“Tell him I’ll remove the curses/ If you tell me our schools gon’ be perfect/ When Jena 6 don’t exist / Tell him that’s when I’ll stop saying ‘bitch,’ bitch!”
~ Jay-Z, “Say Hello”
Even though a lot has already been written about it, I had to speak on Jay-Z’s new album, American Gangster. For those that don’t know, Jay-Z saw an early cut of Ridley Scott’s film of the same name recently and became so inspired that he set out to record a concept album based on scenes from the film, as well as his own experiences in the dope game. The movie is an instant classic in my mind, but is the album classic material as well?
It seems that a lot of music critics think so. Notoriously critical music site, Pitchfork (which straight up destroyed his last album Kingdom Come), gave American Gangster an 8.6 out of 10 and labeled it as part of this year’s “Best New Music.”
I like the album a lot. I didn’t hate Kingdom Come as much as Pitchfork did, but I agree with them on the fact that American Gangster allows Jay to “regain some of the grimy credibility he’d lost with 2006’s Kingdom Come, the would-be comeback that found [him] rapping about brands so expensive most of his audience had no idea what he was talking about.”
Musically, this album is beautiful, with soulful sampled beats that sound right at home in the ’70s setting of the movie. In terms of the content, I think that Jay does a really good job of narrating a story about the rise and fall of a drug kingpin through the album’s first 13 tracks, ending with the amazing “Fallin” that talks about the dealer’s fate of incarceration. He kind of fucks up that narrative flow with the last two tracks that go back to celebratory boasting about life in the drug game, but overall, a really solid effort.
One thing I’ve always respected about Jay is his hustle and the work he’s put in to get to the top. As I write this from the bayou of small town Louisiana, its amazing to me that a song like “Roc Boys (And The Winner Is),” whose soulfully triumphant horns sound so different from anything else on mainstream radio today, is getting played on the top 40 radio station down here. This is a guy who can make an experimental concept album and still be guaranteed to get airplay on radio dials worldwide. Well done, Jay, dope boy of the year indeed.
Now how about an all-Rza produced American Gangster concept album? They passin out Thanksgiving turkeys son!