Throwback Thursday Revisiting: ‘American Gangster’ by Jay Z
A look back at Hov's underrated album on the 10 year anniversary of it's release
Have you ever been sitting down watching something on television, listening to music or reading a book and instantly get inspired to do something pertaining to what you just saw or heard? That’s how I’ve come up with the majority of my articles and in 2007 that’s how Jay Z came up with the concept of his tenth studio album American Gangster. After watching a pre-screening of the movie of the same name Hov felt inclined to create a concept album that evoked emotion. He compared some of the things that he saw growing up in Brooklyn to some of the events that happened in the film.
The album starts out with an intro by actor Idris Elba, its a sample of dialogue from the actual film. This intro is actually co-produced by Elba who is also in the movie. Following the intro, Jay Z calls on his wife for a feature on the track “Pray”. On here he speaks from the outside looking into the drug game as he contemplates getting into the game. He sees the good and bad of the game but is still intrigued by it and he feels that it is his only way out of his current circumstance. P. Diddy did a lot of production on this album beginning with this song. Boasting a fire Marvin Gaye sample, “American Dreamin” was also produced by Diddy. This sample is important because the song they chose was also from a concept album. Gaye spoke on social problems in the world from the perspective of a war veteran while Jay Z on American Gangster speaks from the perspective of a drug dealer. It’s crazy how two decades later we deal with some of the same problems till this day. On this track, Jay raps from the perspective of him and his homie dreaming about the finer things in life. I can relate to this on a personal level because I’ve sat back with my homies and talked about the finer things in life and doing the necessary to attain these finer things.
On this album, we finally got a Jay Z and Lil Wayne collaboration. It was good but I thought it could’ve been better. Overall its a good song to me even though I wanted to hear them spar on the track. But the two MCs used Brooklyn as if they were describing a woman. Jay then alludes to naming his first daughter “Brooklyn Carter” but I’m guessing Beyonce had other plans. On this track, Jay Z also talks about how he is about to bring a basketball team to Brooklyn. Another triple entendre by the G.O.A.T.
“My fine ho we got some victims to catch, so in a couple years baby imma bring you some Nets” – Jay Z
The fifth track on this album happens to be my personal favorite. The song entitled “No Hook” finds Jay speaking once again from the young hustlers perspective in efforts to pull his family together. This young hustler is the breadwinner in his family so they are depending on him. This is one of those tracks that you can just leave on repeat and let it rock like five times in a row, at least I can. This track also gave us one of Jay Z’s greatest verses ever. Verse three on this joint is so crazy I probably could rap it in my sleep. This is one of those verses where you can feel his pain on the track.
“Please don’t compare me to other rappers compare me to trappers I’m more Frank Lucas than Ludacris” – Jay Z
“No Hook” was followed by “Roc Boys” which was one of the top singles from this album. This track was also produced by P. Diddy and his production team. This is a celebration track, Hov refers to him and his team as the “Dope Boys” of the year. This joint makes you just want to enjoy life and live it up to the fullest. Some vocals from Kanye West, Beyonce, and Cassie are also enlisted. They also shot a tough video for this song at Jay Z’s 40/40 Club, boss shit.
“Take what the forbes figured, then figure more cause they forgot to account what I did with the raw.” – Jay Z
Jay Z doesn’t get enough credit for his intellectual raps in my opinion. On the track “I Know” he raps from the perspective of the young hustler again but he places himself as if he were the drugs. It’s tough and takes a ton of talent to pull off some of the things Hov does. The track that follows is also one of my favorites from this album, “Party Life”. This track here is where we get the “shit talkin Hov”. He was talking an array of fly shit on this one.
“When you use to filet mignon its kinda hard to go back to hamburger helper…its your choice though baby” – Jay Z
Earlier I spoke on how I would have loved to hear Hov and Wayne spar on “Hello Brooklyn”. Although I didn’t get my wish I got the next best thing on “Ignorant Shit”, another Jay Z and Beanie Sigel collaboration. The two Roc-a-fella MCs never disappoint going at it on this track per usual. Hov is still rapping from the perspective of the young hustler but now he is out of control. I would give the upper hand to Jay only cause he had a third verse but Beans always gives him a run for his money.
“So don’t believe everything ya earlobe captures; its mostly backwards unless it happens to be as accurate as me”
On “Say Hello” Jay Z (the young hustler) is now accepting the fact that he’s the bad guy now. He also speaks on how they aren’t doing illegal things just for the hell of it. The hustler is hustling ’cause that is literally all he knows and that is what he saw growing up. This track is a direct correlation to when Frank Lucas’ empire starts to crumble in the movie American Gangster. Hov also takes jabs at Al Sharpton for his role in the marches to bring “decency” to hip-hop. Sharpton wanted rappers to cut back on their usage of the words “bitch” and “nigga”. In which Jay Z replies in the most Jay Z way:
“Till him I 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” – Jay Z
It’s crazy that our “leaders” are more concerned with what rappers are rapping about then trying to fix the problems in our communities. But hey that’s another conversation for another time. Along with that Beans feature, we also got to hear Jay Z and Nas spar against one another. This was about a year removed from the two squashing their beef so this was pretty good for hip-hop. “Success” is a track on here where Jay and Nas speak on life from a successful perspective and how it’s not all that it is cracked up to be. Shout out to No I.D. and Jermaine Dupri for producing this track.
“I used to give a fuck now I give a fuck less. What do I think of success? It sucks, too much stress” – Jay Z
Jermaine Dupri also produced the track “Fallin” another soulful track that made it on this album. This the final track of the concept album. It starts with “Pray” and ends with “Fallin” which is genius to me. In the movie, this song correlates with the scene when Frank goes to the fight with the long chinchilla fur on. Hov paints the picture so vividly on this song, its like once you gain that success you were searching for most times you get complacent and arrogant, that will ultimately lead to your downfall.
American Gangster is a top 5 Jay Z album, if you don’t like it then I’m not sure what you’re listening to. Concept albums are so tough to me, they are my favorite type of albums to listen to. American Gangster is legendary, it provokes thought and emotion for some. I can’t believe it will be ten years old Monday, I was way too young to understand any of this when it first dropped so it feels good to be able to understand it now in my older years.