Review: 4 out of 5
Best Song: Pray
When Jay announced about a month ago (after all the Kanye hoopla) that he was dropping an album in November, the hip hop world went nuts. Just when it seemed like hip hop was suffering a mass case of writer’s block the idea of a Kanye album followed up by the Big Homie was unbelievable. To add to this, Jay also announced his album would be a concept album inspired by the film by the same title “American Gangster” and sonically would blend Reasonable Doubt and The Blueprint, two of Hov’s most critically acclaimed albums. It’s safe to say, Jigga fans took heed. So has the album lived up to the hype or is it another Kingdom Come? Short answer, this album is short of Reasonable Doubt (1996) and The Blueprint (2001), but is in serious contention as Jigga’s 3rd best album. The only problem with the album is at times Jigga has really nothing to say and on some joints his flow falls into the same vein as the flows he kicked on Kingdom Come (which were horrible by the way). Read the full break down, there’s a goodie at the end.
1. Intro (Produced by Chris Flames, co-produced by Idris “Driis” Elba)
Jigga’s intros have been hit or miss. This introduction provides a grown man’s approach to being gangster in the same way Frank Lucas and Nicky Barnes scoff at today’s baggy-pant-sideways cap-wearing-thug-rappers. Idris Elba says, “To be a gangster, swagger is not a must, but a liability”. Clearly drawing comparisons to the movie, American Gangster, where Frank Lucas is only figured by the police because he starts to “ball out” uncharacteristically rocking chinchilla furs and matching hats.
2. Pray (Produced by Diddy, LV & Sean C)
This is undoubtedly my joint. The Micheal Jackson “Thriller” drums keep a hypnotic pace for Jay to put together a picture of the motivations of a poor black man looking for a way out -and subsequently finding it through drug dealing. Beyonce sounds a little out of place on here, but it just being Beyonce adds a certain swag.
Best line: “This is why I be so fresh, I’m trying to cheat life, cause I can’t beat death”. WOW.
3. American Dreamin’ (Produced by Diddy, LV & Sean C, co-produced by Mario Winans)
Another beautiful track provided by Diddy & Co. for Jay to detail the ins and outs of the drug game.
Best line:”Survive the droughts, I wish you well, hold up, survive the droughts? I wish you well? how sick am I? I wish you health”. WOW.
4. Hello Brooklyn 2.0 featuring Lil Wayne (Produced by Bigg D)
It’s only right Lil Wayne, 2007’s feature whore, appear on Jay’s album. When this collabo was first announced many heads thought this was going to be the “torch” passing song. I personally was looking to hear a “Coming of Age” type song with Lil Wayne filling in for Memphis Bleek, of course. But this beat is just so sparse and uninspiring it’s almost a wonder they could come up with lyrics to this. I would have wanted to see Hov and Weezy kick it over a real soulful beat, this is just as unforgettable as the joint Hov did with T.I.
5. No Hook (Produced by Diddy, LV & Sean C)
This has to be the second best song on the album and Jay gets really deep reflecting on what else the perils of slingin’ yayo. It reminds me a little of “Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)” from The Blueprint.
6. Roc Boys (And the Winner Is…) (Produced by Diddy, LV & Sean C)
Another Diddy banger. This will be the second single and I guarantee this will burn up the clubs. It’s like a funky version of “Show Me What You Got”. Even Kanye shows up for some random chanting “we in the house, house, house” -sounding a little drunk too.
Best line: “I wish you a 100 years of success, but it’s my time”.
7. Sweet (Produced by Diddy, LV & Sean C)
Strangely enough, there is no Kanye production here, in its absence is the same soul samples but way more polished courtesy of Diddy and the Hitmen. Also many of the beats on here, sound like Biggie could have spit over these, post-Life After Death of course. This is another feel good song, about enjoying the spoils of the game.
8. I Know (Produced by The Neptunes)
I don’t know this for sure, but I’m pretty sure this song was inspired by the scene in the movie where Denzel’s character Frank Lucas picks up the Puerto Rican “beauty pageant” chick. But, it’s even crazier because its about Hov bagging Beyonce. Alpha male shall have the alpha female. The song is also masked in the metaphor of a user’s dependence on a certain drug. It’s typical Neptunes production here, nothing special.
9. Party Life (Produced by Diddy, LV & Sean C)
This is just a fly ass joint. This could be the third single. Again more bragging about baggin’ Beyonce and being such a great MC. I was expecting to hear Diddy say “Take That, Take That” at some point on this record.
Best line:”Your boy’s off the wall, these other niggas is Titto”. Insane.
10. Ignorant Shit featuring Beanie Sigel (Produced by Just Blaze)
This song was a throw away from The Black Album, not to sure why Hov brought this one back. Oh yeah I forgot “internet heads” liked it so much. Beanie Sigel adds absolutely nothing here. We do find out however, that “It’s only entertainment”.
11. Say Hello (Produced by DJ Toomp)
This is such a DJ Toomp beat I knew it without even having to look at the credits, beat has the same drums from “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and “Big Brother”. The samples are good, but I don’t think this uptempo Southern bounce is a good look for Hov, on the hook he almost does a T.I. impression. I thought Jeezy was going say “yeahhhhhhhh” at any moment, guess Hov couldn’t buy an ad lib.
12. Success feat. Nas (Produced by No I.D., co-produced by Jermaine Dupri)
This song would have been classic had Nas not been on it. His off-beat flow here doesn’t hit the drums as well as Jigga’s and his verse is just too short to have any meaning. They should have just done a Black Republican’s Part 2 and postured their boss status like Lucas and Barnes. This is after all the climax of the album’s story.
13. Fallin (Produced by Jermaine Dupri, co-produced by No I.D.)
No way do I believe JD produced this. I’m pretty sure No I.D. picked the sample and chopped it, JD sounds like he just added the kick from “Ballin’ Out of Control” and whipped the un-named R&B singer into shape. Nonetheless, this is another of my favorite records here as it recounts the demise one faces in the game after all the success (how fitting). Just like Frank Lucas was finally arrested in American Gangster, many rappers and even some fans want Hov to call it quits.
14. Blue Magic (Bonus Track) (Produced by The Neptunes)
Not really sure why this is a bonus track, this could have nicely replaced “Ignorant Shit”. But I’m sure you’ve already heard this a million times by now.
15. American Gangster (Bonus Track)
Again, not really sure why the title track of the album would be a bonus track. But this track would have served as a great intro to the album. Lyrics are hot and Jay’s flow is nimble as ever. Forget the debacle that was Kingdom Come. The theme of the track of “wanting the sky” is perfect for a man that has it all and then some (Beyonce). Perhaps, it’s a metaphor for wanting to go to heaven when its all said and done (now that’s deep).
In closing, this album is a must have for any Jay-Z fan and for that matter any hip hop head and will be in my rotation for the months to come (at least until, Mood Musik 3 comes out). If you’ve read this far, check out this $500 gift card from Best Buy by clicking here, it’s a damn good deal if you ask me.