"Damn that’s it?"
Those were exactly the words I said after I finished Jay-Z’s album “Kingdom Come” in my apartment. I have only listened to that album all the way through twice since it’s release 11 years ago. It was the first Hov album that I could definitely call straight up wack. I could say that about Vol 3 but Vol 3 has “Dope Man” on it so I wouldn’t dare but Kingdom Come was Jay-Z’s Michael Jordan Wizards album. Just like Michael could put up 20 points per game at 40 against the young guns of the league, Jay-Z's lyricism was still there and could compete with all the young guns in hip-hop but it was just some of the worse songwriting of his career and as for Michael Jordan he was on the worse team of his career. The pain in my chest I felt after hearing Kingdom Come hurt my soul.
There was so much uncertainty about where Jay-Z would go from that point. He was called everything under the sun except great. He was washed, old, and delusional. They said his era and reign was officially over. Ask everyone around that time and they’d tell you Kingdom Come was the final nail in the coffin for Hov. I didn’t believe that shit for one second though. If you're the kind of Hov fan I am then you know one thing that is very true about Jay-Z and that he hates to be embarrassed. I never met the man yet but by the way he moves, embarrassment is something he does not tolerate. Especially in the public eye. I knew this wasn’t it for him. I knew he’d come back stronger. I just had no fucking idea it would be a classic album he’d deliver the next go round.
When I first seen the trailer for the motion picture American Gangster I was already all in. It was a automatic 12 midnight visit to the theaters the night it was released for me. Hov’s “Heart Of The City” playing in the trailer and providing the soundtrack just made that shit so much more realer. Who knew Hov had the true and actual soundtrack waiting in the wings to let the world know he’s still the greatest rapper to ever do it.
I literally counted down days on Facebook til November 6th. I’m sure I was annoying as fuck. I took off work. I cleared all plans. I was in a relationship at the time and I remember my ex sending me this angry Myspace message saying “Jay-Z more important to you than me.” Of course I lied at the time and told her that wasn’t the case when she threatened to break up with me but she was right. Hov was more important than her. Did she make the intro to the Dynasty album? No. Did she rap the masterful third verse of Takeover? No way. Did she write Can I Live? Fuck no. There was no competition to be had. No comparison. Case closed.
I woke up at 8am on November 6, 2007 and I was just watching the clock for when Best Buy would open. I drove like a maniac to the store and was in and out like a quickie. Hopped in my car, ripped that shit open, annnnnnnnnd...........
“Man I worked for had one of the biggest companies in New York City. He didn’t own his own company white man owned it so they owned him. Nobody owns me though………..*Gunshot*”
When the beat dropped I was like “THE GOD M.C BOUT TO KILL THIS SHIT!” Then I was sitting there looking stupid as fuck. I wasn’t mad though because it was probably the best non rapping intro in music history. Idris Elba sounded convincing with the speech he delivered on it. I was so nervous to listen to this shit but I had a feeling it would be special.
Ladies and Gentlemen…… American Gangster.
Looking back on this album I think it was dope for so many reasons outside of the actual music.
We saw Hov the most excited for an album we’ve ever seen. We seen him the most inspired he’s ever been. Every time he would talk about it he just had so much excitement. I loved how he described the atmosphere he recorded in. He said he had the movie playing 24/7 while in the studio recording the project. That’s what I encourage artists today to do. Share the process. We’re interested in the process.
Second, we saw the the reunion of “The Hitmen” on this album. One of the most legendary production teams in the history of music. Diddy and Hov teaming up for American Gangster was so left field. Not because there was bad blood or anything of that nature but one of our flaws in music and in our culture is that we separate from each other. We compete with each other. We don’t collaborate with each other. We saw 2 moguls put ego aside and put their all into this one project and create something timeless. Also the other legendary producers that helped didn’t steer off the path of the sound of the album. Jermaine Dupri showed his versatility. Toomp had a monster. Just Blaze was Just Blaze. The Neptunes stayed true to their sound but made it fit American Gangster.
Every song just meshed together. The samples were so crucial for the sound and The Hitmen production reminded me of the production of the first Biggie album. That soulful 70’s sound. There were no points in the album where felt “This song doesn’t belong here.” Even the Hello Brooklyn track where everyone wondered why Weezy was featured on it. The production matched the gritty New York feel the album was going for since the story took place.
Hov stayed on topic which was huge for the album to work. Taking bits and pieces from the actual film and incorporating them into the songs. You usually see artists try to make conceptual albums and they never make any sense because they fall off the subject after 3 songs and just insert random songs that sound great but don’t fit the album at all.
I can’t tell you how many times I was going through some shit and I just let “American Dreamin” play while I plot on how to get back on my feet. Making bitter beer face listening to the vicious statement that is “No Hook.” Wanting to drive to Cadillac while “Sweet” playing with a beautiful independent black sista passenger side. The brilliant and clever addict anthem that is “I Know.” The way Hov held court and took the crown off and came off the throne momentarily just to prove a point on “Ignorant Shit.” Especially on that second verse. You knew no one was fucking with the God then the Beanie Sigel feature was so refreshing to hear. And I know damn well everybody on Earth ran “Say Hello” back like 747487 times after they first heard it. I was stuck on that song for so damn long I thought I would never finish the album. Then “Success” in my opinion was Hov rapping like “There is no way in hell Nas will outshine me on this track and I’m gonna Jordan shrug on all my critics who buried me after Kingdom Come." It just had that feel.
Hov brought out so many emotions that were missing from the film. Like what is the thought process of losing it all because your success consumed you. How does it feel to have a chance to have a legit hustle but still choose the underworld. What goes on in the mind of an addict? He went deeper than the movie could which is why the album was a home run conceptually.
This album caused so many debates. I remember niggas saying it was trash. I remember niggas saying it was low ranking in his discography. Truth is. American Gangster is Hov’s best album. I’m a Reasonable Doubt fan through and through. I love The Blueprint but this album is his best for the fact that Hov was buried and written off. He responded to the pressure. He was no longer in his prime and pulled this off during the runs and primes of the likes of Kanye, Weezy, and Lupe Fiasco. He showed all facets of his game on this album. Storytelling throughout, straight bars, flow, witty wordplay, Jay was in his bag on this album. It also aged well. You can play the album today and it doesn’t feel outdated. Pour one and light one and celebrate 10 years of a true musical masterpiece....... American Gangster.