Magnum Carter

Hip hop artist retirements are about as meaningful as Brett Favre in sweats so it should come as no surprise to anyone that Jay Z1 just released his fourth post-retirement LP, Magna Carta … Holy Grail (iTunes). Jay Z never ascended to the top of my all-time hip hop legends list, but I’ve always recognized his value as one of hip hop’s most broadly appealing entertainers. My sense has always been that Jay excelled at perfectly placed samples2 and breathy, sometimes stuttery hooks3, dabbling in both the boastful, party anthem and truth from the streets sides of hip-hop without ever diving completely in. I’ve seen some criticisms of this album stating that it lacks lyrical punch. My passive listening thus far hasn’t helped shed any light on that specific point, but I will say that Jay’s lyrical prowess never impressed me as much as his unique delivery and overall cool. The longevity of Jay’s career means the span of his relevancy sometimes pits him in the company of Biggie and Tupac and subsequent comparisons therein – comparisons that a living legend wouldn’t outwardly shy away from but are nonetheless patently unfair. Some critics believe every significant artist’s release should be their magnum opus, an inherently flawed opinion that would drive any sane individual to retirement papers. I’ll go out on a limb and say that this isn’t Jay Z’s magnum opus (nor his holy grail), but it definitely has some bright spots.

Before I listened to a note, the tracks I heard the most noise in the blog and twitterspheres were “Tom Ford” and “Part II (On the Run)”. Both are solid tracks, with “Part II” being the more appealing track of the two for my ears thanks, in part, to Beyonce’s appearance on the track (which is probably the reason for its relative notoriety). The beat on “Tom Ford” (the impetus for most of the praise I read), is pretty cool but the rest of the track isn’t really where Jay Z excels for me. After listening to the album for almost two days straight now, the most notable tracks are “Holy Grail”, “Oceans”, “F.U.T.W.”, and “Nickels and Dimes”. “Holy Grail” features upcoming tour-mate and controversial night-stealer Justin Timberlake singing a verse/hook that occupies at least half of the song. “Oceans” is a nice background song, offering a smooth hook courtesy of Frank Ocean, with a steady lyrical flow. “F.U.T.W.” offers up my favorite knockout opening line (“Don’t be good … be great”) and the bassy, muddled beat reminds me of RZA inspired work from the height of Wu-Tang Clan’s popularity (“C.R.E.A.M.” anyone?). “Nickels and Dimes” is probably the weakest track of the ones I’ve highlighted but, as I mentioned earlier, I’m a sucker for samples and rhymes. This concluding track lives up to HOVA’s reputation for the right hook at the right time with tight rhymes.

When Magna Carta … was released I emailed a close friend who most closely shares my musical sensibilities and asked him if it was a must-purchase. He responded by asking if I’ve ever been disappointed by a Jay Z purchase? To be fair, I only own one complete album4 so that advice proved inconclusive for me at the time. After listening to the album for a couple of days I’m ready to conclude that it’s a worthy purchase for die-hards, but might be best left to a la carte purchasing or streaming via subscription services (Rdio or Spotify) for more casual fans. It’s not a career defining album, but it is a great addition to a hall of fame worthy resume.

Rating: Notable

  1. Jay Z’s representatives have recently confirmed that his moniker is now hyphen-free
  2. “Hard Knock Life”, “Song Cry”, “’03 Bonnie & Clyde”, “Empire State of Mind”, “Young Forever”
  3. “Can I Get A …”, “Jigga My Nigga”, “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”, “Dirt off your Shoulders”, “99 Problems”
  4. Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, owing to its release before the Napster/iTunes a la carte era of music downloading/buying. This is also Jay Z’s all-time best selling album in the U.S., certified 5x Platinum.

Fantasy Football: How Early is Too Early?

It is that time of year when you start peaking at the position rankings and have those “I didn’t realize player X signed there…” moments. It’s when you begin thinking through strategies thanks to a dearth of A-list running backs or an abundance of quarterbacks. It’s when you begin thinking about mock drafting with the other crazies neglecting their families or killing time while we suffer through the sports wasteland of July…it’s fantasy football season, or is it? Continue reading

Essentially Men: The Cocktail

Now that you have spent some time researching that all-important big boy drink, its time to move on to the next step; a cocktail. In order to keep all of this manageable, I think its best to select a cocktail derived from your booze of choice. There are only three cocktails a man can order at a bar with any amount of pride: martini (gin or vodka), old fashioned, and the manhattan. I will, of course, allow an exception for white russians on account of The Dude.

Before, we begin discussing the selection of your cocktail, let’s first understand the cocktail. The cocktail is meant as a refreshing way to enjoy your liquor of choice. It also must have at least three ingredients, with one of those being your “spirit” of choice. I hope you have now realized that rum and coke or gin and tonic is NOT a cocktail so don’t even think about coming at me with that weak sauce.

As I previously discussed at length, through a bit of soul searching and some trial and error, I am a bourbon man. As such, I have two options for my cocktail and I enjoy them both; the old fashioned and the manhattan. The Old Fashioned is considered by some to be the oldest of cocktails or the “original” cocktail. While, I can’t speak to that I can confirm it has enjoyed a revival over the last five years thanks in large part to this man. It’s a pretty simple concoction of bourbon, sugar, bitters and citrus that is a “build” cocktail, meaning it is prepared within the glass it is served. The sugar and citrus act to take the edge off that good ole bourbon kick. While, it is a mighty tasty drink, it is a bit sweet for my taste and I find it hard to drink more than one (which is probably not a bad thing).

My cocktail of choice is the manhattan. The manhattan is a pretty simple cocktail prepared in a shaker with a near 2 to 1 ratio of bourbon to vermouth (I would recommend sweet) and a dash of bitters shaken and served…I have to stop here because this is vital. If you order a manhattan at a bar, it will be served in a martini glass, and if you are like me, you get Sex and the City flashbacks and a sudden desire to stab your eye with a cocktail umbrella. I recommend requesting it over ice, but that is a personal choice…in a glass over ice with a lovely maraschino cherry garnish. I would also urge you to select a middle to high end bourbon as the base for your manhattan as this cocktail allows the character of the bourbon to show through. I personally enjoy it with Bulleit and I might even suggest trying it with the Bulleit Rye.

Regardless of your cocktail, I urge you to be a man, belly up to the bar, and order like you know what you are talking about.

Fruit Makes Anything Healthy, Right?

It all started because of an excellent cocktail. I had an old fashioned that featured bourbon cherries and was hooked. I knew one thing from that moment on – I could picture nothing finer than spending my spring and summer evenings enjoying old fashioneds with bourbon muddled cherries. To make that a reality I’d have to make my own.

Unfortunately it was the beginning of April and after making several inquiries at grocers I learned it would be a solid month before there were fresh cherries. Being the obsessive that I am, nothing would sate me until I had a taste of fruit-infusing my own liquor. I searched till the ends of the internet for everything I could learn infusing fruit and other food items into bourbon (There is only bourbon, if you want to talk to me about vodka you are a tasteless communist, locked in a self imposed liquor gulag). Quickly, and unsurprisingly, I came across bacon bourbon as well, and decided I could dip so far as tequila into the lighter spirits… solely for the concoction of Bloody Marias. Doing the research online helped, I got a lot of great ideas but that didn’t change the fact that cherries were still a month away. I did what any rational person would do and decided I would go overboard with the food items that I could get.

In a few weeks I was hosting a guys weekend, so I figured I would have plenty of folks to help me consume all this bourbon – going overboard wasn’t completely unwarranted. After purchasing enough mason jars to make even the wackiest of doomsday preppers happy, I set about purchasing more fruit than I probably have personally purchased in my life: apples, pears, and blueberries. To be joined later by what I really wanted, cherries and bacon. The next step was to purchase the liquor, there was consensus among the internet (or at least the first 5 Google results) that you needed to use decent quality bourbon. I chose some favorites; Woodford Reserve was the main as it was relatively more affordable and came in larger bottles, but I also wanted to use some of my personal favorite, Basil Hayden’s. I learned quickly that despite packing the jar to the brim with fruit, not as much liquor was displaced as I had thought so it would take a lot more liquor. One final trip to the liquor store and I was finally set. I packed my concoctions and got ready to wait. The week before my guests were to arrive, I made bacon bourbon and tequila as well. The process was slightly less elegant, but I thought it would be well worth it.

Finally the magical weekend arrived and I got to try my beauties. I was most intrigued by the blueberries as they had had the most profound effect visually on the bourbon. Somewhere along the way I had gotten the impression that the longer they were left the better they tasted. What I had failed to read despite having gone through the directions on several articles was the admonition that one should taste frequently and remove the fruit when the bourbon had taken on it’s flavor. Longer is not better, longer just gets you rotting fruit in ruined bourbon. I know this now because that’s precisely what I got. Desperately and drunkenly and with only a little misgivings from my friends I tried all the concoctions to find the same result. One friend was so kind as to pretend to like the pear for a while, but the next morning the reality of having ruined a lot of good bourbon and this, only the beginning of the summer, began to sink in.

My failure was not total only because I am pressing on, though this time with a bit more wisdom and moderation. I have patiently awaited cherry season this year, and I am preparing but a single jar for now. A key I learned after eating wooden flavored cherries bourbon most of last summer is to remove the stems before infusing the bourbon. Otherwise, they dissolve and give the bourbon a strong flavor of bark, and not even a nice maple bark, something more akin to a pine. My hope is that with careful monitoring and an eventual breakdown to add some sugar to the jar I might finally, after a two year bourbon infusing odyssey be able to enjoy the homemade muddled bourbon cherry old fashioned of my dreams.