American Gangster

Jay-Z

Roc-A-Fella, 2007

http://www.rocafella.com

REVIEW BY: Ben Ehrenreich

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/13/2007

Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that Jay-Z, in just a little over a decade, has put out an impressive body of work, ranging from dismal (Vol. 2, Hard Knock Life) to phenomenal (Reasonable Doubt). He has been one of the most influential and respected MCs of his time, despite his string of three or four subpar albums. The reason most critics (including myself) turn a blind eye to the 1998-2000 years is because when Jay is at his best, he is the best. Very few albums can even touch Reasonable Doubt lyrically or production wise, and Vol. 1, both Blueprint’s, and The Black Album, all had their moments. There are very few hip-hop feats that Jay has not accomplished. The most recent notch in his belt is the illustrious hip-hop concept album, American Gangster.

American Gangster is smart, ambitious and mature. Jay-Z shows tremendous depth and attention to detail when addressing different aspects of the drug trade. A prime example of this is the highlight of the album “American Dreamin,” “which does not have the confident braggadocio that “Dead President Pt. II” had, which many consider to be his crowning achievement, but is rather a wise reflection of his very difficult and vulnerable youth. Mr. Carter does such a great job of placing you in his mind state that the listener is left in awe of the amount of depth they have just traveled.bim_ad_daily_vault_print_250

The problem with American Gangster is while there are songs comparable to “American Dreamin,’” there are also quite a few that do not deal with the aspects of drug trade as well. There are tracks peppered in that follow the theme, but fail to live up to the other tremendous cuts; consequently, they stick out like Billy Madison in grade school. Case in point is the very questionable “Hello Brooklyn 2.0.” and features sub-par New Orleans native Lil’ Wayne.

There could not be a worse song choice to follow the aforementioned “American Dreamin’”. Not only does it fail to expand on the “I’m from Brooklyn and proud” mantra, but it has Lil’ Wayne telling us how much he loves Brooklyn more than Jay himself because, to our dismay, Lil’ Wayne whines throughout the hook as well as delivering a subpar verse. I’m not going to blame this all on Lil’ Wayne; he does on this song pretty much exactly what he usually does. I’m blaming Jay for allowing a New Orleans native to appear on a song about Brooklyn that is way below average and that follows one of the strongest tracks on the album. Bad idea.

With the few mishaps aside, I am elated Jay-Z put out American Gangster. Not only does it show Jay can still spit with the best of them, but perhaps is the best flow artist of all time. Jay switches up his cadence more than he did on the classic cut “22 Two’s”. They are all unique and very effective. I cannot think of an MC in history that adapts to production as well as Mr. Carter, who happens to be great on American Gangster. The sound is dark and diverse, yet is uniform enough to hold the album together. The majority is actually handled by Diddy’s production team, which surprised me, but nevertheless I was impressed.

More importantly, this album marks hopefully a start of a creative evolution in hip-hop. I would love to see more concept albums attempted, so maybe we don’t have to wait for Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Dan The Automator, and Kid Koala to get another Deltron 3030. Even though American Gangster doesn’t succeed overwhelmingly, it’s still a great listen and has been in my CD player since I first played it.

Rating: B-

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© 2007 Ben Ehrenreich and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Roc-A-Fella, and is used for informational purposes only.