Jay-Z
American Gangster


4.5
superb

Review

by Cam EMERITUS
November 10th, 2007 | 49 replies


Release Date: 2007 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Hova's back, and he's made one of the best albums of his career.

It seems too goddamn good to be true. Jay-Z, with his public popularity as low as George Bush’s, seems deflated after his supposed “comeback” album, Kingdom Come, failed considerably both commercially-wise and, most noticeably, critically-wise. On a seemingly unrelated note, Ridley Scott’s new movie loosely documenting legendary gangster Frank Lucas, titled American Gangster, is being filled to the brim with hype. Jay-Z, seeing an advance screening of the flick, was motivated. Weeks later, American Gangster is announced for a November release, being a loose concept album documenting Jay-Z’s story if he’d never left the hustling and the drug trade. The album becomes as hyped as heavily as the movie it’s smartly attached to, and early reviews hype American Gangster as Jay’s true comeback, a record that manages to hold its own against Jay’s other classics.

It really is a good story, and Jay-Z has no reason to be worried about the album’s commercial appeal. Even Kingdom Come reached number one on the charts, and that album wasn’t attached to what may be the biggest film of the second half of the year. The concept manages to add extra buzz to the record: it makes what is usually just another hip-hop album more interesting, and there’s a large (and I mean large) chance that American Gangster could eclipse T.I. vs T.I.P as the best hip-hop concept album released this year. But forget the story. Forget the hype. Forget the inevitable comeback. How’s the actual album?

It’s excellent, to be honest. Jay-Z sounds relaxed and comfortable in his legacy on the mic: he’s not feeling as pressed to perform as he did on Kingdom Come, and the MC just lets his talent flow effortlessly. Production is more focused than Jay’s previous album as well: it’s lush and beautiful, large enough to seem coherent, but also managing to give plenty of room for Jay-Z to build wonders with his wordplay. He doesn’t exactly do that, but it’s obvious that Jay has rediscovered the main reason he’s considered to be one of the greatest of all time. Lyrically, American Gangster may be the smartest album Jay has ever released: the MC maneuvers through as diverse subjects as the tricky subject of gang violence and the recent out breakout of criticism against rap after the Don Imus debacle. The real success here is that Jay attacks these subjects with a calm and collected manner, never rising with anger, choosing to weave his way through with puns and complicated rhymes to convey his message. Guest spots are also limited, with space being allowed for talented rappers Nas and Lil Wayne, and not so talented rappers, as shown with Pharrell. It’s a definite improvement over Kingdom Come, which had a total of eight guest spots, and American Gangster feels much more like Jay’s album.

Concept-wise, however, is where the album falters. American Gangster simply doesn’t follow the story, as branches off with previously mentioned subjects such as the post-Imus uproar and adding party and diss tracks whenever the man ***ing feels like it. American Gangster’s story is especially interrupted in the final two bonus tracks, “Blue Magic” and “American Gangster”. Despite being great, they focus more on Jay’s rapping brilliance than on an epic struggle of gangs and drugs. When American Gangster does follow the story, it manages to seems much more like a coherent piece of work, but the actual concept doesn’t venture out into anything that hasn’t already been done: the battle for respect, the rise to glory, the blissful period of greatness, the inevitable downfall, and the epic comeback to a everlasting state of prosperity. In fact, the story basically follows Jay’s career as a rapper, with his basic message being that not a whole lot would change if Jay was still on the streets. Sure, it’s a half-baked concept, but with the actual songs being so damn good, it really doesn’t matter.

There are some obvious standouts. “Pray”, with its spoken-word hook and its rapid wordplay (“I’m selling coke/like Pepsi doesn’t matter), is a lush and epic way to begin the album, and “Ignorant ***”, with its stacked production of sitars, guitar-shredding keyboards, and all-encompassing soul samples, is both obscene and smart at the same time. Jay can still write great hooks, as he does with the catchy and memorable “Roc Boys (and the Winner Is…)”, even if he claims he doesn’t need them in “No Hooks”, and he really doesn’t to write a great song. But the surefire highlight is the raging “Success”, which has an organ riff that recalls classic records from the Motown era. The song serves as the triumphant climax of the story, being the true statement of…well…success for Jay, proving that he has moved on from previous struggles and is ready to bask in the wake of all his hard work and determination. He even brings Nas along for the ride, showing that old wounds and worthless beefs are past him, and there’s no need for Jay to get into meaningless conflicts at such a point in his career.

It’s really hard to pinpoint negatives in this album. American Gangster avoids all the obvious flaws in common, lesser hip-hop albums, such as worthless skits thrown in the middle of the record, and clocks in at a relatively lean fifty-nine minutes, which is a relief compared to hour-and-a-half borefests that the competition seems determined to spew out. There are of course some tracks that could be thrown out: American Gangster is by no means a perfect album, and tracks such as “Fallin’” and “Sweet” fall short of the rest of the brilliance here. But these songs are by no means bad songs either, they just aren’t as instantly memorable as the other great tracks that crowds American Gangster.

Yeah, the story here is half-baked, and connected in an equally half-baked way to a film that’s sure to be a box-office smash. But the cast is much better than the script here, and Jay-Z truly dominates an album in a way that brings teary-eyed nostalgic memories of The Blueprint. Hova’s actually back, baby, and he’s got the epic storyline to go along with it. I’ll say it again: so what if the concept for American Gangster is half-baked? If it results in a comeback like this, I say that more rappers should get inspiration through half-baked concepts connected to movies. Personally, I’m just awaiting LL Cool J’s tie-in to Fred Claus.

PROS:
+ Great lyrics and wordplay
+ Production is lush and beautiful
+ Guest spots are great and kept to a minimum
+ HOVA’S BACK, BABY!!!!!

CONS:
- Story is sort of flimsy



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other reviews of this album
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One of the best Jay-Z albums, ever....

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Here’s to the man that refused to give up. Here’s to hoping that he actually sounds like it nex...


Comments:Add a Comment 
Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
November 10th 2007


16089 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

As my good friend lewis says, Jay sounds lazy as shit on this album and almost totally rides the production.
Its okay the first couple times but by my fourth playthrough it got boring.

LifeInABox
November 10th 2007


3708 Comments


Wait, I thought he retiyahd like, 4 times?

tuff
November 10th 2007


62 Comments


I've never been much of a Jay-Z fan, but all the positive feedback this has gotten makes me want to check it out.

joshuatree
Emeritus
November 10th 2007


3742 Comments


It's still Jay-Z, so if you don't like him, this won't change your mind. But if you don't mind him, pick this up baby.

joshuatree
Emeritus
November 10th 2007


3742 Comments


lolThis Message Edited On 12.04.08

StreetlightRock
Emeritus
November 10th 2007


3768 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This is a great review man, awesome job. I'm not too much into this, but i might check it out, seems to be doing pretty well all over .

Digging: Interpol - El Pintor

Spectrum
November 10th 2007


347 Comments


Great review, congrats on being promoted.
*high-fives*

Apocalyptic Raids
November 10th 2007


810 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

might check this out

joshuatree
Emeritus
November 10th 2007


3742 Comments


lolThis Message Edited On 12.04.08

Mikesn
Emeritus
November 10th 2007


3709 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

might check this out
this

grats on becoming contributor

hummer
November 10th 2007


228 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

Jay would have have to have made a classic in the first place to have this stand against his "classics." Reasonable doubt is overrated as fucking hell and The Blueprint just sucks ass.

Without a doubt the single most overrated piece of shit Emcee of all time

hummer
November 10th 2007


228 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

Jay would have have to have made a classic in the first place to have this stand against his "classics." Reasonable doubt is overrated as fucking hell and The Blueprint just sucks ass.

Without a doubt the single most overrated piece of shit Emcee of all time

AtavanHalen
November 10th 2007


17927 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

H to the Izzo, V to the Izzay

Awesome sounding record, really wanna hear this.

plane
Staff Reviewer
November 10th 2007


6094 Comments


Great review and all, but I really can't get into this. Like iluv has already stated, his rapping is so boring and (hey, John!) phoned in that he might as well have decided he wanted to record an album somewhere between brunch and the afternoon football game.

I might get around to reviewing this just to give the review some counterweight, but still, very ace review. Great last line.

joshuatree
Emeritus
November 10th 2007


3742 Comments


Yours would be better than mine, but it would be good to have a different perspective.

plane
Staff Reviewer
November 11th 2007


6094 Comments


No need to put yourself down man. This is a really ace review. Kind of put me off from doing mine. If I didn't have an opposing opinion, I probably wouldn't go through with mine.

joshuatree
Emeritus
November 11th 2007


3742 Comments


Thanks then man, as sappy as it sounds, that really means a lot.This Message Edited On 11.10.07

MK47
November 13th 2007


5 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Good review, except for this line: "American Gangster’s story is especially interrupted in the final two bonus tracks." That's why they're BONUS tracks. The story ends with Fallin', one of the best tracks on the album, and Blue Magic and American Gangster are extras, two great songs that didn't quite fit in with the story (AG sort of makes a nice epilogue though) but Jay was nice enough to include anyway. Listen to the album some more, all the tracks fit the narrative, some more loosely than others, but even the party songs are meant to indicate the character's rise to greatness (Roc Boys), which he eventually becomes his every-day reality (Party Life), that he soon grows weary of (Success). Good review though, much better than the other one, which seemed incredibly phoned in, like the reviewer wrote it on a laptop while sitting on the toilet.

plane
Staff Reviewer
November 13th 2007


6094 Comments


That is my thinking place.

joshuatree
Emeritus
November 14th 2007


3742 Comments


^^ i often post here too on the toliet. Nothing like a good shit to get the review outta me.

This Message Edited On 11.14.07



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