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This song about the pitfalls of fame interpolates Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit
." As well as borrowing the lines, "And we all just. Entertainers. And we're stupid. And contagious," Jay also raps, "Nobody to blame. Kurt Cobain. I did it to myself." Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, gave permission for the rapper to use words from Nirvana's classic tune. "I'm letting Jay-Z use lyrics - Frances [Bean Cobain] would freak [if she knew about it]," she told The Huffington Post
. "Jay-Z's huge and we're friends. I mean we're not besties or anything...."
Jay made the comment in a Pharrell Williams 2012 book, Places and Spaces I've Been
, that Nirvana "stopped" Hip-Hop for a second.
The song features Justin Timberlake. The pair also collaborated on the former N'Sync member's 2013 hit single "Suit and Tie
Running 5:39, this is far longer than most hit songs. Getting right to the vocals with no intro, there are also no bridges or instrumental breaks in the song; structurally it consists of four Jay-Z verses, each followed by a Justin Timberlake chorus. The song takes its time, with a tempo of just 73 Beats Per Minute (Dance songs are closer to 125).
The Holy Grail was the cup or chalice rationally used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper, which was the subject of much medieval legend and romance. In modern times the entirely unfounded notion began to circulate that the true Holy Grail is not a cup but a bloodline from Jesus and Mary Magdalene. It was claimed that the identities of their living descendants are protected by an ancient secret society. These fanciful ideas received a considerable boost from Dan Brown's best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code.
Jay-Z scored the ultimate product placement when the album's artwork was unveiled on July 3, 2013 next to the one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta in Salisbury Cathedral, England. It was then left on display for the remainder of the month. Hova suggested that the cover photograph evokes the unifying power of the historic 11th-century English charter, which set out the rights and responsibilities of the king toward his people. According to the cathedral's website, the image on the album cover represents the belief that, "when opposing thoughts are combined, beauty is created. When a man and a woman unite - on the most basic level - they create life."
Magna Carta… Holy Grail topped the charts in 59 countries, including the UK where it was Jay-Z's first ever #1 album.
Jay-Z had a four-day argument with Kanye West over this and another Magna Carta… Holy Grail
track whilst recording their joint album Watch The Throne
. "We had this whole plan when me and Kanye did [the] Watch The Throne
album that we would go right into our solos after that," Jay explained in an interview with BBC Radio 1's Zane Lowe. "Soon as I thought we had wrapped up Watch The Throne, I made two records - I had 'Holy Grail' and 'Oceans
"[There were] no lyrics on 'Holy Grail' and I recorded 'Oceans' and I played those records for Kanye," he continued. And he was like, 'No those have to go on Watch The Throne
', so we spent four days arguing about those records and I was explaining to him why it wasn't right for this project and I had a whole idea for making this album called Magna Carta... the Holy Grail [part of] the name came after."
The Anthony Mandler directed clip was the first major music visual to be debuted on Facebook's video platform. The promo shows both Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake exploring the limitations that the excesses of fame imposes and the song itself was rearranged to accommodate the artistic needs of the clip. It includes a TV showing footage of boxing great Mike Tyson being knocked out by underdog Buster Douglas in a 1990 fight, which is referenced in Jay's lyrics. "We talked a lot about that. How do you become trapped by that which you worked so hard to build? Just when you think you have everything, the universe can take it all back in just one second," Mandler explained to MTV News. "There was definitely a connection between his own life, and (famous investor, aviator, and engineer who became a recluse) Howard Hughes and Mike Tyson. Tyson was a hero to many, he was almost invincible, and then, he gets knocked down by a guy like Buster Douglas. Jay definitely felt the connection there."
A popular contemporary folk singer, Williams still remembers the sticky note that changed her life in college.
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