Jay-Z may have left the Brooklyn underworld more than a decade ago to establish himself as one of the most successful figures in the music industry, but that didn't stop him from revisiting his dark past on "American Gangster," his 10th studio album in 12 years. Inspired by the Ridley Scott film of the same name, Jay-Z weaves tales of a young drug dealer over 70s soul beats to mixed, but mostly positive, results.
When "American Gangster" sticks to its theme, Jay-Z is at his best. The album's sequence follows a dope dealer's genesis ("Pray" and "American Dreamin'"), his peak of success ("Party Life") and inevitable downfall ("Fallin'"). Unfortunately, songs like "Hello Brooklyn 2.0" and lead single "Blue Magic" share little musically or lyrically with the album's theme and dampen the overall concept. "Hello Brooklyn 2.0," featuring the grossly overrated Lil Wayne, is a sloppy and sparse ode to Jay-Z's hometown.
"American Gangster" mostly shines, though. The Nas-assisted "Success" is a gritty anthem chronicling the cocky climax of a crime lord, while the celebratory horn-driven "Roc Boys" is the funkiest Jay-Z single in years. The album may go over the heads of younger hip-hop fans, but longtime fans seeking a return to "Reasonable Doubt"-era Jay-Z will appreciate the mature themes and sheer musicality of "American Gangster."