11.06.2007

AMERICAN GANGSTER

I went to the record store the minute it opened to buy Kanye West's "Graduation." Did the same thing for Lupe's "Food and Liquor." Ditto for "Hell Hath No Fury." Last weekend I went to Harlem to watch Denzel and Russell face off in "American Gangster" during its opening weekend. I guess it's no surprise then that I was at the Virgin Megastore at midnight to pick up Jay-Z's "American Gangster."

I like events. I like the idea of anticipating someone doing something great. When the Pats played the Colts this weekend, I was pulling for the Colts but part of me wanted to witness the Patriots taking another step that no one else could take. I like the idea of good people doing great things in their comfort zone. There's something comforting and inspiring about it. And even though it's not like I can identify with these people in reality, I have a really active imagination.

American Gangster is good. It's a throwback but still very much stuck in the present. After the misstep of Kingdom Come, this is a record that Jay-Z owed anyone that's bought all of his records. When I told someone that Jay was my favorite rapper about a year ago they said, "So what? Everyone likes Jay-Z. He's pop." That shit infuriated me. And then dropped he Kingdom Come and proved them right and me wrong. That shit infuriated me. I have no problem with pop Jay-Z...he's good at it. But there was something so incredibly fake and forced about Kingdom Come. It was a generic album - not in the formulaic way that most rap songs are generic (club song, beef song, slow jam with anonymous R&B artist) - but in the sense that it lacked specifics. Yeah, he name checked about a million designer brands just like he details the minutia of street life - and I don't really know anything about either of those two things - but the difference on Kingdom Come was that I think the he felt that he had to be rapping about that kind of stuff, that he was supposed to express to us how far he'd come and how good it was. And that's bullshit.

That's where American Gangster becomes a throwback. He feels comfortable rapping about what he's rapping about and it seems effortless. This record is not going to be a monster - it'll put up huge numbers on the strength of Jay alone, but not because it was made to be a monster. It was made to be a record. I like thing that are cohesive and know where they are going. Lost does that. The Wire does that. Hell Hath did that. The Office does that. I know these are all random things, but you get the idea. If you put the work in, I'll appreciate it. And if you're more talented than everyone else that does it, then I'll appreciate it that much.

And that's where I stand with American Gangster. It's cohesive in every sense - thematically, sonically, lyrically. Everyone has used the phrase, "drenched in 70's era soul," when describing the album. And that's correct - it is. And it's a great thing - the smooth sounding music perfectly matches Jay-Z delivery. He's made a career out of just delivering and being smooth with his flow. That's where he differs from Biggie and Pac - they wanted you to feel every word out of their mouth. Jay wants the same thing but he does it by being understated rather than bashing your head open.

My favorite tracks (in no particular order):

1) Hello Brooklyn - The bass on the beat is incredibly woozy - makes me miss driving my car through the suburbs with the windows rattling. Also, I've realized that I like Wayne solely because of his delivery - his lyrical content is subpar compared to the best rappers, but the way he uses his voice as an instrument is almost unparalleled. On this track Wayne slithers his way through the spaces that the base and drum claps leave him, while Jay just rides the beat.

2) Roc Boys - One of the best opening verses to a song that I've heard in a long time. The beat is infectious. The chorus also kind of gets stuck in your head. And when the girl's voice is splashed over the chorus near the end, it starts off as kind of cheesy, but grows on you.

3) Ignorant Shit - Beanie Siegel delivers a good half verse and then Jay cuts him off to talk about the Imus controversy. Also love this song because I think Jay wisely continues his trend of taking real words and turning them into fake words, much like "mag-e-nats" in Excuse Me Miss. Here he goes with celebutantes and pulpittin'. Not sure if those are in Webster's.

4) Success - On the strength of the beat alone. Everything else is icing.

5) Fallin'
- Could have fit in on the Blueprint with a great flow. Also, is he mocking Ballin'?

Anyway, tomorrow I'll have 5 new favorite songs on the album.

And I guess there's the inevitable debate of where this album falls within the spectrum of Jay albums. I'm hesitant to give my opinion (no, actually I'm not) because I think that ranking albums is too subjective. Case in point - my two favorite Jay albums to listen to are The Dynasty and Vol. 1 (you'd be hard pressed to find someone else with that feeling) but the two best Jay-Z albums are Blueprint and Reasonable Doubt. This album is up there with the two of them, but since I've listened to it for less than a day I'll have to withhold my judgment.

Either way, it's the Roc bitches.

4 comments:

MemphisB said...

Jay-Z lives his great life off the poor black mans money.

And I just down loaded the screener of American Gangster, and it confirms that Denzel is the most over-rated actor ever.

Tobadnoneofthiswillreachyoursite said...

After approval, thats a joke. Step up and don't hide behind censorship

Heyhoheyho said...

Gotta give it up, didn't think ya had it in ya

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