American Gangster (Deluxe Edition)

American Gangster (Deluxe Edition)

JAY-Z once said that 2007’s American Gangster, inspired by the Denzel Washington crime flick of the same name, was a way for him to explore how his life might’ve gone had he never left the streets. That’s a hypothetical, of course—not to mention an example of his penchant for taking good stories and spinning them into better ones. So while Jay can still sell a classic drug-kingpin narrative from rise to fall—as he does on such American Gangster tracks as “Pray” and “Fallin’”—he also frames the hustle as a metaphor for the Black American predicament: It’s no less stressful than straight work (“Success”), nor is it easier to come by (“American Dreamin’”). And while nice stuff helps (as he points out on tracks like “Blue Magic” and “Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)”), it’s never enough to offset the guilt of having to sell yourself—and your community—out to get them. “This is that ignorant shit you like/N***a, fuck, shit, ass, bitch, trick, plus ice, c’mon,” Jay raps on “Ignorant Shit.” Don’t blame him for putting it on offer—ask yourself while you’re buying. By 2007, Jay had been around long enough to secure his new, grown-up life—ask Kingdom Come and The Blueprint 2. With American Gangster, he finds enough purchase on his old one to explore what he might’ve gotten wrong. If he still raps like his life depends on it, it’s because it does. It’s just a different life now.

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