American Gangster is Jay-Z’s gift to hiphop, said Bomani Jones in Salon.com. “His best album in years—and the best rap album” of the year—has none of the self-indulgent boasts or trendy, chartbusting moneymakers that made recent albums disappointing. “American Gangster sounds like something Jay would do for free, even if no one were listening, even if no one were paying.” Though inspired by Ridley Scott’s film about 1970s Harlem heroin dealer Frank Lucas, Jay-Z’s American Gangster isn’t a soundtrack but a concept album telling its own story. The tracks are thick with ’70s rhythms and sounds, said J. Gabriel Boylan in The New York Observer. “American Dream” mixes “a terrific Marvin Gaye sampling track” with thick strings, and the title track builds on a Curtis Mayfield beat. “Success” and “Roc Boys” celebrate the high life with no-holds-barred beats and “incredibly boisterous” horns, while “Fallen” follows the kingpin’s demise. “Shockingly, the lion’s share of the credit” for the album’s stunning sound goes to Sean Combs, who I thought was washed up, said Jim DeRogatis in the Chicago Sun-Times. Beyoncé, the Neptunes, and Lil Wayne also pitch in. But the all-star cast may be part of the reason the album never becomes cohesive. Despite Jay-Z’s undeniably exhilarating lyrical style, his album “lacks the moral core of the movie, which is a two-pronged look at the corrupting power of capitalism”—something the CEO of hip-hop understandably has difficulty criticizing.
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