2007 album from the rapper-turned-business mogul. American Gangster is Jay-Z's tenth studio release. A semi-concept album inspired by Ridley Scott's film of the same name, it sees Jay-Z chronicle his time as a street hustler. It is a return to a grittier street sound than his predecessor Kingdom Come. . Comparisons are being made to his debut album Reasonable Doubt and with good reason. The lead single 'Blue Magic', produced by none other than Pharrell Williams, is an '80s-feeling ode taking its hook from En Vogue's 'Hold On'. Also on board for the record are esteemed producers P.Diddy and Just Blaze, and there is another stunning collaboration with Nas, aptly entitled 'Success'.
An unofficial musical companion to the film of the same name (dir. Ridley Scott), American Gangster
traces the rise and fall of a self-made American man. Sound tired? Perhaps, but a dozen albums into his career, Jay-Z can be forgiven his occasional dabbling in shopworn archetypes. A panoramic, cinematic work in four acts, American Gangster
bulges with instrumental melodrama. Take "American Dreamin'": despite the Diddy-produced track's sultry, shifty beat, a pile of whining strings and tinkling piano flourishes all but completely suppresses the rhythmic interplay between the vocals and drums. Again and again, Jay-Z's otherwise compelling raps fall prey to a similarly overwrought studio aesthetic. (In this, the album resembles many a Ridley Scott film.) There are exceptions: Bigg D's "Hello Brooklyn 2.0" and the Neptunes' "I Know" and lead single "Blue Magic" are unqualified bangers, and Jermaine Dupri's "Success" (featuring Nas) flaunts a relentless organ lick with 'round-the-way mojo to spare, but the album's overriding sonic melodrama is all Diddy. Still, no one steals Jay-Z's thunder easily. Having long since joined the top ranks of the hip-hop elite, Jay-Z can (and does) ultimately weather the best efforts of another major-league ego and still come out on top. --Jason Kirk