Finally, a Jay Z album I can appreciate. It's been awhile.
I'm not the biggest and baddest of rap fans, but there are some artists who seem to transcend the commercialization and exploitation that rap music can bring out for critics of the genre to chomp on. I've always felt that to be hypocritical; after all, this is a capitalist society and Elvis sported more bling for more years than half the rap artists brag about. Jay Z fell into that same mindset with "The Blueprint" and even the comeback album "Kingdom Come".
But then comes this great "American Gangster" movie with Russel Crowe and Denzel Washington telling the story about the infamous black gangster Frank Lucas' rise and fall in the drug world. It needed a well-produced soundtrack from a veteran of the rap world to reemphasize the message about the drug business. And I must say it couldn't have been done better by anyone besides Jay Z himself. There are explicit lyrics, but they all count and aren't there just for color. If you think this album is just another rap CD, talk to Charlie Rose. He interviewed Jay Z on his show because of this album.
American Gangster's lyrics from start to finish are just jaw-dropping good and visit many subjects. He doesn't stray from anything, to include politics. In the lead single "Blue Magic", named after the heroin product Lucas sold, Jay Z raps "Blame Reagan for making me to into a monster, blame Oliver North and Iran-Contra, I ran contraband that they sponsored, before this rhymin' stuff we was in concert." In "Say Hello" (a nod to Al Pacino's Scarface line "say hello to my little friend"), Jay Z even has words for prolific black leaders. "And if Al Sharpton is speaking for me/Somebody get him the word and tell him I don't approve/Tell him I'll remove the curses/If you tell me our schools gon' be perfect". Diddy's expert use of era-based samples further embellished the mood and capture of the movie's feel. Samples from The Isley Brothers, Al Green and even the Beastie Boys are all featured in the songs.
Even if you aren't a rap fan but are a movie fan, this album should be part of your collection. Listening to this is like when you first listened to the "Purple Rain" soundtrack after seeing the movie. You envision every scene being played out on each song. There is a deep story being told in American Gangster that goes beyond the idolization of the drug life. Jay Z is careful to address the downs as well as the ups in the business, something other rappers dare not do because they don't have the skills. Jay Z has the skills, and here is the product.