Jay-Z must feel like the Michael Corleone of the game. Everytime he thinks he's out, he just gets pulled back in. He retires (moreso takes time off) and couldn't put the mic down. His fans called for him to make that return. Then, he makes a mature album as Kingdom Come was, and some people can't catch on to it. Streets start to say he has lost touch with the hood and some say that he has slipped up lyrically. Well world (mostly to the haters and naysayers), you wanted him and you got him. Shawn Carter has returned in hustler-form and shows that he is as sharp lyrically as ever before. Inspired by the new flick out by the same title, Jay comes with his tenth (and quite possibly one of his best) solo album in American Gangster.
The feel of this album is like a mix of Jay's two greatest albums to date, Reasonable Doubt and the Blueprint. His lyrics are moreso in the mold of his debut album in which discusses the life he lived as a dealer and all the angles you have to deal with when it comes to that, similar what the film showed with Frank Lucas. You can get the highest of highs with all the material items you can acquire, access to places you couldn't have dreamed of, and the money that can roll in. But he exposes you also to the negative side that comes with it to give you the whole picture in that life. People that you get hooked, people that hate on your ascension in the life you create for yourself, along with the cops/feds and people trying to pull you down. There were times in which Jay kind of talked about it in double ways with his life back then and now in his music career, which was brilliant because no matter what way you go in life, you come across those emotions (at least with the hating on success and people trying to bring you down). The production and beats took from the soul sampling roots as of the Blueprint which made that album redefining and so cold. Diddy (a.k.a. Puffy/P.Diddy/so on) was the source of about half of the CD's production, and have to say that not really being a Diddy fan, I was more than satisfied with what he contributed to the album. The rest of the album got influences from Just Blaze, the Neptunes, No ID, and Jermaine Dupri and in my view everyone held there own. Lots of horns and trumpets to go with those samples which gave the album that overall old-school gangster feel. And the aim of the album wasn't to give you hits but a full-out album that you can see what was going on inside Jay's mind.
The film American Gangster help Jay to create songs that could give people a visual and an inside look into that type of life. It inspired him to make songs such as Pray, a track speaking to God in Him continuing to keep watch over him as he was doing what he was. The Marvin Gaye-infused American Dreamin', a song dedicated to the high life we all would love capture from our dreams into reality and far some will go to get it. I absolutely am feeling this track! Songs like Roc Boys and Party Life point out the glamour and how you get that high off the success you start to feel. But you also get the downside to it all with I Know based on fighting addiction and a track that brings together again two of the finest rappers ever in Success, featuring Nas in how success can bring you enemies from all corners and backgrounds like it did Frank in the film. Guess we all can relate when we get some spotlight in something we do at some point in life, and instead of getting embraced, you catch a lot of negativity coming your way. I'm not the biggest Lil' Wayne fan in the world, but give him credit for his verse in helping Hova shout out the borough that raised him in that life with Hello Brooklyn 2.0. The rest of the CD is very nicely done with No Hook, Say Hello and Blue Magic. But that track that rolls that life all in a few verses is track 13 and what makes it different from Reasonable Doubt, an alternate ending perhaps that connects with the movie. Fallin' shows how dealers get caught in the end when they get seduced by the figures they pull and the glamourous life they lead and not knowing when to cash in the chips to go legit. Then in the end, all you have done catches up to you and you get locked up while you lose all you have. All being people you were involved, money and everything around you except for memories of what you once had. A great song that should have probably finished off the album to me for showing how must drug kingpin stories end. Not too many fairytale endings when you take that path if you stay on it too long, a point that should grab hold of those dealing currently or thinking of doing it. Jay was one of the few that can say he took the route he had to and got out. Because of all these points, this track takes the cake as my favorite song of the album.
For those who say Jay-Z doesn't have it anymore, you might want to peep this and get a listen for yourself. He is about on top of his game as anyone around. I thought he made a masterpiece of an album with Kingdom Come, but he was aiming for Reasonable Doubt/Blueprint levels this go round. He darn near reached it if he didn't hit the mark. Comin' with lyrics like It's all celestial/it's all in the stars/It's like Tony LaRussa/On how you play your cards (American Dreamin'), I'm in a whole other league/ N****s never catch me/Sport so much fly s**t/I should win an Espy (Party Life), But your use-tos, has-beens/Ragging bout all the new dudes/Talking tough on the YouTube/Bout what you used to do/But that's old school to the new crew/They doin numbers like sudoku (Fallin' - Whew!), it is safe to say that Shawn Carter is on point as if this was the late 90s. And that is just a taste of what he gave on this one. I was vibing with this album out of the gate as soon as I opened up the package and could possibly put this as high as number 3 on Jay's best albums. I can only point out so much. It's something that you have to experience on your own. American Gangster, a street concept album in which Hova gives you the feel in a place that he really didn't have to go but proves again where he has been, what is still in him and what he has made away from. A standout piece of work from a genius of an artist! (And a reminder if you are looking for a hit album, you may want to rely on Jay's earlier work cause you won't find that here.)