Jay-Z – American Gangster [Review]

It’s November again and just like last year, Jay-Z drops another “post-retirement” album. Jay-Z’s new album American Gangster is inspired by the new flick starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe called, uh, also called American Gangster (and no, it’s not the soundtrack to the movie either).Even though the movie is about black gangster/drug dealer Frank Lucas, the album is not. While all this may sound a bit confusing, it’s not bad. The list of producers he links up with here are intriguing: DJ Toomp, Diddy, Just Blaze, & Jermaine Dupri, to name a few. Since the album is suppose to be “inspired” by American Gangster the movie, we don’t have to worry about fluff material from Jay’s last album Kingdom Come (Come on, that “Anything” bullshit featuring Usher was terrible). Being the big Jay-Z fan that I am, I’m also hard on him too. So pull up a seat, and let’s see what he cooks up with his new one. Oh yea, I’m also gonna make some references to the film through out this review since it’s a big part of the album. I don’t think you have to go see it to enjoy the album or this review, but in my opinion, it does offer more insight.

1. Intro
Produced by Chris Flame & Idris “Driis” Elba
The album begins with the much played Denzel line from the movie; “The man I worked for had one of the biggest companies in Ney York City…” Cue the epic music complete with strings. The whole intro basically Idris Elba (or Stringer Bell to all you The Wire fans) talking through out the entire thing in his real British accent. British accent for an album called American Gangster? Plus, why didn’t Jay-Z spit something. His best intros always have him rhyming (ex. Kingdome Come, The Dynasty, The Blueprint, etc.). So yeah, I’m kinda so-so about the “Intro”.

2. Pray
Produced by Diddy, LV, & Sean C
The actual album starts and it takes me a while to think of who this song reminds me off. Then it hit me, it reminds me off something that would have begun Biggie’s Life After Death. Not saying Jay-Z is biting or anything, I guess the production help of Puffy might have contributed to that. Jay-Z makes reference to the movie with lines like, “Move Coke like Pepsi don’t matter what the brand name is” and talking about bribing corrupt cops. I like the song, Jay does his thing but the beat gets redundant at first. Also check out for the spoken word by Jigga’s main girl Beyoncé.

3. American Dreamin’
Produced by Diddy, LV, Sean C, & Mario Winans
The “Soon I’ll Be Loving You Again” by Marvin Gaye sample here definitely gives it the 70’s feel. If you wanna know what scene from the movie this song is inspired by, it probably would be the one where Denzel is plotting in his recliner and watching the news about the heroin problem in Vietnam. The song has a great feel and Jay-Z drop some good lines: “Need a ‘Personal Jesus’, I’m in Depeche Mode” and “Like Tony LaRussa how you played your Cards”. The first song of the album I’m definitely feeling.

4. Hello Brooklyn 2.0
Featuring Lil’ Wayne; Produced by Bigg D
Oh shit! Wayne and Jay on the same track! Hold up, what is this shit? Okay, the song didn’t hold up to the billing. But you know what? I kinda like the song (not love, don’t get carried away). I like the beat and the Beastie Boys sample. I still have a few big problems with the song though. The first being that Lil’ Wayne didn’t rap, he sung. If you have a song with Jay-Z and Weezy on it, you better have them nigga spitting on it. Second; why is Wayne on a song abut Brooklyn when he’s not from Brooklyn? Would people from Atlanta like “Welcome to Atlanta” if it featured Ja Rule? Hell no! “Straight Outta of Compton” if it featured KRS-One? Hell no! Jay-Z should’ve got Mos Def, Fabolous, M.O.P., or some other dudes from Brooklyn on the hook. It could’ve been a new anthem.

5. No Hook
Produced by Diddy, LV, & Sean C
At first I wasn’t really feeling this song. Come, it shares the same hook with “Shawty Is a 10”. But on further listening, this song is really lyrical and you can always get me with lyrics. Jay-Z drops one his best lines of the album on this song; “I’m more Frank Lucas than Ludacris. And Luda my dude, I ain’t tryna diss, like Frank Lucas is cool, but I ain’t tryna snitch.”

6. Roc Boys (And The Winner is…)
Produced by Diddy, LV, & Sean C
This is what should have been the first single for the album. I mean, “Blue Magic” to me is hot, but not a good single. It has the feel of “Encore” and is a celebratory song. The horns on this song are crazy too. I guess this is the part in American Gangster the movie where Frank Lucas just opened up his club and is making a killing in the drug game. Check out for the Kanye sample on the hook, kinda like what Kanye did to Jay on “Good Morning”. All in all, this is a well put together song.

7. Sweet
Produced by Diddy, LV, & Sean C
If you haven’t noticed already, Diddy, LV, and Sean C produced a lot of songs on this album (6 in all). I don’t know why they put most of the songs together but it does give the album a cohesive feel. In the grand scheme of the album, “Sweet” is like an epilogue of “Roc Boys”; not that is sounds like it, it talks more about the success of being at the top. I like the beat and it has more of that 70’s feel again. Jay uses more lines from the movie like, “If I would grew up to be a doctor my nephew woulda grew up to do the same”.

8. I Know
Featuring Pharrell; Produced by The Neptunes
There Jay goes fucking with The Neptunes again. This song is not bad or anything, it just seems like Jay and The Neptunes haven’t been batting a high percentage as of late. The song itself has Jay taking the role of heroin and personifies as if he is in a relationship with the junkie. I like the message, the lyrics, but the beat sounds like something Pharrell has used before. I’m not skipping this song, but on another beat, this could have been better.

9. Party Life
Produced by Diddy, LV, & Sean C
The sample on this is one is hot! Jay-Z is in his most flossy on this one too but thats not a bad thing. The hook has him talking to a female like he’s trying to holler at her which also was a good decision to add. Good line from the song; “Please it’s not equal, your boys Off The Wall, these other niggas is Tito”. That shit makes me wanna do one of my own; “You boys at nappyafro is Thriller, these othe sites is Jermaine.” Okay, so it doesn’t work as well with me doing it. Oh yea, Jay-Z, don’t ever say “Ya Dig” in a song again, it makes you look like you biting Dipset. Other than that, a great song.

10. Ignorant Shit
Featuring Beanie Sigel; Produced by Just Blaze
Oh what this song could have been. As a lot of you out there, I’ve also had this song for a year or so. I’m just happy to have a version thats not edited or doesn’t have an annoying DJ on it. This song, if it didn’t leak, could have definitely been the first single for this album. Even though it really doesn’t fit for being inspired by the movie American Gangster, it’s still a great track. I like how they had to add Sigel because when Jay originally made this song, Beans was locked down.

11. Say Hello
Produced by DJ Toomp
DJ Toomp done came up! I always wondered how Jay would sound on a Toomp track; and like I thought, he sounds good. This track is basically built around the Al Pacino/Scarface saying, “Say hello to the bad guy!” I guess this fit with the movie because Frank Lucas never thought what he was doing was terrible; he ran his drug business like a, uh, business. Good line in the song; “We ain’t thug for the shake of being thugs, nobody do that where we grew at, nigga duh.” Another great song and King Jerm’s favorite off the album.

12. Success (feat. Nas)
Featuring Nas; Produced No I.D. & Jermaine Dupri
This is the second time Nas and Jay linked up, and while to me it’s not good as “Black Republican”, it’s still hot. It’s not back and forth this time; Jay has two verses while Nas has one. Both seem at the top of the game with neither sounding uninspired. The line of the song has to go to Nas though, “Google earth ‘Nas’, I got flats in other continents.” This song links with the movie as when Frank Lucas success is getting dangerous (His wife gets shot at, cops trying to muscle him, the Mob trying to muscle him, etc.). “Let that bitch breathe!”

13. Fallin’
Featuring Bilal; Produced Jermaine Dupri & No I.D.
Since this is the official end of the album, I guess this is the part where Frank Lucas falls from grace. The actual songs really talks about why you should sometimes quit when you are ahead. The songs is soulful while making it’s point. The Bilal hook is weird at first but it seems to fit. This is not the strongest song for the album, but it is a relevant ending to the actual story being told on the disc.

14. Blue Magic
Featuring Pharrell; Produced by The Neptunes
A lot of people seem to not like this song when it first came out, but me personally, I think it’s hot as hell. It’s probably the hardest song on the album. Lyrically Jay-Z goes for the throat while The Neptunes finally gives him something to work with. Still one of my current favorites. For those who don’t know, “Blue Magic” is the name of Frank Lucas’s brand of heroin.

15. American Gangster
Produced by Just Blaze
Surprisingly, Just Blaze only produced two songs for the album. It has a Kanye “Touch The Sky” feel to it which is always a good thing. At first listen, this was my favorite song on the album. As I got more into the album, I started liking other songs better but this is still a top song. Jay-Z and Just always work together well and this is not exception.

Bottom Line:
At first listen, I was about to give this album probably 4 stars top. But after going through this album a few times for this review, it made me think; What did Jay-Z give us? His last album, fans called out that he should stop making songs for the radio and go back to making songs for the real Jay-Z fans. Isn’t that what he did? He gave us something different from what’s out right now (A whole album inspired by a movie), something that not all radio ready, and something that is thought out. And after all this people still hate. I’ve talk to a lot of people about the album, and what I’ve learned is that most of them like different track off the album. I think that makes this a good album. I said it once before and I’ll say it again, if Cassidy or Fabolous had made this album, people would have been crowning them guys right now. Is this album classic? No, there are a few missteps on this album. But the album as a whole works and it’s much better than his last outing. With American Gangster, Jay-Z once again proves he still one of the greatest. Now, where the hell is “Dead President 3”?

nappyPicks: The whole album (each song is part of the whole story)

Download:Jay-Z – “American Gangster”