“Holy Grail” by Jay-Z (ft. Justin Timberlake)
“Holy Grail” has an unforgettable intro, in which the vocalist is emotionally addressing someone that he has a toxic relationship with. In other words, he would do anything for this individual, but instead it treats him cruelly, stealing his last crumb and slandering his name all over the place.
You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Jay-Z's Holy Grail at Lyrics.org.
Yet the narrator continues to allow it to do so. And the reason we’re referring to the addressee as an “it” is because, letting the cat out of the bag early, Justin Timberlake is not speaking to a female, as one may presume. Rather he is addressing fame itself.
So with that in mind, he is depicting fame as a merciless character, one that regularly does him wrong. But still, he loves it faithfully nonetheless. And these are powerful assertions coming from the likes of Justin and Jigga, i.e. two of the most famous entertainers in the world.
Timberlake goes on to further explain his feelings in the chorus. And it is fundamentally the same as the intro, with fame being personified as someone who is exalting the vocalist one day and the next treating him “so cold”.
So we can already tell that this song is about the fickleness of fame, a subject which pop stars like these have actually been harping on for decades now. Therefore, we will proceed to see how Jay-Z in particular feels about the situation.
Jay-Z draws our attention to the fickleness of fame
Jigga begins by giving a shoutout to “Blue” Ivy, i.e. his firstborn with Beyoncé, who just came out of her mother’s womb the year prior to the release of “Holy Grail”. And Jigga uses the opportunity of namedropping the child to do what he does best, i.e. engage in a bit of braggadocio.
But he quickly comes back to his senses by noting how fame sometimes does people dirty, like it “did to Hammer”. MC Hammer was one of the most-successful rappers from the 1990s who has since fallen off.
Jigga also references Mike Tyson in the regard. And what he is apparently alluding to is how both of the figures, after having once been on the top of the world, have since dealt with major financial difficulties.
And the ultimate point the vocalist is trying to get to is that after the money is finished, so too goes the people, specifically women as depicted, who sweat you when you’re successful. So even though he doesn’t state it outright, we can obviously count this as one way in which fame is fickle.
So Jay-Z sets about learning from the mistakes of the aforementioned individuals. And how he does so is by, at least ideologically speaking, not letting himself get too attached to the fame. And in that regard, he explains the related struggle by comparing it to a romantic relationship between he and the entity.
She, fame, is unfaithful to him. However, he continually takes her back. Or put more plainly, he realizes that he’s addicted to it in a dangerous sort of way. And he is also cognizant enough to recognize that he has no one to blame for this predicament but himself. He even goes on to mention the late Kurt Cobain in that regard, i.e. a fellow musician who ultimately went on, as many believe, to be destroyed by his own stardom.
Even more disadvantages of fame
In the second verse, Jay-Z takes a more direct approach in detailing some of the downsides of his stardom – quite a different disposition from his standard fare.
The first thing he actually notes is that ‘now he has tattoos on his body’. And even though he doesn’t elaborate on that particular subject, the logical implication is that he does not perceive as being a positive.
Moreover, on top of dealing with crazy women there’s also journalists out for his a-s. And then of course there’s a paparazzi, who hound Jigga so thoroughly that he “can’t even take (his) daughter for a walk” in piece.
So sometimes going through such ordeals puts him on the verge of being prepared to give the game up. But at the end of the day, he’s really just fooling himself by going through these psychological ordeals. And as the himself puts it, it is actually the wealth aspect that is most alluring.
But ultimately, what helps Mr. Carter put it all into perspective is remembering his days of economic struggle and how there are many individuals who would “die” to be in his current place. Or viewed alternatively, what he is going through now is nothing compared to what he went through in the ‘hood.
So it’s like suck it up and be a man, Jigga, either that or give up your celebrity standing altogether. And afterwards, the rest of song centers on Justin Timberlake once again lamenting how he is treated by fame.
Primary sentiment of “Holy Grail”
So conclusively, the sentiment expressed in “Holy Grail” pretty much flows in a circle. It starts with the vocalist crying over how his celebrity standing does him wrong, even though he is loyal to edifying it.
Additionally, he sees how others have lost to it and is worried such may happen to him also. And even if it doesn’t, there are still other negative aspects to maintaining a celerity standing. But even if being famous often proves to be a hassle, he’d rather endure it, due to the financial benefits, as opposed to going back to his pre-fame days of hardship and obscurity.
So he is once again proving to be committed to fame, no matter what, thus bringing us right back to the beginning of the story.
“Holy Grail” Facts
Primary Artist(s): Jay-Z
Featured Artist(s): Justin Timberlake
Album/EP: “Magna Carta… Holy Grail”
Was “Holy Grail” a single release?
On July 4 of 2013, “Holy Grail” became the first single that came out from “Magna Carta… Holy Grail”, Jigga’s 12th studio album.
Writing and Production
It was written by:
- Timothy Mosley
- Terius Nash
- Jerome Harmon
- Krist Novoselic
- Ernest Wilson
- Kurt Cobain
- Dave Grohl
“Holy Grail” was produced by
- J-Roc No ID
“Holy Grail” was the recipient of the “Best Rap/Sung Collaboration” at the 56th Grammy Awards. It competed with:
- J. Cole and Miguel – “Power Trip”
- Jay-Z and Beyoncé – “Part II (On the Run)”
- Kendrick Lamar and Mary J. Blige – “Now or Never”
- Wiz Khalifa and The Weeknd – “Remember You”
It was also nominated for “Best Rap Song” but lost to “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. The other nominees were:
- “F–kin’ Problems” (ASAP Rocky featuring Drake, 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar)
- “New Slaves” (Kanye West)
- “Started from the Bottom” (Drake)
As of 2018, the song had sold over 3.4 million copies in the U.S. alone.
It was placed at number 25 on Billboard’s top 100 Hot Rap Songs of all time.
- US – 4
- UK – 1
- South Korean – 1
- Scotland – 10
The Federal Trade Commission has been tasked by an advocacy group, “Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)” to investigate an app created by rapper, Jay-Z and cell phone giants, Samsung. The app was for the purpose of distributing the “Magna Carta… Holy Grail” album. They claim the app requests for personal data, location of users and information on their Twitter and Facebook details. The app also asked users for permission to make social media posts on their behalf.
The group would like the app’s request for information to be restricted to only what is necessary for the app’s operation.
Samsung, however, claims the app requested for such information only for user verification and that those requests were standard.
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