Inspired by film, Jay-Z releases epic album
Jay-Z has slowly but surely put his stamp on the music industry over the years. Officially debuting in 1996 with Reasonable Doubt, arguably his best album, Shawn Carter has released albums almost every year since, finally retiring in 2003 with The Black Album. Since then, he made a comeback with Kingdom Come about a year ago, which was met with mixed reactions. His ninth studio album, not including collaborations and his MTV Unplugged album, was again expected to be his last. But upon watching a screening of the epic American Gangster featuring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, Jay was inspired. Thus, he began recording this concept album and finished it in just three weeks.
From the beginning of this album, the impact and influence of American Gangster is felt. "Intro," which clocks in at two minutes,†is one of several songs featuring dialogue from the film. Washington’s character Frank Lucas speaks, setting the tone for the rest of the album.
"Pray" is one of the early standout songs. It features a great melody thanks to a 1970s sample and has Jay’s vintage, witty lyrics: "Pray for me, I’m going in / Mind state of a gangster from the ’40s / Meet the business mind of a young Berry Gordy."
"No Hook" features a sample and dialogue from Washington again, but it eschews a hook and is one of the most impressive songs. The second single, "Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)" appears halfway through the album and shows Jay at his most celebratory point: "Oh what a feeling, I’m feeling life! / I wish for you a hundred years of success, but it’s my time."
The good vibrations continue in "Party Life." However, things take a turn on "Success." So many accomplishments can be tiring, as a dialogue from the film used in the intro of this song shows: "Your success took a shot at you, what are you gonna do now? Are you gonna kill it?" An irritated Jay explains, "What do I think of success? / It sucks: too much stress / I guess I blew up quick." This song is special because it is a collaboration with one-time rival Nas, who has a great guest appearance.
The downfall is seen in the last song: "Fallin’": "And he can’t beat the odds / Can’t cheat the cards / Can’t blow too hard, life’s a deck of cards."
The bonus tracks are also excellent. On "Blue Magic," Jay is clever as usual: "Turn one into two like a Siamese twin / When it end, I’m a stand as a man never dying on my knees / Last of a dying breed."