1) Holy Grail ft. Justin Timberlake:
Great way to start of the album. If you don't get the feels from JT's sweet, sweet vocals, you need to check yourself. First verse and the hook is lyrically straightforward; JT sings about how his girl takes advantage of his infinite love for her ("You'd take the clothes off my back / And I'll let you / You'd steal the food right out from my mouth, and I'd watch you eat it / And I still don't know / why I love you so much"). The first reference to the Holy Grail appears at the end of the hook ("You're so unfair sippin' from your cup / Til it runneth over, Holy Grail"). "My cup runneth over" is a verse from the Old Testament that means "I have more than enough." The woman JT sings about knows she has more than enough of JT's love, so she "sips" from him.
It seems that fame is the “woman” in Jay-Z’s verses; Jay-Z loves the fame, but like the woman in JT’s verse, it takes advantage of him (“Caught up in all these lights and cameras / But look what that shit did to Hammer / Goddammit I like it / Bright lights is enticing / But look what it did to Tyson), and treats him nice one day, and like shit the next. He doesn’t know why he deals with “her (“Fuck the fame / Keep cheating on me / What I do, I took her back / Fool me twice / That’s My bad, I can’t even blame her for that”). Also watch out for a reference to “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
2) Picasso Baby: First two verses consist of obvious art-related references and typical allusions to the rapper's wealthy aspirations and lifestyle ("I just want a Picasso, in my casa / No, my castle"). The third verse barely saves the song from lyrical disappointment, with Jay-Z rapping about his place in society as a celebrity, as an older rapper in the game, as an African-American with roots in the Marcy Projects . All-too-familiar verses about criticism from the media and racial discrimination from cops make appearances ("They try to slander your man / On CNN and Fox / My Mirandas don't stand a chance / With cops"). The song ends with "What's it gon take / For me to go / For you to see / I'm the modern day Pablo / Picasso Baby," and this is a valid question that ties together the whole song by asking "I've come from humble beginnings, made it all the way to the top despite all sorts of obstacles, so how many albums do I have to come out with in order for everyone to recognize me as a legendary artist?" Jay-Z may have incredible support from many fans (and has reached success-first/second verse) but he feels that he's a long way from being respected universally as an artist (and justifiably so- third verse ). As far as the beat goes, it flows with funk and nonchalance.
3) Tom Ford:
Easy to groove to, not challenging lyrically. Tom Ford designs suits for high class guys like Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake (à la “Suit and Tie”). Allusions to wealth (“Piss Bordeaux and Burgundies / “Flush out a Riesling”), his success as a rapper- 12 of his albums hit Number 1 (“Numbers don’t lie/ check the scoreboard”) are a plenty.
The song has a couple of lines that outshine the mundane rest, referring to his haters and the internet: “Sound boy burial, this my Wayne Perry though, District of Columbia, guns on y’all Tumblrs / Fuck hashtags and retweets, nigga / 140 characters in these streets, nigga.” Wayne Perry refers to the most infamous gangster of DC, implying that Jay-Z is the Wayne Perry of the rap game. “Guns on y’all Tumblrs” refers to the haters hiding behind the internet to attack the rapper, and implies that your skills on social networking sites won’t do you any good if you ever met Jay-Z on the streets.
4) FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt ft. Rick Ross:
As good as you expect a Jay-Z song featuring Rick Ross would be. Besides the intro (a recording of Pimp C), which explains his viewpoint on why a lot of African-American rappers like to wear lots of jewelry (“The reason why we like this jewelry and this diamsonds and stuff...They don’t understand is because we really from Africa...And that’s where all this stuff come from...And we originated from kings, you know what I’m saying...”), the rest of the song is a whole bunch of references to being rich and blah blah blah. Again, the production is alright with relatively easy allusions in the verses.
5) Oceans ft. Frank Ocean
I love anything Frank Ocean does, and besides the fact that Frank Ocean is featuring in a song called Oceans, the song is easily likeable while having substance to the verses.
The hook is about race in America, from references to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade to those of today’s society (“I hope my black skin don’t first this white tuxedo / Before the basquiat show and if so / well fuck it, fuck it / because this water drown my family / this water mixed my blood / this water knows it all.”) The first verse carries a similar theme, Jay-Z contrasting the life of an African-American in the past, for example, picking cotton, and an African-American living a wealthy and powerful life (Jay-Z) today.
6) F.U.T.W (Fuck Up The World)
Repetitive theme in Jay-Z's career and this album: Talks about his hardships living in Brooklyn. Nothing spectacular, a couple of alright lines: "Teacher Teacher, I'm trying to unteach ya / All the shit they taught y'all, they got you all in the bleachers" is a play on the Special song "Teacher Teacher" and Jay uses this to point out the fact that where he's from, and all over the country, teachers have managed to keep kids from the poor and working class contained in poverty and in the "bleacher seats" rather than the front row Jay-Z sits in.
References Miley Cyrus twerking. Not Jay's proudest moment.
Not much to say, it's just a whole lot of allusions to the church and Jay-Z being king.
9) Heaven ft. Justin Timberlake
One of the more original themed, lyrically pensive song on the album. Jay-Z raps about his personal spirituality.
11) Part II ft. Beyonce
In short: Rather disappointing. It's beautiful but its no Crazy in Love.
12) Beach is Better
Beach is a metaphor for life in this song ("Life's a beach") and Jay-Z is basically saying my life is better than yours (what else is new?)
BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB alright this song is dooooope. Produced by Timbaland and Pharrell. Featuring Beyonce, JT, Nas and Swizz Beatz. It's awfully fun and catchy. Reminds me of Blurred Lines.
There's also some foreign language used (Japanese in the beginning, and Korean at the end). By the way Billionaire Boys Club is the name of Pharrell's clothing line.
14) Jay Z Blue
Talks about his baby, Blue Ivy, and also talks about his own childhood. Solid track.
15) La Familia
Only semi-interesting thing about this song is Jay-Z's response to Lil Wayne's diss in "It's Good." Jay-Z once dissed Birdman saying he has "baby money" compared to Jay-Z, so Lil Wayne rebuttals in his song: "Baby money? I got you baby money/ Kidnap your bitch, get that "how-much-you-love-your-lady" money." Jay fires back with "Niggas wanna kidnap wifey / Good luck with that bruh / You must gonna hide your whole family." AYoOOoOo! not. these disses are embarrassing go home both of you.
16) Nickels and Dimes
Great sampling from Nikels and Dimes by Gonjasufi. Themes of life and growing up. There's a lot of intentions to the lyrics in this song, so visit http://rapgenius.com/Jay-z-nickels-and-dimes-lyrics to get the whole gist.
17) Open Letter
YES more dopeness ensues in this last track. This track was released a couple months earlier. Themes of politics and society. "Politicians never did shit for me / Except lie to me, distort history / Wanna give me jail time and a fine" is a rebuttal to when politicians unnecessarily freaked out when they thought Jay Z and Beyonce didn't have official documented permission to go to Cuba.
overall, it's not that impressive. not that we needed more proof, but Jay-Z really solidified the fact that he sold himself to the SUITS. with that said, I think he's getting more flak than he deserves for this album just because people expected so much of him. could this be the continuation of the gradual downfall of the great Hov???