Jay-Z – Somewhereinamerica

Magna Carta Holy Grail
Year :
Kanye West / Nas / Rick Ross

This week the New York City blog Free Williamsburg reported that a man died after peeing on the electrified third rail in the subway. It is in that spirit that I will attempt to not shame, friends, and this website, as I briefly consider the good ol’ “third rail of American politics” in light of the phenomenon called twerking.

I will get this out of the way at the start: Magna Carta Holy Grail is not very good. In fact, for me anyway, it commits the cardinal sin of being just mediocre—it’s generally boring with a few high points (an uncredited Nas guest spot on “BBC” being perhaps the best). Jay turns out for a total of 16(!) tracks and occasionally channels some Reasonable Doubt-era inspired verses, but it never sounds like he even considered going off the rails on MCHG. It’s squarely within whatever comfort zone he has at this point and that’s the problem. It’s asking a lot to focus one’s attention for the duration of the album’s nearly 60-minute run-time when Jay doesn’t even muster up the nerve to be interesting.

With one important exception.

“Somewhereinamerica” clocks in at just over 2 minutes and, at first glance, feels something like a toss-off. The production from Hit-Boy features a skronky saxophone loop coupled with a jangly piano riff that feel strangely at odds when considering the music alone. And yet, they suit the lyrics. Jay-Z raps:

Shout out to old Jews and old rules
New blacks with new stacks
I already been the king
Retro act, I’m just bringing it back like Jordan Packs
New money, they looking down on me
Blue bloods they trying to clown on me
You can turn up your nose high society
Never gone turn down the homie
Knock knock I’m at your neighbor house

It’s a theme that recurs throughout Magna Carta Holy Grail, a sort of cultural displacement. Decked out with all the trappings of the blue-blooded American elite, the best taste money can buy, even the mighty Jay-Z can’t quite break through without crashing the gates. Only in America can a millionaire feel like an outsider. The verse is just one of many variations on the theme scattered across MCHG and the lyrics, despite making a real point, don’t stand out more than the others. But “Somewhereinamerica” concludes with a bright red exclamation point:

When I was talking Instagram
Last thing you wanted was your picture snapped
Feds still lurking
They see I’m still putting work in
Cause somewhere in America
Miley Cyrus is still twerkin’

Twerk, twerk, twerk, twerk
Twerk, Miley, Miley, twerk
Twerk, Miley, Miley, Miley, twerk
Twerk, yeah, ugh-huh
Twerk, Miley, Miley, Miley
Only in America

The lyrics fly in from left field but provide an amazing counterpoint, particularly in light of the video for Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop.”

We Can’t Stop (2013)

Miley’s trainwreck of a video has already been torn limb-from-limb and it need not be done again here.

The diss from Jay, though, doesn’t just pour salt on a wound. To me, it reads equally well as a perplexed shrug—Only in America could two entertainers need to try and appropriate the trappings of the “other” just to ultimately wind up in the same place: rich and alienated. There are key differences between the two, mainly in the way that for all of Jay-Z’s resigned acceptance that he’s never really “part of the club” as it were, Miley seems completely oblivious (or worse, unconcerned) about what her caricature means.

In light of it all, I can forgive Jay-Z’s lack of interest in entertaining. He’s probably better off for it. Get that Samsung money.

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(@YahSureMan) is the Founder of The Daily Soundtrack and Bark Attack Media. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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