Jay-Z ~ American Gangster (an IATS Review)

Ag cover

Hovito Cements His Legacy. RTH breaks down his thoughts on Jay-Z.

It’s summer 1996. I’m talking to my friend Cindy about random 16 year old nonsense. She’s singing a song that goes, “Ain’t no ___ like the one I got…”. She says she doesn’t know who sings it, but she likes it. I say, okay, Ill try to find out.

I do some research and tell her, “It’s some guy named ‘Jay-Z’, but I don’t know who the heck that is.”

It’s fall 1998. My friend Tiffany hands me a copy of Jay-Z’s “Volume 2: Hard Knock Life”. I listen to “Money ain’t a thing”, “Hard Knock Life”, “A week ago”, and “Can I get A”. I ignore the rest. 

 I say to myself, “This guy can’t rap to the beat.” and disregard the album. Too much Swizz Beats crap. I don’t get it. That’s enough.

It’s fall 1999. I hear this song called “Do it again”. The beat is atrocious. To me, it goes: BOOM! Ticky Ticky Ticky.. It’s that Jay-Z guy again, and he’s getting worse. “You gotta little flow, that’s cool wit’ me…” Ughhh..

This guy is terrible.

It’s fall 2001. Jay-Z has a new album out, “The Blueprint.” The lead single, “H to the Izzo” is dope, and it looks like Jay-Z has finall done a song I like. I have the song burned to a CD and I’m diggin’ it.

Then “Takeover” surfaces past the mixtapes and late nite radio shows and explodes onto my Top 40 Radar. Jay-Z is dissing Nas, who hasn’t done a song I’ve liked since “Hate Me Know” two or 3 years prior. I decide Jay’s kicking a man when he’s down, so now it’s to heck with Shawn Carter and Viva Nasir Jones.

It’s  early 2003. I’ve started writing songs in earnest and I decide to expand my horizons and listen to stuff I normally wouldn’t. I cop “The Blueprint 2”. Expectations are low.

About 60 seconds into “Hovi Baby” I am hooked. Jay-Z is the real deal.

It’s late 2003. “The Black Album” is copped the first pay day I have after it drops. It’s bananas. But! Jay-Z is retiring.

It’s now Fall 2006. Jay-Z has been “retired” for almost 3 years, but he’s coming back with a new CD, “Kingdom Come”. The internet is in full on hater mode. Bol leads a campaign of rap snob hatred eager to shit on Mr. Carter after being unable to legitimately do so for his whole reign.

I’ve copped “Volume 1: In My Lifetime”, “Reasonable Doubt”, and “Best of Both Worlds (part 1)”, and “The Blueprint” and I can’t wait to hear the new one, haters be danged.

“Kingdom Come” drops, and I am disappointed. Jay-Z is rusty. His choruses are cliche. He’s not riding the beat as cleverly and as nimbly as he used to. The album isn’t bad at all, it’s just disappointing. However, glimpses of “Classic” Jay are found in “Kingdom Come”, “Trouble”, “Dig A Hole”, and my favorite, “Beach Chair”. I think Hov is holding back, trying to school a whole generation of Curtis Jackson-infected fuckers who don’t know good rap anymore than they know where Iraq is on a map.

It’s one year later, and Jay-Z has announced he’s doing a concept album called “American Gangster”, inspired by the film of the same name. Jay-Z is creating a saga from beginning to end of a Hustler that doesn’t get out when getting is good.

The internet is in full on Jaded Cynic Mode. Praise ranges from “Wack” to “I’m not saying it’s a classic, but it’s good.” Of course. We all know that saying anything is good is a huge faux pas on the internet, where every blog is “The Cool Table” of the cafeteria.

I see the movie and love it.

I wait until the album is available from a retail outlet, and I cop–weeks after everyone else has stolen it. “He doesn’t need the money.” Dr. Beardhussein doesn’t give a shit. Congrats on working out that RAR link, gents. I’ll spend the $11 dollars on the album. Ya’ll can go back to spending $200 on lime green Nikes, pound-foolish bastards.

It’s time to review Jay-Z’s 10th Solo Album (not including Unplugged or Streets is Watching).

Let’s Start With The Beats- Wow. I’m sure you’ve heard about the “soul-sample infused” production. Lemme tell ya, it’s awesome. I dig the 70’s sound. I dig the horns and the strings. I dig the singing. I dig the fact that it recreates the cinematic feel of the movie. It’s a credit to Just Blaze, The Neptunes, No ID, Big D, Jermaine Dupri, LV & Sean C, Diddy, Mario Winans, and DJ Toomp that underneath the bombastic brass and the scintillating strings that there is a sense of melancholy foreboding throughout. Tracks like “Roc Boys (And the winner is)” are infectious and celebratory, but you just know that the good times are not going to last. This might be the best production of any Jay-Z album, even with “Hello Brooklyn 2.0” being kinda misplaced, and “Sweet” kinda dragging.

Fave Beat- Tie between the trapped-in-my-head track from Sean C. and LV,  “Roc Boys (and the winner is)”, and (I never thought I’d say this about Skateboard P) The Neptunes’ bouncy backdrop to Hova’s ode to addiction, “I Know”

But How is Dem Rhymes, Uncle The Hussein?– Good lord. Jay-Z is in rare form. This isn’t “Reasonable Doubt” Jay-Z. This isn’t “Blueprint” Jay-Z. This is a whole new incarnation. He rides beats like “I Know” with an agility he was missing on Kingdom Come. His double entendre game is impeccably hard on “Roc Boys” and “Party Life”. He absolutely destroys a flip of an Eminem verse (“Slim Shady” off of The Marshall Mather’s LP) on “Success”, and I defy even the most ardent of haters to find something truly wrong with “No Hook” and “Ignorant Shit”. Plus! The bonus track, “American Gangster” is a clever nod to “Show Me What You Got”, Jay-Z’s most maligned single ever. The beat is almost identical to SMWYG, but Jay-Z is in tip-top lyrical shape.

Fave Verse- “Ignorant Shit”. It’s ridiculous final salvo from Jay gives it the nod over “No Hook”.

Who he got on the album? They aight?– Vocal Guest Stars are limited to Nas, Lil’ Wayne, Pharrell, and Beanie Sigel. Nas complements Hov’s sick verses on “Success” like nobody’s business. I cosign the blogger from Hip-Hop DX who said they need to put out an EP. Lil’ Wayne is okay. Very respectful verse considering the amount of hype/drama the internet and print media have put into the Jay-Z vs Lil’ Wayne “beef”. Pharrell does another hook that his voice will never be able to recreate live, but it’s a good hook indeed. Sigel really only shows up for a second and basically to give a breather to Jay [||] on “Ignorant Shit”. From what I remember, Beans did okay. Nothing too extraordinary one way or the other.

Cool, Cool. Anything Else?- Jay does a bunch of subtle little slick things to take shots at his critics and his contemporaries. Jay’s punchlines are similar in style–at times–to Lil’ Wayne, who is overrated severely, but still the “consensus” pick for Best Rapper right now. Yes, Jay’s are stylistically similar, but his wit and intelligence shows that what Weezy can do, Hov can–and for the last 11 years, has–done/do better.

Some tracks kiiinda interrupt the narrative ala “No Hook” and “Ignorant Shit”, but the storytelling is incredible. Seeing the movie helped a great deal to visualize it all. Also, the fact that one of the album’s Bonus Tracks, “Blue Magic”, takes us into the next phase in the drug czar life–the 80’s crack epidemic, Nino Brown ish–is awesome. Kind of a “Coming Soon” after all the 70’s mafioso stuff.

Overall Rating– Here at It Ain’t That Serious, we’ve given a lot of thought about what kind of rating we would use on our reviews. I can’t do mics, t-shirt sizes are just silly, and stars are boring. I’ve chosen to use: Boobs.

A Cup = Terrible. Aural Herpes.

B Cup = Ehh, has it’s moments.

C Cup = Just over the line into “Good territory”.

D Cup = Enjoyment has been attained. Brag to your buddies.

DD Cup = Perfection. Line up for High 5s, you lucky bastard.

I’m quite confident that this is Jay-Z’s best work to date. That’s right. I think it’s better than “The Blueprint” and better than “Reasonable Doubt”. Both are classics, but they are from Jay-Z at his primative stages. It’d be like saying High School Michael Jordan was better than College Jordan, or that Tarheel MJ was better than NBA Mike. This is Jay combining the eager narratives of “Reasonable Doubt” with the wit and wisdom of “The Blueprint”. Put them together and you have a Classic.

This album is a homerun, and it’s earning the DD Cup rating. I know you will disagree with me and say, “Oh, Kanye got a Perfect Score too.. You give everything a high score.” No, No. The rating is because this album is incredible, not because “everything else sucks”, or because I’m a Stan. The rating is because the beats are cohesive and excellent. The rating is because the rhymes, punchlines, narration…are all top notch.

Call Reynolds, cuz it’s a wrap.

Lastly, For everyone that wants to say that 2007 Jay-Z is “Jordan with the Wizards”, I say this:

Michael Jordan retired in Summer 1993. He came back in late winter 1995. He lead the Bulls to a middle-of-the-pack playoff spot. They defeated the Charlotte Hornets (of Muggsy, LJ, and ‘Zo) in 4 games and went on to the next round. Their opponent, The Orlando Magic, beat the Bulls in 6 games.

Kingdom Come is the 1995 Michael Jordan losing to the Magic.

The next year, the Bulls went 72-10, beat my Knicks 4-1 in the Second Round, went on to sweep the Magic in the next round, then defeated the Seattle SuperSonics in the NBA Finals to win MJ’s fourth championship.

Jay-Z’s American Gangster = 1995-1996 Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls. Ya’ll can cut the “Wizards” shit right now, cuz you just look silly.

Remember: It ain’t that serious.

*b-boy stance*

Thanks for checking in and reading all that.


 PS– State of Grace Says:
November 10th, 2007 at 10:36 pm

Nice review, even if you got the Eminem song wrong (it’s I’m Back).

Dangit. Props to S of G for correcting me.


21 Responses to “Jay-Z ~ American Gangster (an IATS Review)”

  1. Son of Ether Says:

    Good fucking job on the review..I read all that shit..but Jayz still sucks..once you get ethered..you stay ethered(c)Father of Ether

  2. reythehussein Says:

    lol @ Son of Ether…

    “I got stronger after ‘ether’.” –Jay-Z, “Brooklyn High”.

  3. JANGZ Says:

    Nice review dude…loved the album also (no homo). Im gonna disagree that it’s his best album because Reasonable Doubt for me will always be #1. I think it’s equal with Vol 1, and the Blueprint for a close 2nd. Agree with the rating I would’ve given it 4.5 tho coz I think Hello Brooklyn could’ve been dropped. Good lookin out


  4. reythehussein Says:

    Well, Hello Brooklyn gets points for being a remake.. Plus, It reminded me fo that scene in New Jack City where they’re fighting rival people and just getting the business off the ground.

    I think RD and Vol 1 are about equal.. It had a couple clunkers, but t’be honest, I thought the end of RD dipped a bit.. I thought this album was strong all the way through.

    Blueprint is just that, a blueprint for his stuff and for the whole industry in 2001-2004.

    Thanks for checking in, Bounty Hunter.

  5. State of Grace Says:

    Nice review, even if you got the Eminem song wrong (it’s I’m Back). I fully co-sign, I’ve been listening to this album steady since I stole it. Yeah, fuck off, I stole it. I stole an unfinished copy with missing tracks, I stole the proper copy, and then the other day I cruised down to the store to get the real thing since the sound quality on the cd is unmatched. Top notch beats, amazing rhymes/flow, and most impressive, he made a proper ALBUM in the era of ADD. Maybe I’ll have to do my own review. Anyone who denies this album’s greatness gets a top shelf (a.k.a. the upper decker) from me. For those not in the know, that’s when you take the top off a toilet and drop a deuce in there so when someone flushes they get…well, it ain’t good.

  6. reythehussein Says:

    @ S of G– What are you lookin’ at, Butthead? Dangit. I thought it was “Slim Shady”. I’ll have to fix that.

    I’m okay with stealing and then copping as long as you don’t make fun of me for not stealing.

    Yessir, I didn’t even talk about that–but it’s true.. Nobody does full albums anymore with themes and junk, but Hovi did it. Heck, Kingdom Come was so heavy-handed at times that I wouldn’t consider it truly cohesive.

    LOL.. I know what an Upper Decker is, and thankfully, I’ve never pissed anyone off that bad.

    Thanks for checking in, Homey–Do that review!


  7. JANGZ Says:

    Cosign it was “I’m back” but no biggie (no pun intended). I guess u could say first half of RD was better than second but Cashmere thoughts is 1 of my favourite cuts still. Peep this: “Jay-Z mentioned on the YES Network’s “CenterStage with Michael Kay” show that if he could do one thing in his career over, it would be Vol. 1, claiming that “it [the cd] was this close to being a classic, but I put like, a few songs on there that ruined it.” Example is that he was referring to “I Know What Girls Like” and “(Always Be My) Sunshine”, both of which were produced by Bad Boy beatmakers and criticized as a commercialization of his sound.” Co-sign Jigga with that, but Bad boy and Hitmen came through with this album so I cant hate.

    Bounty Hunter out, 1

  8. reythehussein Says:

    That’s true.. Redemption!

    You know what I hate? I hate that “The City is Mine” gets grouped in with those two. I think that one is a good nod to that era of 80’s sampling, plus it’s an ode to BIG, and a foreshadowing of things to come.

    Props, Jango.

  9. G7 Says:

    jay came through on this one. great way to bounce back from KC. But there’s now way its better than RD or BP.

  10. State of Grace Says:

    I think the only reason Rey really liked AG is so he could listen to some Weezy F Baby without feeling like he betrayed himself. lol, I can almost see steam coming out of Rey’s ears, but don’t do it Rey, it’ll shrink your fitted down to a 634 9/4. As for Vol. 1, I think it’s an underrated classic and *sheepish look* I kinda like those two songs. Sunshine was my intro to Jay and I still like the beat. As for What Girls Like, the drums on it are impeccably hard. Turn it up real loud and listen just to the drum sound, accented by the sword-noise. I think The City is Mine is a classic too, real smooth and perfect for driving around downtown in (any big city, I’m partial to mine).

    BTW, feel free to add “top shelf” to your lexicon for horrible things that were inflicted on you unnecessarily, it’s quickly become a word of choice in my circle of friends. Sample usage: “Man, I just saw that Transformers movie. The acting, the plot, the indecipherable blurs of action, the product placement, it was top shelf all the way.” Or: “That Paris Hilton is one top shelf broad. I’d rather watch Richard Simmons fuck my dad than let my dick be in the same room as that gutterslut.”

  11. pockets Says:

    that was such a kick ass review

    i saw the AG flick last nite and i can honestly say i can understand and appreciate jays cd much more

  12. reythehussein Says:

    @ Siete– I stand by my earlier statement, but your opinion is respected!

    @ S of G- Weezy is a curiosity.. I’m interested in what he has to say, but out of the 3543 verses I’ve heard from dude, I’ve only really heard 1 song, and that was “Gossip”. I dug it, even tho’ he’s basically remaking “The Blueprint” 6 years later. Give it up, Weezy. That’d be like a 4 year old fingerpainter (none) trying to re-do the ceiling of The Sistine Chapel.

    Also: I can’t believe you didn’t like Transformers. *calls DHS*

    @ 2Pock– Thank you, sir. Yeah–I’m glad I watched the movie first.

    Thanks to all for checking in

  13. Big Homie Says:

    Excellent post Rey. The album is off the hook

  14. Vizion Says:

    holy monkey balls i can’t believe i just read that…and liked it.

    good write-up. I literally LOL on the back history!

  15. reythehussein Says:

    lol.. Thank you, Vizion.

  16. i Fux aka Etheraldinho Says:

    Nice review homie, at least you went back to cop all the rest of Jay’s albums.That was necessary to get your Stan game up. Good Job

  17. CAPS ON LOCK Says:

    “Hello Brooklyn 2.0″ being kinda misplaced, and “Sweet” kinda dragging.

    Totally agree with that,Sweet has a sweet instrumental but the rhymes…hummmm..reclycled ”once again it’s the life…” and i’m also amazed by the fact that im gettin addicted to I Know suprisingly cause Lord knows I can’t stand Jay-Z’s 1st singles à la Blue Magic (super happy that it’s in the bonus cuts but it would fit more if Hello bk switched position with Blue Magic)

  18. CAPS ON LOCK Says:

    Sorry but…

    1 – Reasonable Doubt
    2 – The Blueprint
    3 – The Black Album/AG
    4 – Vol. 1 (and yess I loved Sunshine and The city is mine (n/h))

    what’s your top jay CDs??

  19. reythehussein Says:

    @ C on L– I suppose the gag there is that your comment was grammatically and punctuationally correct?

    Sorry, I’m cranky. Moving on…

    Well, I think Blue Magic was good in the sense that it was “What’s Next?” in terms of the drug dealer “evolution”. I think it’s 80s sound would’ve thrown off the vibe of the album. It can be argued that Hello BK did the same thing, but I think it fit in well.

    “I know” is f’n bananas.. I hate the neptunes but I really like that joint.

    as for my top Jay CDs..

    I’d have to go with:

    1. AG– The Evolution of Shawn Carter has reached it’s Zenith.
    2. The Blueprint- Changed the entire music landscape for years.
    3. Reasonable Doubt– “Can I Live” hits hard. [||]
    4. The Black Album- Lyrically incredible.. Couple of production mis-steps.
    5. Volume 1- Sunshine’s beat and “I know what girls like” doom an otherwise stellar album.

    —>I’m sure those can all be switched around, but you’re really safe with any of those.

    The Blueprint and The Black Album are (and this is gonna sound dumb) easier to listen to because Hov isn’t going super-slick or too fast with his lyrics.

    The other 3 are so crazy lyrcally and delivery-wise that you really can’t bump them in a car like that. IMO, they’re headphone music when you wanna zone out and delve into the lyrics.

    Thanks for checking in, hope you enjoyed my response Novel.

  20. State of Grace Says:

    I gotta disagree with you Rey, AG, RD, and Vol. 1 all sound amazing in the car. Vol. 1 was my summer soundtrack for weeks this year (Sunshine sounds a lot better when there’s actual sunshine to enjoy and The City is Mine when driving into a big city at night? Bananas. It’s especially nice when the Science Centre’s huge geometric dome is all lit up.). I had a burned AG in my car before I got the real deal, and the sound on it in my car is amazing. My friend and I got nice and baked listening to it on the way to the theatre to see the movie, so good. Expect an album review really soon that may or may not incorporate elements of the movie. I’m going on for real on this one. Oh, and I’m selling shirts soon, so start digging through your couch for change, cashing in empties, etc. Maybe we can have a XXXXXXL one printed up and you can wear it as a do-rag.

  21. reythehussein Says:

    6XL? Hmm… Wouldn’t you need to hold onto those for your GF and mom to wear? Hi-Yo!

    I guess I’ll have to try those in the car sometime.

    Cosign the driving thing tho’.. Back in December 2005 I was in Orlando visiting with my older brother and we were listening to “Poppin’ My Collar” by the Three Six Mafia while driving in his lincoln into downtown Orlando at sunset. It was awesome. That memory alone helps me turn a blind eye to their reality show nonsense.

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