American Gangster (Roc-A-Fella)
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American Gangster is one hell of a comeback album. For Diddy. Alongside his production team, The Hitmen, Sean Combs produces the album’s hottest tracks, “Pray,” and “Roc Boys (And The Winner Is),” outshining hit makers like the Neptunes and Jermaine Dupri. As for Jay-Z, let’s hope he finally makes good on his promise to retire. It’s not that this wasn’t a good premise. Jay saw an advanced screening of the namesake flick, the story goes, and was inspired to write a batch of songs. But instead of focusing on the movie’s subject, Harlem heroin dealer Frank Lucas, the album is almost all about Jay – the old, drug-dealing Jay, that is. While musically more solid than his last CD, Kingdom Come – on which Jay ruminated on his monied, corporate existence -- American Gangster nonetheless feels less authentic. The emphasis on his hustling days is a calculated attempt to recapture the hunger of his debut, Reasonable Doubt. “This is the ignorant shit you like,” he raps on “Ignorant Shit.” It’s too bad the man who some call the greatest emcee ever feels the need to pander to his audience. -- Ben Westhoff