Jay-Z
American Gangster


3.0
good

Review

by Lewis P. STAFF
November 11th, 2007 | 44 replies | 15,830 views


Release Date: 2007 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Here’s to the man that refused to give up. Here’s to hoping that he actually sounds like it next time.

If anything, it’s refreshing to see Jay-Z’s apparent formality. Sitting along side modern mainstream rappers like Soulja Boy and “Buy U A Drank” T-Pain, Jay-Z– presenting a cool, sleek exterior on an album titled American Gangster (and not– and this is important– “gangsta”)– oddly inspired by a Denzel Washington film depicting the life of the 1970s hustler Frank Lucas, decided to create a concept album that channeled his early years as a young artist dealing drugs. The word “concept” is used loosely here: in an album that sets out to counterweight his supposed comeback album in Kingdom Come, Jay-Z sticks a storyline onto already prevalent themes among hip-hop artist. But the “concept” here isn’t just to beef up already hardened topics. Jay-Z wears the word like an athletic supporter, toting it around like it strengthens American Gangster, but really it half-heartedly fluffs an album already so half-assed by the gangster himself.

For an album that stems from Jay-Z’s own passionate reaction to the Ridley Scott film, it lacks most of that same passion. It looks good on the page (and in the tabloids), but Jay-Z’s performance is so phoned in that his “reaction” might as well have been a contractual promise with Def Jam than an emotional response (and it might be, Jay-Z having already thrown around the prospect of releasing an album in conjunction with Scott’s film). It’s as if, somewhere between brunch and the afternoon football game, he saw an ad for the film, remembered his spiel, and recorded an album. It’s not immediately apparent, Denzel utilized for authenticity as a cameo sample on the album’s intro, which builds in intensity on what it means to be a gangster with gangster mentality. “If you believe in Jay-Z, you too can be a gangster” might come off processed, but it works in context of the 70s epic American Gangster is played off as.

And 70s epic it is not, the album a consistently inconsistent transition from radio-ready singles to stripped beats. In one of the album’s strongest cuts, the strings fluid “Pray,” Jay-Z rides the blasts and appropriate background samples to whatever he’s rapping about (children giggling, tapes rewinding, police sirens) like a prologue montage to a story worth telling. It features the album’s catchiest sample (Hank Marvin’s “New Earth”) that complements the always-welcome Beyonce Knowles’ spurts of dialogue. It’s haphazardly followed up by the odd, lush piano styling of “American Dreamin’” that finds the falsetto singing clashing with Jay-Z's laidback rap. It’s the same performance that drags “No Hook” into a tedious spin of his metronome beat and basement rap storytelling. Instead of flowing into his produced music, Jay-Z drags his feet, like the ironically titled “Party Life” and grossly over calculated “Hello Brooklyn 2.0.”

Sounding like a poor man’s “Golddigger,” “Hello Brooklyn 2.0” finds Jay-Z at his most lazy, jaggedly rapping with Lil’ Wayne (who might go down as the year’s worst guest) professing a love for a woman named Brooklyn. It’s as subtle as this lyrical gem: “She told me she like my New Orleans demeanor and so I said, ‘Goodbye, Katrina.’” Still, too much of American Gangster, however phoned in Jay-Z’s performance is, is too offhandedly fun and charming to completely write-off. “Sweet” locates the 70s jive the album was searching for, the grainy vinyl crackle a smooth crossover into the era, while “Roc Boys” juggles its horn section and Jay-Z’s flirtatious charm with the slightest of hand (“You don’t even gotta bring your purses out. We the dope boys of the year; drinks is on the house”). And in the lyrical aspect, Jay-Z finds a niche in bringing his past-spun story to the tone shifting American Gangster. He might namedrop in awkward, self-referential passages (in “No Hook,” he states: “I’m more Frank Lucas than Ludacris. And Lude is my dude, I ain’t trying to diss”), but mostly he keeps a levelheaded, appropriately arrogant demeanor that recalls the era more than the ho-hum production.

In the sinisterly chipper, gospel styling of “Success,” Jay-Z proves to be as good as any storyteller to draw comparisons to Scott’s latest flick. The only problem is, Jay-Z lacks the conviction to do it in. When the natural flow of Nas’ rap elevates “Success” to one of American Gangster’s best songs, you kind of wish Nas could have just had the same idea and done the album himself. It shadows the finale of the album, even the tight, appropriately grand title-track that finds Jay-Z at his breeziest. “I want the sky,” he raps, and it’s easy to believe him. He just obviously doesn’t want it bad enough. “They had Muhammad Hovi on the ropes, now I'm back in the go mode.” Too bad it took 15 tracks to get there.



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user ratings (355)
Chart.
3.4
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other reviews of this album
thecreative0ne (4.5)
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
November 11th 2007



16072 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

You are my hero Lewlew.

Mirror.Circuit
November 11th 2007



223 Comments


Good review.
Haven't had a chance to listen to this yet,though.

plane
Staff Reviewer
November 11th 2007



6073 Comments


Now I'm just waiting for all the regulars from metacritic and wikipedia to sign up to tell me how wrong I am.

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
November 11th 2007



16072 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Relishing in the staff position are we?

plane
Staff Reviewer
November 12th 2007



6073 Comments


Hello Brooklyn 2.0 is one of the worst rap songs I've heard this year.

joshuatree
Emeritus
November 12th 2007



3743 Comments


Good review man, there goes all hopes of mine becoming the featured review.

plane
Staff Reviewer
November 12th 2007



6073 Comments


Does no one on sputnik honestly listen to (Jay-Z)?

Where are all the (hype) people.

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
November 12th 2007



16072 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I'll fucking slit your throat dude.
I'm not kidding.

Iai
Emeritus
November 12th 2007



3553 Comments


I do, but I simply can't be bothered with his comeback tbh.

DaveBum69
November 12th 2007



699 Comments


He has the most unoriginal album titles

plane
Staff Reviewer
November 12th 2007



6073 Comments


I mean, it serves a purpose but sure.

PhoenixRising
November 13th 2007



277 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Boring and samey. Seems to get worse with consecutive listens. Well below this industry icon...

MK47
November 13th 2007



5 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

You know how I know you're white? You think Jay-Z sang falsetto on American Dreamin' and you think Nas' flow was more "natural" than Jay's on Success. Get some soul and maybe you'll realize it's one of the best hip hop albums of the year. Just like how Jay said that rappers with only one hit (Jim Jones) shouldn't be allowed to take shots at legendary artists, reviewers who know nothing about hip hop should probably not be reviewing big-name releases.

PhoenixRising
November 13th 2007



277 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

"Get some soul and maybe you'll realize it's one of the best hip hop albums of the year."

HAHAHAHAHA

MK47
November 13th 2007



5 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah, samples that include Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, The Isley Brothers, what was I THINKING saying that it's a soulful album?

PhoenixRising
November 13th 2007



277 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

I dont mind that that you think the album is soulful To each his own. But to tell someone to get some soul and maybe they'll understand it is a douchbag comment.
I think the concept on this album is very cool. The musicianship is just not there in my opinion. Jay himself was bragging about completing the album in three weeks.
I have nothing but respect for the guy, but this release reaks of being uninspired and rushed. Definately below his legacy.This Message Edited On 11.13.07

tuff
November 13th 2007



62 Comments


I really wanted to like Hello Brooklyn 2.0 (since Lil' Wayne is awesome), but that was the worst track on an incredibly boring album.

MK47
November 14th 2007



5 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Maybe saying get some soul was too harsh, but I still don't think white boys with little to no knowledge of hip hop have any place reviewing one of the greatest rappers of all time. "The musicianship is just not there in my opinion." I'm not sure what you mean by this, the musicianship on the beats? Maybe watch some of the videos of him performing the songs with a live band backing him and you'll feel different, I don't know. As for completing the album in three weeks, The Blueprint, considered by many to be his best album, took him two weeks. He doesn't write down lyrics, he just comes up with them in his head as he hears the beat, so if he's got good beats, it doesn't take him long.

Mikesn
Emeritus
November 14th 2007



3709 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I still don't think white boys with little to no knowledge of hip hop have any place reviewing one of the greatest rappers of all time.
wow

PhoenixRising
November 14th 2007



277 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Fair enough. But you can't make a judgement on his knowledge of hip-hop because his opinion is different than yours OR because he is a "white boy". Period.



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