Friday, November 16, 2007

Inside Man: Jay-Z “American Gangster”

Jay-Z doesn’t need to prove anything to me. I mean, really. I’m some loser on a blog talking about “beat structures” and “flows.” It doesn’t really get anymore transparent than this. Young Hova and his empire of fans, his millions of dollars, and his collection of gold records need not validation from the hipster elite. Perhaps that’s why American Gangster, his second LP released since retiring, is so surprising with how magnanimous it ends up being.

Inspired by the Ridley Scott film of the same name, American Gangster finds Jay waxing poetically about "black superhero music" as he fashions himself not as a savior or prophet, but as a part of something larger than even him. American Gangster is, perhaps, one of his most grounded efforts (maybe this is what the poor reception of Kingdom Come has done to him). It blends the charming hubris that makes him so affable and the gritty eloquence that makes him that good.

Playing with expectations as well as personality, American Gangster is not really as successful as a “concept” album as Jay-Z might want to believe. There really doesn’t seem to be a linear narrative to speak of—not one that I can see anyway. There is, however, a clear and definable tone and theme that make this one of his stronger albums, in the truest sense of the word.

There are occasional throw away tracks, and the length of the album suffers because of them. You get the feeling that things could be a little bit tighter overall, which is admittedly odd for a Jay-Z LP. It’s not so much a production faux pas though, as much as it is an overall shortage of crispness in the mentality and a generally odd lack of coda to the proposed “story.”

American Gangster may have you scratching your head ever so briefly, but it is clearly one of the best albums of the year, and the most fun I’ve had while listening to a Hip Hop album in a long while. Jay-Z and the guys at Roc-A-Fella seem to be on a bit of a roll lately. While they clearly don’t need the help of the snotty blogosphere to get them over, it looks like they're gonna get it anyway.

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