UPDATE: Every Jay Z Guest Verse Since ‘13 Playlist
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is "College Dropout", but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]