Still to this day the debate rages over Jay-Z he has brought both notoriety, controversy and talent to rap music. At his finest, he is the hallmark of fantastic depth, wit and verbal dexterity and at his worst, it almost feels like a cynical exercise in that he raps within himself. For those who have listened to his supposed farewell album The Black Album, he even admitted to this criticism in the song Moment Of Clarity "I dumbed down for my audience, to triple my dollars, they criticise me for it but they all yell holla". With that line he is right, despite the frustration felt, he remains a captivating artist.
The title of this album of course, coincides with the release of the movie American Gangster. This promised to be the fuel in Jay-Z's fire which would would see him recapturing the time where he was was on the wrong side of the law. However all is not what it once was, it's hard to capture the exact reason behind this but this is no return to Reasonable Doubt which was his first and in many peoples opinions including mine, his finest moment. There are of course many songs which are good songs including PraY, No Hook, Ignorant Sh*t and Fallin. However one missing ingredient for me, is that he has adapted his delivery, it's now not as razor sharp, it doesn't have the same presence, it has been coined the whisper flow and therefore has less of an impact. I also thought that some of the production was somewhat misguided and in attempting to create a older vibe, neglected the quality of the music.
In terms of the budget available for this album, you would have thought the beat selection could have been much more stringent. It feels slightly empty and at time monotonous and this is a great shame. The good songs on this album do exhibit the quality of this man's lyricism but are also somewhat frustrating because I know he is capable of so much more.
There are also some very weak songs on this album which are instantly skippable including Hello Brooklyn, American Dreamin, Party Life, Sweet, I Know, again what makes them unappealing in my opinion is a combination of this lazy flow and the production.
If I wasn't expecting so much from this album, I would probably have embraced this album much more strongly but as it is I feel like I am left wanting. This is certainly by no means a bad album and some of the music is catchy, some of the lyricism is classic Jay-Z, but this isn't the Jay-Z I came to consider as one of the best, he sounds less hungry, there is less desire and energy to him and he sounds like he is going through the motions.
"American Gangster" is the tenth studio album from Jay-Z. Contrary to early belief, this isn't a soundtrack to the film of the same name, which was released a week before this album. This is a concept album, taking inspiration fom the movie it has been said that each track takes influence from an individual scene from the film.
This starts with a few lines about what it means to be a "Gangster". You hear a male and a female voice talking about the definition of it, initially I thought that they were lines from the film, but once I heard Jay-Z's name mentioned, I knew this wasn't the case. Slowly we move into music which is slowly taking over, adding more and more instruments, gradually introducing them unitl it comes to an anti-climax and move to the next track.
All the momentum built up from the intro is lots whe we start again from the beginning with a low-tempo beat. Jay comes in telling us about delevopment of real gangsters in the 1940s in America, he then switches everthing up by talking about his childhood. I don't really see how they fit-in together, but I can't argue.
"I didn't choose this life, this life chose me" is a line which stood out to me because it's a cliche, and I wouldn't expect him to use it really, we should be hearing lots of orginal stuff in the opeing parts of the LP, and not some lines that have been heard around places everywhere for some time. Something that he also uses is one of Kanye's lines and just changes a word: "Everything I seen made me everything I am" and the same applies here.
At this stage in the album he simply getting us ready and built up for some bigger and better tracks. At this time we can't be expecting anything spectacular, but we should be getting excited and be in anticipation for the up-coming tracks, but I don't feel this way. It all seems pretty plain so far.
3. "American Dreamin'"
This track contains a sample of a song by Marvin Gaye and he starts us off, just as one of Kanye West's production works would have, but in fact it's The Hitmen with Mario Winans who contributed to all the production. The beginning really sets-up the mood for the entire song, it's really calm and unthreatening, but this is the genreal representation of Jay-Z's music anyway.
We hear the sample during the chorus too, at this time. All we hear from Jay is "American Dreamin'", he just repeats this phrase over and over again. It sounds as if he is breathless when he says it, for some reason, I really haven't got a clue why he speaks this way just for this part of the track.
This way of speaking is continued into the following vers of apping. In this verse we hear that he raps on top of his raps. He has obviously recorded all of the lyrics once, but then he raps the same lyrics on top of these, you can hear subtle pitch differences etwwen them. I think he may have used this before, but i don't really understand the purpose of it.
4. "Hello To Brooklyn 2.0" (feat. Lil' Wayne)
"Hello Brooklyn" was origianlly the title to a Beastie Boys track of a simialr nature to this. This is a big track with a constant bouncing bass to it, it is very effective in creating an excitng atmosphere when you listen to the track.
Lil' Weezy (Wanye) collaborates with Jay on this track as he sings the chorus and raps out the second verse of the track. The chorus has him ask to come with Brooklyn to find out where it is going and what it's going to do next. To be honest, I don't understand it, but I'm sure someone will.
Hov tells us how this city, where he was born, formed him as an artist and made him as he is today. I would have thought that it would have been more relevant to have another Brooklyn rapper on the tune, but I suppose that as it's Lil' Wayne's year, he should be some part of Jay-Z's 2007 album
5. "No Hook"
This one has The Hitmen treatment as they made the beat for this one. The beat is very slow and doesn't have any defining features to it. The title says one of the most obvious features of the track, he exclaims "And I don't need a hook for thid s***" a few times during the track. This makes the track quite short, just over a minute long, an means there is no chorus, so it's not meant for radio-play, he's just telling his story.
This is a very sombre track, Jay begins by telling us about his father abandoning him when he was young, so 'The Streets' took over this role for him. He then follows along his story from then, him and his mother trying to get out of the place they lived in. He says how he hustled from young just to help support himself and his mother.
As I said before, this track isn't much of a song, and he actually says we shouldn't call it one, he just says whats on him mind. He goes on to say that he doesn't like to be compared to rappers, because he doesn't see himself as one, or a musician, but a role model for all that he has gone through and fianlly accomplished.
6. "Roc Boys''
Diddy produced this track, the second single from "American Gangster", alongside The Hitmen, the production team the artist works with, as a few of the other tracks on the album.
This one sounds very familar, despite the fact that it doesn't include any sample within it, this comes from the trumpets in the background, which are forming a nice up-beat hook to keep the tempo high.
The "Roc Boys" he refers to are the members of his crew back in the day and how they reached the top to become the best slingers in their area. He does make a humourous line relating to the recent occurrence at this years VMAs (MTV Video Music Awards), when he says "...got less steps than Britney", reffering o the fact that her performance saw her bumble along the stage instead of dance.
Yet another by Diddy, LV & Sean C as The Hitmen. They bring another original composition with a real classic feel o it, it's really funky, but Jay-Z's laid-back style of rapping takes away from it, so it doesn't mantain this appeal throughout the track. You can only feel the beat on the short instrumental sections, and I made the most out of these times in the song.
Hov uses an aweful lot of repetiton to get himself through the, track, it's quite clever actually because to mask this, he says a few words in a line, then says it again, following this he completes it. He does this for an entire verse and it does get quite annoying, because you would expect him to be able ot have lots to say (he usually does).
Something elese he does to fill-up the bars is just repeat the name of his album. It's really not needed, because if we are listeing to this track, then we obviously have it already, it's not as if it's a single from the LP.
8. "I Know" (feat. Pharrell)
This tune is the only one to be produced by The Neptunes for this album and this seems to be a recurring theme to his album, only one or two per album have been done by Pharrell and Chad Hugo since "The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse", four albums ago.
This track doesn't seem to fit-in as well in comparison to the rest of the labum. The beat sounds very modern and the compostion of the way the entire trck is constructed seems to gbe more related to times now. I feel that this was just because The Neptunes don't very go for a 1940s feel too often, so they may as well stick with what they are good at doing.
Yet again he quotes other rappers, this time A Tribe Called Quest's "Bonita Applebum" gets ripped from them and put straight onto this. He really has to stop doing this because it is becoming extremely repetitive and annoying, espcially to the fans who expect more from Hov. He also uses half a line from "Dirt Of ya Shoulder", it's really subtle, but when you hear it, you think he's going to jus go into that song instead.
9. "Party Life"
This track sounds like one or a sophisticated party for the upper-class, we have a gentle sample in the form of Willie Hale's "Get Into The Party Life" just to set the scene, he made music in the '60s, so he wasn't far off where the inspiration was said to come from. It was Diddy, LV and Sean C (The Hitmen) again on production for this soft and elegant tune.
The beat for this is very deliate, and it makes you slow down because of thte slow tempo, you just want to ballroom dance to this track, if it wasn't for Jay-Z's rapping, I bet that no one would know the difference between this and an old-school R&B song. I fell that it really switches-up the mood of the LP after the Neptunes' track prior to this, and it gets us back on track.
Jay-Z maintains the feel of the beat by coming with some really smooth rapping, no messing around with word-play, just straight-up slick stuff. For a minute or so Hov just lets the beat ride out and just talks to us, then for the final minute he comes back with a short verse, it may suggest he can't find anything to say, or he was possibly trying to fit in with this type of music, which generally meant that the music was more important than the words.
10. "Ignorant S***" (feat. Beanie Siegel)
This song was produced by Just Blaze and the Philly rapper, Beanie Sigel works alongside Hov by rapping. I haven't heard much by Sigel, so I wasn't sure what to expect from him. The way Hov brings him in is great "It's the next leader of the new free world, the first thing ima do is free Sigel." I must say that I enjoyed twhat he gave, and I believe this is one of the best tracks on the album, but it took a couple of listens to get big in my books.
A sample of "Beween The Sheets" by the Isley Brothers is used for this track. Despite that title, it gives it a summer sounding vibe, it's very peaceful (perhaps the reason that Jim Jones used it for "Summer Wit' Miami", there is significance to this as the two have been known to have beef in the past because of Jay's on-going fued with Dipset founder, Cam'ron, who Jim Jones works with.
I heard that this track has been around for a while and I heard an other version which has Jay-Z on his own, without Beanie Siegel, and he does the whole four minutes or so. I gives off a nice feel, but it doesn't really match with his lyrics to well.
11. "Say Hello"
This track was produced by the DJ who provided us with Kanye West's "Good Life" and T.I.'s "What You Know". It has some similarities to his music when the nice slow violin hook is intrupted with a harsh sounding beat which sounds a lot like the beginning of "Hurt", from T.I.'s newest album (T.I. vs. T.I.P.). it seems to come out of nowhere, but when you consider he raps along that time, he's talking about what a "Bad Guy" he is.
The mood is lifted when he returns to the delicate rhytthm from earlier on. Following this he revets to being a "Bad Guy", I think he is attempting to show that he has two side to himself, one good and one bad. The music reflects these changes in the character very well.
I must say that he whole alter-ego thing just isn't what he should be going for. He really shouldn't copy T.I. and I feel tha it's rather late in his career to act as if you not just one person, but two, with completely different personalities, because it just won't work.
A producer unknown to me, not surprising by the name (No I.D.), compsed this track he also made Usher's duet with Alicia Key's, "My Boo". Jigga's old rival, Nas, is on here as the featured artist, displaying learly that the beef between them has been dropped.
This one has an old-fashioned style to it as the backing music is brought by an organ, it makes it fit in with general theme of "American Gangster". Most of the was through he just says what it's like to be so successful, constantly have money, will never be unsupported becasue he has just got to too high of a position in life.It's exciting when you hear Jay bring Nas in, becasue you just can't imagine them working together. When you hear Nas start to rhyme, it just makes Young Hov seem weak, he isn't as straight-forward or simple as Jay-Z is.
I can't say that I like this even though the beat works with the rapping, I doubt many would either, there isn't a chorus that people can work from, it's as f nothing happens in it. I would have thought that since He is uniting with Nas, he would have made more of an effort to bring something that people may enjoy.
JD (Jermaine Dupri) did the production for this tune along with No I.D.. Bilal is uncredited for singing on this track. He is a neo soul singer who usually performs with conscience Hip Hop MCs like Common, Eryka Badu and Talib Kweli, not ones that have received high commercial success like Jay-Z has, it could have helped him to get more exposure.
This one sounds rather modern too as you can hear all of the synchronizer notes throughout, providing use with some considerable bass, giving us some deep foundations, this sets us up for later on in the track where some bigger beats come into play.
Jay-Z uses a lot of similes during this track, he likens cases of celebrities and situations where the title would be appropriate (not in aliteral way of course). I felt that these were effective in allowing him to get his message across to the listeners. I liked quite a lot from this track, but overall there wasn't anything that stood out to me
"Blue Magic" (feat. Pharrell Williams)
This is the first single from the album, it's the first since "Kingdom Come" in March; showing that he is putting these albums together rapidly.
This is a track with a big bassline, going through the entire song, the thumping sound makes you great right into this song. Pharrell back up Jay by singing the chorus in his usual way, not the best singer, but its nice for this track.
This track is an educational one from Jay-Z, I wouldn't say that it's like Nas' "I Can"; it's more about teaching the generation who have already gone in the wrong direction what to do. He says that hustling doesn't solve the problems you may have, if you just speak up and say about all the bad things going on, it will work better for you.
I heard that T.I. was origianlly supposed to be featured on the track, I'm guessing that he may have benn taken out because he might have needed to do a ittle weeking at the last minute for the album, but T.I. was in prison, not a good time to be there at all. I'm not really sure how he would have fitted in it though, because it seemed too fast for his style.
This one has a nice and exciting beat to it, there's a lot going on with it and is extremely complex. I really enjoy the drum beat in the background, it's extremely uplifting.
Jay makes a lot of name dropping references during this track. I find it quite annoying because I know that he doesn't have to talk about other people to get by with his lyrics, he's better than that. Apart from this, he does do his best to display his rapping skills.
The final two songs were given as bonus tracks, I find that strange as one of them was released as a single, it would make sense to make it clear that the song is on here so the the fans can get behind it and have more reason to buy the album.
The entire album has an overall retro feel to with a lot of samples from R&B artists of the day such as The Isley Brothers, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye, you can guess what all of these slow jams do to the album as a whole from these snippets. I must say that I was quite dissappointed by the perform,ance of Jay-Z because I feel as if I can only get into the modern-sounding tracks such as "Roc Boys", "Blue Magic" and "I Know" but I don't neccessariely enjoy listening to those tunes.
The rest of the album seems geered towards a more adult audience, but I can't see he reasoning for doing this, it leaves so many out of the music. Had any other Hip Hop MC come out with an LP like this, I wouldn't have listened to it, because Jigga's raps were of poor quality, it may as well have been any random rapper.
From the singles which have been released, I would have to say that they are misleading to the listeners because these are the few of this style on the album, if you are looking for another track you will like in that genre, you will only be able to find "Hello Brooklyn 2.0", so I advise that you hear some other track first to get the feel of it right.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
3 American Dreamin'
4 Hello Brooklyn 2.0 - Jay-Z & Lil' Wayne
5 No Hook
6 Roc Boys (And The Winner Is)...
8 I Know
9 Party Life
10 Ignorant Shit - Jay-Z & Beanie Sigel
11 Say Hello
12 Success - Jay-Z & Nas
14 Blue Magic
15 American Gangste