He Still Isn’t Done
The theme of Jay-Z’s tenth album and the second released after his alleged retirement is related to the motion picture American Gangster. Jay-Z not only uses dialogue extracted from the film in various tracks, but uses the plot of the movie as a backdrop to his lyrical genius.American Gangster is nothing like previous Jay-Z albums, mainly due to the funk influence of the 1960s and 1970s found on nearly every track. The album was heavily influenced by the movie’s antagonist Frank Lucas, a major heroin dealer during that time. The album’s intro track features narration by Angel Wood and several monologues by Denzel Washington (as Lucas) impressing upon the listener that “if you believe in Jay-Z, then you too can be a gangster.”
The album continues with “Pray,” sounding very similar to Mobb Deep’s “Pray For Me” not only in musical influence and female commentary but also in lyrics: “I didn’t choose this life, it chose me.” Several songs include collaborations with Lil’ Wayne and Nas, such as “Brooklyn” and “Success.” These partnerships create a much more relaxed rap, consisting of intense rhymes and thoroughly planned lyrics. Coupled with the rhythmic choices on the album, this makes for an innovative soundtrack that is complementary to its film counterpart.
Several samples are featured on the album, most notably Marvin Gaye’s “Soon I’ll Be Loving You Again” found in “American Dreamin’.” The Hova elaborates on the vicious cycle of drug dealing and “the game” while Marvin Gaye enhances the chorus with his laid-back tone. Jay-Z then tells of his own source for relaxation in “Sweet,” stating that “my influence is the same / and my therapy is music.”
Gangster is a bumping soundtrack that emphasizes Jay-Z’s usual themes of his gangster life and motivations as the king of rap, relating them to the historical context of the motion picture. And now, his music is our therapy.