Jay-Z is the American Gangster

New album from the hip-hop king earns an ‘A’

By David Nasongkhla

It’s safe to say Jay-Z is back at the top of his game. His last album Kingdom Come was solid, but it wasn’t the return to hip-hop most fans wanted, or even expected. However, American Gangster reasserts Jay-Z as hip-hop’s greatest wordsmith, and he undeniably delivers.

Jay-Z was inspired to make Gangster from a early special screening of Denzel Washington’s film of the same name. Jay’s Gangster is in itself a mini-movie, without the visuals. He tells the story of a Brooklyn teen getting into the drug scene and staying in it. Jay performs it in character, as if it were a series of monologues crafted into a one-man show, even though Gangster is far from a one-man effort. Beats on the album were produced by Diddy’s Hitmen team, as well as Pharrell Williams, Jermaine Dupri, Kanye West and Just Blaze.

The titles of the tracks could be compared to the chapters of a film. The album starts early on with “American Dreamin’” and progresses to tracks like “Hello Brooklyn 2.0” and “Success.” Finally, the end of the album falls on the track, and final stop of the character arc, “American Gangster.”

Not only does this album tell a story, but it also is a commentary on recent attacks on hip-hop’s violence and language, and offers a line about the Don Imus controversy.

American Gangster is proof that Jay-Z hasn’t lost his gift of making some of the most unquestionably inventive and solid hip-hop music. On the track “Roc Boys” he proclaims, “This is black superhero music.” Bold words, but it’s hard to argue with someone who’s come back twice and remains the genre’s most thrilling voice.

Album grade: A