Favorite Albums: American Gangster

Jay-Z may have the best rap discography of all-time, and he’s earned that claim. From the classic Reasonable Doubt to the groundbreaking Blueprinthis consistency of high quality music keeps him among the hottest rappers whenever he’s releases a project. As we all know, Jay declared his retirement after The Black Album, an incredible piece equivalent to Jordan’s final shot as a Bull. If Jay’s life was a movie it would end with him riding into the sunset, in his Maybach with Bey on his arm… basically the end of the Dirt Off Your Shoulder video. We know that’s not the story’s end. Jay came back after countless taunts from The Diplomats. He returned from the corporate office with a Wizards jersey for Kingdom Come, easily his worst album. Despite the drastic dip in quality, it still had The Prelude, and more importantly his return was an entertaining event for Hip-Hop. Although the album wasn’t the best it was fun to watch the campaign leading up to his return. In retrospect Jay was more interested in manufacturing his comeback than making a great album. Regardless, Jay took the criticism and returned a year later with American Gangster.

The album is loosely  based on the movie starring Denzel Washington and Russel Crowe. The story goes, after seeing an early edit of the film Jay was inspired to tell his own drug-tale in the form of an album. American Gangster, barely works as a concept album. Jay does his best to stay on topic, only hitting the major points of the stereotypical Drug Dealer Rise & Fall. I say it kinda works as a concept album, but it does work as a body of music. We have the humble beginnings with songs like Pray, American Dreamin’ and No Hook. Here he illustrates the motivations to sell drugs, the initial operations and even the heartbreaking conversation with mom.

Stay outta trouble” Momma said as Momma sighed. Her fear: her youngest son being victim of homicide. But I gotta get you outta here Momma, or Imma die…. Inside. An either way you lose me Momma so let loose of me.”-Hov

Roc Boys is, of course, the apex. The moment all the hard work pays off and all rivals have fallen. It sounds like celebration, but its seems hollow as we know this part of the story is the shortest lived. I Know has Jay comparing his love of music and an addicts love of heroine. Party Life is the slightly effective lady song, and Ignorant Shit has Jay & Beans rapping circles around the classic beat.

Say Hello is when Jay is forced to the darkside to maintain his new lifestyle. This part of the narrative is always interesting as our protagonist typically starts to transform into the person they hoped to never become. As usual, I think Nas bested Jay on Success but both rappers are on their A game for the collaboration. The album’s story arc ends with Fallin’. Jay verbalizes what we’ve seen in Gangster movies for years. The end, the curtain close, the demise of our anti-hero. We’re left with Blue Magic American Gangster, two songs that act as end-credits scenes if anything else. The titular song, American Gangster, is a soulful track produced by Just Blaze that feels like it belongs on The Blueprint.

For some reason this album has been lost in the shuffle when discussing Jay’s history and discography. Its lost between the disappointing Kingdom Come and the over-hyped Blueprint 3. I beleive this is his best solo album post retirement. He wasn’t trying to set the world on fire, he just wanted to make a good album and he succeeded. The production on the album will stand the test of time better than many of his albums and he isn’t resting on his “Jayness” like he does on BP3 and even Watch The Throne. We should all take a second and listen to a master at work.