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Five Years Later: A Reflection on Jay-Z’s “American Gangster”

By Hardcore Critic
Hip Hop Vibe Staff Writer

Though it is now overlooked, initially Jay-Z struggled post-retirement. While it receives better reviews now, Kingdom Come was not considered Jay-Z’s best work. It was a year after the Kingdom Come release when Jay-Z, who was then serving as the president of Def Jam, watched American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington.

Jay-Z admitted to being inspired by the film, as he actually was a hustler before finding success in the hip hop industry. What Jay-Z planned, initially, was a short concept album that morphed into American Gangster. Since The Blueprint, an album many consider to be his best since Reasonable Doubt, fans said Jay-Z had fallen off.

Undoubtedly still delivering strong albums, many felt Jay-Z’s other albums simply were not classics, though albums of the year. After a three year gap, it looked as if a new Jay-Z album every year was upon the world again. Five years ago today, Jay-Z released the American Gangster album, solidifying his third undeniably classic album.

Critics hailed the album as a unique blend between Reasonable Doubt and The Blueprint. While both albums were classics, they represented the position Jay-Z held at the time, first an ambitious rookie trying to get established, and then life since reaching the top. However, Jay-Z had yet to tell the complete story of how he got where he was at and what it was like to maintain this position. In full detail, Jay-Z explained this with American Gangster, without overloading the listeners.

Instead, Jay-Z delivered classic songs upon classics, sampling the likes of Marvin Gaye, Barry White, the Beastie Boys, the Isley Brothers, En Vogue, Curtis Mayfield, and others, Jay-Z brought style and soul to the life of an American Gangster. With hip hop music on an overall decline, Jay-Z proved it was still acceptable to show lyricism in music. Jay-Z showed off his brilliant wordplay, as he described the events of the drug trade, the benefits and the drawbacks, over these soul beats, and referencing the subjects of the time.

Though it is hard to believe, five years have passed since American Gangster was released, yet the album remains a favorite of many, spawning such singles as “Blue Magic,” “Roc Boys,” and “I Know,” featuring Pharrell. From beginning to end, American Gangster was a complete album, something many current albums are not. Easily, American Gangster is among the top albums in Jay-Z’s entire discography.

Watch music videos from Jay-Z’s American Gangster below:

Jay-Z ft. Pharrell – “Blue Magic:

Jay-Z – “Roc Boys”

Jay-Z ft. Pharrell – “I Know”

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