Retrospective: Jay-Z's American Gangster

By @TrueGodImmortal

1. Intro(featuring Idris Elba)
2. Pray 
3. American Dreamin'
4. Hello Brooklyn 2.0(featuring Lil Wayne)
5. No Hook
6. Roc Boys(And The Winner Is)
7. Sweet 
8. I Know (featuring Pharrell)
9. Party Life 
10. Ignorant Shit(featuring Beanie Sigel)
11. Say Hello 
12. Success (featuring Nas)
13. Fallin'(featuring Bilal)
14. Blue Magic(featuring Pharrell)
15. American Gangster 

The legacy of Jay-Z was already solidified when he "retired" from hip hop in 2003 after the release of his 8th album "The Black Album". After a three year hiatus from making albums, Jay returned with his comeback project "Kingdom Come". However, that was met with a bit of indifference from a large selection of his fans despite selling well. The more "mature" and lavish sound was not what a majority of the folks wanted to hear, but less than a year after Kingdom Come dropped, Jay would go back into the studio to create something masterful with   new inspiration. After seeing an advance screening of the Denzel Washington film "American Gangster", Jay set out to make an album based on that film and his own experiences in the street, but not an official soundtrack to the film(it is slightly confusing). What Jay did with this album is almost truly underrated as this is  a classic and quite possibly one of his top 3 best albums to be released. On what is almost the 8th anniversary of the album, we reflect on it.

After the Idris Elba led intro finishes, we go right into the intense "Pray" which features Beyonce on the hook of sorts, while Jay spits some of his best verses in YEARS(including his BP2 and BA years). The focus, the precision, and the lyricism were all top notch here and the song is one of my all time favorite Jay songs. With the intense opening song welcoming us to this listening experience, we then hear the soothing soulful sounds of a Marvin Gaye sample on "American Dreamin", which is another classic track. The beat is beautiful and the lyrics are absolutely amazing, especially when we arrive to the final verse, and Jay goes in, supplying us with the droughts/wish you well couplet. The track is one I replay time and time again.

The only mishap on this album is the Lil Wayne featured "Hello Brooklyn 2.0", which apparently was supposed to have a different beat(a more soulful beat) and feature Mos Def and Talib Kweli reportedly, but instead Jay opted to go with this awkward production(though with booming bass), add Wayne for just the hook and rap with a more laid back flow. The track puzzles me because it could truly be a great one and cohesive with the rest of the project, but Jay somehow decides to include it, and nearly ruins the classic label for this album.

Getting back on track with the solid "No Hook", Jay speaks some real talk over Sean C and LV production, who play a big part in this album as well. They were more so credited as the "Hitmen", in reference to the old Bad Boy production team from the 90s as Puff apparently helped to set that whole thing up. The triumphant and horn heavy "Roc Boys" is still a feel good track and the production is amazing. Jay brings a laid back look at "the life" on the smooth "Sweet", where he talks the business and how he made all his partners rich while coming up in the game.

When we arrive at the Pharrell featured and produced "I Know", Jay is in the middle of his story influenced by the movie and he speaks to his fiends with this song over a beautiful soundbed and a great hook from Pharrell. However, my personal favorite production on this album has to be "Party Life", as the smooth, soulful sample carries the entire song amongst some verses of bravado from Jay. The song itself is great, but the beat definitely overtakes the lyrics here and it is a pleasure to listen to the production. Beanie Sigel makes an appearance on the Isley Brothers sampled "Ignorant Shit", which is a fire back to the media and their depiction of hip hop. The song is definitely dope, though the first two verses from Jay were about 4 years old, they still were relevant in that current time. Beanie has a small verse here, but has some solid lines before Jay finishes off the track shooting a few shots at Al Sharpton, mainstream media, and even legendary films to an extent.

On the DJ Toomp produced "Say Hello", Jay spits over a knocking soulful track as he marvels in the role of the bad guy, or rather the villain(one that you could root for.....) and the result is complete greatness. Then, Nas appears on the No I.D. produced scorcher "Success", as Jay kicks multiple verses just talking big shit, while Nas comes in and provides a different take on success and what comes with it. It is a great track all around, with both and Nas doing their thing lyrically. As the story ends for Jay on the Bilal featured "Fallin", we hear him describe the pitfalls of the streets and the game. It would serve as the true outro and end for the album in my opinion.

However, in what feel like two bonus tracks on the album, the 80s themed "Blue Magic" and "American Gangster" are both dope tracks and add a bit to the album, especially the soulful and triumphant title track. Jay created something timeless with this album and not only is it a classic, it deserves to be recognized as one of his best. No way we could do a DAR East Coast week without talking about one of the best East Coast MCs ever and one of his greatest albums. Period.



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