One of hip-hopâs most consistently brilliant artists, Jay-Z disappointed with last yearâs Kingdom Come. The freestyle virtuoso sounded spent on the CD, which was released on the heels of his famously brief and busy retirement. Expensive beats from producers like Dr. Dre and Just Blaze banged, and Jigga Manâs artful phrasing remained astounding, but the disc lacked verve. One couldnât help think Jay-Z might best serve his legacy by confining himself to running Def Jam Recordings, while leaving the actual rapping to the next generation.
But Jay-Z wasnât having that. He attended an advance screening of American Gangster and emerged with a new game plan. Instead of continuing to rhyme exclusively about his larger-than life persona and checkered past, the rapper would riff on the movieâs protagonist, 1960s-â70s Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas, who is played in the film by Denzel Washington.
The strategy worked. Jay-Zâs album American Gangster hits hard, the rapper sounding focused and impassioned, unleashing razor rhymes over a combination of contemporary synth beats, live horns, organ and old-school funk samples concocted by producers like Diddy, The Neptunes, Bigg D and Just Blaze.