Holy Grail (Jay-Z song)

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"Holy Grail"
Single by Jay-Z featuring Justin Timberlake
from the album Magna Carta Holy Grail
Released July 10, 2013
Format Digital download
Recorded 2011–12
Genre Hip hop, R&B[1]
Length 5:38
Label
Writer(s)
Producer(s)
Certification 3x Platinum (RIAA)
Jay-Z singles chronology
"Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe"
(2013)
"Holy Grail"
(2013)
"Higher"
(2013)
Justin Timberlake singles chronology
"Tunnel Vision"
(2013)
"Holy Grail"
(2013)
"Take Back the Night"
(2013)
Music video
"Holy Grail" on YouTube

"Holy Grail" is a song by American hip hop artist Jay-Z from his twelfth studio album Magna Carta Holy Grail. It features vocals from singer Justin Timberlake and serves as the album's first single.[2][3][4][5] It was produced by The-Dream, Timbaland and Jerome "J-Roc" Harmon, with additional production from No ID and contains elements of Nirvana's 1991 hit single "Smells Like Teen Spirit". Following the release of the album, the song charted in many regions, reaching number four on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number seven on the UK Singles Chart. The song received mixed reviews from music critics.

"Holy Grail" won the Grammy Award for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 56th Grammy Awards. In 2014, Billboard placed it at number 25 on their list of Top 100 Rap songs of all time.[6]

Recording and composition[edit]

"Holy Grail", along with another track from Magna Carta... Holy Grail called "Oceans" were recorded in 2011 during the recording sessions for Jay-Z's collaborative album with Kanye West, Watch the Throne. West wanted the two songs to appear on Watch the Throne, but Jay-Z chose to keep them for his upcoming studio album and they were replaced with "No Church in the Wild" and "Made in America".[7] The early version of the instrumental was created in 2011 by The-Dream. When the recording sessions for MCHG started, Timbaland together with fellow producer J-Roc rearranged it to create the final track.[8]

"Holy Grail" is composed in a D minor key, and plays in common time at a tempo of 72 beats per minute. The vocals ranges from a G3 to C6.[9] Jay-Z lyrically sampled rock group Nirvana's single "Smells Like Teen Spirit", after receiving permission from Courtney Love who owns the rights to the original song.[10] In an interview with BBC Radio 1, Jay-Z stated that "Holy Grail" was "the map for the album" and that it set the tone for the rest of MCHG. When the song was first recorded for Watch the Throne Jay-Z thought it would get lost on the album and decided to keep it as the "center piece" for his next album.[11] The song's lyrics can be interpreted as Jay-Z's and Timberlake's love-hate relationship with fame.

Music video[edit]

On August 2, 2013, Jay-Z revealed to Power 106 that he and fellow tour mate Justin Timberlake had begun shooting the music video for "Holy Grail".[12] The music video was directed by Anthony Mandler and was released on August 29, 2013 on Facebook, making social media history as the first time a clip from major artists debuted strictly on the site.[13] Dubbed a "visual" rather than a "music video", the piece is a remixed version of the original album version, featuring pitch shifted vocals and a change in the song structure. The visual was critically acclaimed for both its imagery, and remixed vocals. Kyle Anderson from Entertainment Weekly praised the piece's imagery, describing its nightmarish sequences as "arresting", and complimented the remixed video version of the song which he thought was "miles beyond the album version".[14]

Critical reception and promotion[edit]

"Holy Grail" has received mixed reviews from critics. Andy Gill of The Independent described the song as "smooth and mellifluous,"[15] while Rolling Stone '​s Simon Vozick called it a "surprisingly moody opener."[16] DJ Booth praised the track as an "appropriately bombastic intro to an epic LP."[17] Panning the song as "laughably overblown", Ian Cohen of Pitchfork Media writes that Timberlake "cycles through every tortured artist cliché short of a crucifixion metaphor."[18] Cohen further stated that the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" interpolation "becomes just another forgettable status symbol" and commented: "Where Kurt Cobain felt compromised by his fame, Jay and Timberlake are doing everything in their power not to offend the money people—whether it's Samsung, Target, or someone dropping $250 to see them at the Rose Bowl."[18]

Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake performed the song live at the Wireless Festival in London on July 14, 2013.[19]

Accolades[edit]

Holy Grail was nominated for Best Rap Song and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards and won the latter.[20]

Commercial performance[edit]

The song had a hot-shot debut on many charts upon the release of the album, despite not being released as an official single. It debuted at number eight on the US Billboard Hot 100, being at the time the second highest debut on that chart of the year.[21] It peaked at number four and remained in the top 10 for 16 weeks. It has sold over 3 million copies in the US as of March 2014.[22]

After entering at number 24, "Holy Grail" peaked at number seven on the UK Singles Chart.[23]

Live performances[edit]

"Holy Grail" was performed during the On the Run Tour (2014), a co-headlining tour by Beyoncé and Jay-Z. During the performance of the song, Justin Timberlake's vocals were replaced by Beyoncé's. Consequence of Sound's Alex Young chose the song as one of the particular highlights of the show.[24]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Ceremony Award Result
2014 Grammy Awards (56th) Best Rap/Sung Collaboration[25] Won
Best Rap Song Nominated
BET Awards 2014 Best Collaboration[26]
2014 BET Hip Hop Awards Best Collabo, Duo or Group Nominated

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Sales/shipments
Denmark (IFPI Denmark)[54] Platinum 20,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[55] Gold 7,500*
Sweden (GLF)[56] Platinum 40,000x
United Kingdom (BPI)[57] Silver 299,000^
United States (RIAA)[58] 3× Platinum 3,000,000[22]

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

Release history[edit]

Region Date Format Label
United Kingdom July 10, 2013[59] Contemporary hit radio Roc Nation
Italy July 12, 2013[60] Universal
United Kingdom July 15, 2013[61] Urban contemporary radio Roc Nation

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Jay-Z – Magna Carta... Holy Grail – Reviews – Clash Magazine". Clashmusic.com. Retrieved August 4, 2013. 
  2. ^ "[FIRST LISTEN] Jay Z Drops "Holy Grail" In Most Innovative Campaign Which Turned Out To Be A Flop|JAY Z| News | MTV European". Mtv.tv. July 4, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Stream Jay-Z's 'Magna Carta Holy Grail' On Hot 97 – XXL". Xxlmag.com. July 4, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Jay-Z Justin Timberlake Holy Grail". Complex. July 4, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Listen: Jay-Z's "Holy Grail" ft. Justin Timberlake – Fuse". Fuse.tv. July 5, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2013. 
  6. ^ "Hot Rap Songs Chart 25th Anniversary: Top 100 Songs". Billboard. Retrieved 6 March 2014. 
  7. ^ "Jay-Z. Zane Lowe. Part 1: Magna Carta Holy Grail". BBC Radio 1. Retrieved July 16, 2013. 
  8. ^ "Unlocking the Holy Grail: Timbaland". Revolt. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  9. ^ Jay-Z "Holy Grail" Sheet Music – Download & Print. musicnotes.com. Accessed on July 28, 2013.
  10. ^ Chattman, Jon (June 19, 2013). "Free Love: "A-Sides" Interview with Queen Courtney On New Music, Her Autobiography, A Reality TV Show, and Jay-Z Covering Nirvana?". Huffington Post. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
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  12. ^ Tardio, Andres. "Jay-Z & Justin Timberlake Are Filming "Holy Grail" Video". HipHop DX. Retrieved August 4, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Video: Jay Z f/ Justin Timberlake – ‘Holy Grail’". Rap-Up.com. 2010-10-18. Retrieved 2013-08-29. 
  14. ^ "Jay Z drops 'Holy Grail' video featuring Justin Timberlake". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved September 14, 2013. 
  15. ^ Gill, Andy (July 5, 2013). "Jay-Z, Magna Carta Holy Grail – review". The Independent (London). Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  16. ^ "Magna Carta . . . Holy Grail". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 11, 2013. 
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  20. ^ "56th Annual GRAMMY Awards Nominees". Retrieved 7 December 2013. 
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  22. ^ a b Grein, Paul (March 26, 2014). "Chart Watch: Two Movie Songs In Top 5". Yahoo Music. Retrieved March 30, 2014. 
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  55. ^ THE FIELD id (chart number) MUST BE PROVIDED for NEW ZEALAND CERTIFICATION.
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  58. ^ "American single certifications – Jay Z – Holy Grail". Recording Industry Association of America.  If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH
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