Jay Z American Gangster

Jay Z American Gangster
To say Kingdom Come wasn’t exactly the homecoming coronation Jay-Z expected would be an understatement. The disc’s lacklustre production wasn’t helped by Jay-Z’s uneasy lyrical mix of hedonism and social commentary, and audiences tossed a few pebbles, if not rocks, at the beach chair. However, for American Gangster, inspired by the Oscar bait movie vehicle of the same name, Jay-Z has wisely reconfigured the most compelling aspects of his recording career. Mixing the lyrical complexity of Reasonable Doubt, the 70’s soul score of The Blueprint with his now wizened outlook and applying it to a narrative of the rise and fall of a drug dealer, proves to be a winning formula. The album’s initial brooding mood is understandable, given its efforts to convey the societal forces surrounding a young man’s entry into the game, but under the sonic direction of Diddy and his crew of producers, who aren’t exactly noted for their subtlety, the tracks are imbued with heavy-handed bombast. However, their score for "Roc Boys,” the highlight of the disc’s sumptuous celebratory suite, proves to be the perfect foil for Jay-Z’s charismatic bon mots. It’s here in the disc’s second half where Jay-Z is really in his element. On Kanye beat-mentor No I.D.’s organ-fuelled "Success,” Jay-Z outguns Nas, and Hova pulls off the double entendre of "I Know” with characteristic witty aplomb. The latter Neptunes-produced track and the especially sarcastic "Ignorant Shit,” are sly volleys aimed at the same audience who didn’t embrace the thought-provoking themes he explored on Kingdom Come. At disc’s end — with Jay-Z writing his own triumphant alternate ending on the bonus title track — it’s unclear whether he’ll venture outside his comfort zone again. But in the meantime, he’s reasserted why we were interested in the first place. (Roc-A-Fella)