American Gangster (album)

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American Gangster is the tenth studio album by rapper Jay-Z. It was released on November 6, 2007 in the United States. American Gangster is Jay-Z's first concept album, which was inspired by the film of the same name. The album features production from Diddy & The Hitmen, Just Blaze, and The Neptunes, among others. Guest appearances include Beanie Sigel, Lil Wayne, and Nas. Jay-Z released the a cappella version of the album on his birthday, December 4, 2007.

Music critics praised American Gangster,[1] and noted that Jay-Z was trying more "complex lyrics".[2] The album was released to significant commercial success, despite being pulled from the iTunes Store,[3] selling 425,861 copies in its first week and debuting at number one on the Billboard 200, tying Elvis Presley for the second most number one albums.[4] Rolling Stone named American Gangster the third best album of 2007.[5]



Jay-Z originally stated he recorded nine tracks for the album,[6] but the final track listing accumulated fifteen overall cuts (two bonus tracks). He also stated that almost every song is based on a specific scene from the film.[6] Def Jam executive Tracey Waples noted each track from the album will have its own "mini-film".[7] As for the direction of the album, Jay-Z used personal memories he hadn't touched on in a while, specifically memories from his early life when he lived in Brooklyn's Marcy Projects.[8]

On November 9, 2007, Jay-Z appeared on the Charlie Rose Show to discuss the album.[9] When asked about how the film gave life to this album, he replied:

It's a New York City tale, you know. So as soon as the movie came on, it was like familiar, things that my pop seen and my uncles seen and, you know, different things like that, things I've seen growing up. So they resonated with me in a way, the story, as well as, I mean, even though everything happens, you know, the way it turns out, you know, it's one of those movies that where you champion the good guy, because the good guy, you know, he don't seem like a bad guy, and the bad guy — I mean the good guys are bad. You know, that complex — the complexity of human beings in this thing was amazing to me. I loved the complexity of the human beings.[10]

Removal from iTunes

Jay-Z pulled American Gangster from the popular iTunes Store. Jay-Z stated "as movies are not sold scene by scene, this collection will not be sold as individual singles."[3] However, the album is available for digital download, in its entirety, at, and[3] Those who pre-ordered and paid for the entire album from iTunes were still able to download it.


On October 21, 2007, Jay-Z announced his American Gangster Live tour to promote the album. Jay-Z stated that he would only perform material from American Gangster. The tour consist of five smaller sized venues across the U.S., starting on November 6, 2007 in L.A. and ending on November 12, 2007 in Philadelphia.[11] According to a statement on the Roc-A-Fella website, the five-city club tour sold out in less than 60 seconds.[12]

Recording sessions

Jay-Z would have the film—American Gangster—playing on the monitors above the recording booth to keep him inspired.[13] In an interview with MTV producer LV from The Hitmen said:

Jay would have the beats...He'd do the record, and he'd send it back to us. We'd fill in the blanks as far as making them full records. From having live horns, live strings, live drummers. This percussion dude, he was coming in with bottles, banging on bottles, just sprinkles of shit. We went all out. We brought in musicians to bring it out. Jay probably just heard a sample and some drums. Once we got the vocals back, we brought in all the extra candy.[14]



All Music Guide says that "And that might be the most common complaint about the album — it's really just another case of Jay-Z being Jay-Z, albeit with different presentation. Unless you know each verse from Reasonable Doubt through Kingdom Come, it might sound like he's dealing with no variation on well-worn themes, the exact same thoughts and emotions that make up older tracks about his past as a drug dealer — the rise, the arrogance, the conflictedness, the fall, and all stages in between."[15]

Pitchfork Media reviewer Tom Breihan noted that "'No Hook' has some of the most complicated rhyme-patterns he's tried in years":[2]

Stay outta trouble, momma said, as momma sighed
Her fear her youngest son be a victim of homicide

But I gotta get you outta here momma, or I'mma die...inside.
—Jay-Z, "No Hook"

Although Jay-Z says American Gangster was inspired by the movie of the same name, he touches on the topics of censorship and the Jena 6 controversy:[16]

And if Al Sharpton is speaking for me
Somebody get him the word and tell him I don't approve
Tell him I'll remove the curses
If you tell me our schools gon' be perfect

When Jena 6 don't exist Tell him THAT's when I'll stop saying bitch—BIIITCH!
—Jay-Z, "Say Hello"


Beanie Sigel and Lil Wayne are two of the few featured guest spots on the album, in which Sigel appears on the new version of "Ignorant Shit", and follower Lil Wayne joins Jay-Z on the Beastie Boys-sampling "Hello Brooklyn 2.0".[17] It is reported that Jay will return the favor on Wayne's album, Tha Carter III. Also, fellow New York rapper and once rival Nas, is featured on the No I.D.-produced track "Success", while the Neo soul singer Bilal sings the hook on "Fallin'", but is not officially credited.[17]


The Neptunes provide production twice on the album, with the first single "Blue Magic" which is actually a bonus track, and the eighth track "I Know".[18] Diddy and two of his producers known as LV & Sean C, who are from his production team The Hitmen, are responsible for six tracks on the album. They are credited with the second single "Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)...", "American Dreamin'" (where his other production partner Mario Winans assists), "No Hook", "Party Life", "Pray", and finally "Sweet".[18]

DJ Toomp delivers one track for the album, while Just Blaze is credited for a bonus track and the re-make of "Ignorant Shit".[18] Kanye West mentor No I.D. gives two tracks also, one which he co-produces with Jermaine Dupri and vice versa.[18] Finally, three lesser known producers lend hand to the "Intro", which is credited to Chris Flames and co-production from Idris "Driis" Elba, while Bigg D produces the Beastie Boys sampling-Lil Wayne assisted track, "Hello Brooklyn 2.0".[18]


Two singles have been released from American Gangster. The first, "Blue Magic", was released on September 20, 2007, peaking at 55 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100,[19] 31 on the U.S. Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs,[20] and 17 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Rap Tracks.[21] The track's name is a reference to the kind of heroin that Frank Lucas sold in the movie American Gangster, the CD even came in a package similar to the one the heroin came in. The second single, "Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)..." was released on October 10, 2007, and reached 63 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100,[22] 15 on the U.S. Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs,[23] and 8 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Rap Tracks.[24]

A Cappella CD

Like Jay-Z's 2003 album The Black Album, Jay-Z released an a cappella version of American Gangster. Released in December of 2007, the a cappella version of the CD caused a string of remix and mash-up albums by both fans and professional DJs/producers alike. Although none of the remix or mash-up albums have yet reached the public notoriety of The Black Album's The Grey Album, several versions of the CD have made their way into the mainstream.

Several of the notable American Gangster Remix albums are listed below:


American Gangster debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and Top Rap Album charts selling 425,861 records in the United States its first week.[4] American Gangster is Jay-Z's tenth number one album officially tying him with Elvis Presley for the second highest number of number one albums behind The Beatles.[27] As of March 3, 2008, American Gangster has sold 1,014,905 copies in the United States.[28]

American Gangster debuted at number two on the United World Chart behind Long Road Out of Eden by The Eagles, selling approximately 457,000 copies.[29] As of December 8, 2007, American Gangster has sold approximately 1,882,000 copies worldwide.[30]


American Gangster received universal acclaim from music critics.[1] Rolling Stone said that American Gangster "definitely doesn't have any fluff like Kingdom Come's '30 Something' or 'Beach Chair.' Jay sounds relaxed, no longer worried about impressing anyone. Instead, he follows the story from the uptown dope-king ambition of 'American Dreamin' ' to the big-payback crash of "Fallin'."[31] Entertainment Weekly also added "While Jay-Z does not make the ambitious leap of trying to write from Lucas' point of view, he does use the film's story and period vibe to color his own elaborate legend. On 'American Dreamin',' a Marvin Gaye sample provides the backdrop as Jay-Z wistfully recounts his early days as a wannabe dealer, scheming with his buddies."[32] All Music Guide wrote that "While several tracks connected to specific scenes are also rooted in productions trading in the regal grit that made up so much '70s soul, the album is not a straight narrative, broken up by tracks like the boom-clap of 'Hello Brooklyn 2.0' (produced by Bigg D) and the glitzed-out pair of 'I Know' (a half-icing Neptunes layer cake) and 'Ignorant Shit' (where Just Blaze transforms the Isleys' quiet storm staple 'Between the Sheets' into a high-gloss anthem)."[15]

Track listing

# Title Songwriter(s) Producer(s) Featured guest(s) Sample(s) Time
1 "Intro" Chris Flame, co-produced by Idris "Driis" Elba 2:00
2 "Pray" Carter, S./Combs, S./Coppin, L./Hawkshaw, A./Matthews, D. Diddy and LV & Sean C for The Hitmen 4:24
3 "American Dreamin'" Carter, S./Combs, S./Coppin, L./Gaye, M./Matthews, D./Ross, A./Ware, L. Diddy and LV & Sean C, co-produced by Mario Winans for The Hitmen
  • "Soon I'll Be Loving You Again" by Marvin Gaye
  • Background vocals: Keon Bryce
4 "Hello Brooklyn 2.0" Baker, D./Carter, D./Carter, S. Bigg D Lil Wayne 3:55
5 "No Hook" Carter, S./Combs, S./Coppin, L./Matthews, D./White, B. Diddy and LV & Sean C for The Hitmen
  • Contains dialogue from the motion picture American Gangster, dialogue excerpts spoken by Denzel Washington
  • "Love Serenade" by Barry White
  • Vocals: Jayms Madison
6 "Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)..." Brenneck, T./Carter, S./Combs, S./Coppin, L./Deller, M./Guy, D./Mann, B./Matthews, D./Michels, L. Diddy and LV & Sean C for The Hitmen 4:12
7 "Sweet" Carter, S./Combs, S./Coppin, L./Love, R./Matthews, D. Diddy and LV & Sean C for The Hitmen
  • "Does Your Mama Know" by Rudy Love & The Love Family
  • Additional vocals: Cassie Ventuta, Carmen Cameron and A.J. Walker
8 "I Know" Carter, S./Williams, P. The Neptunes 3:42
9 "Party Life" Carter, S./Combs, S./Coppin, L./Hale, W./Matthews, D./Stone, D. Diddy and LV & Sean C for The Hitmen
  • "Get into the Party Life" by Little Beaver
  • Vocals: Shannon Jones
10 "Ignorant Shit" Carter, S./Grant, D./Isley, M./Isley, O./Isley, R./Smith, J./Isley, Ernie/Jasper, Chris Just Blaze Beanie Sigel 3:41
11 "Say Hello" Brocker, T./Carter, S./Davis, A. DJ Toomp
  • "The Love We Share Is the Greatest of Them All" by Tom Brock
  • Background vocals: Rhonda Robinson
12 "Success" Carter, S./Ellis, L./Jones, N./Wilson, E. No I.D., co-produced by Jermaine Dupri Nas
  • Contains dialogue from the motion picture American Gangster, dialogue excerpts spoken by Armand Assante
  • "Funky Thing (Part 1)" by Larry Ellis & The Black Hammer
  • Background vocals: Juan "OG" Perez
13 "Fallin'" Carter, S./Dupri, J./Hester, T. Jermaine Dupri, co-produced by No I.D. 4:06
14* "Blue Magic" Carter, S./Ellis, T./Foster, D./Herron, C./Jones, M./Kaun, B./McElroy, T./Robinson, D./Williams, P. The Neptunes
  • Contains dialogue from the motion picture American Gangster, dialogue excerpts spoken by Denzel Washington
  • Contains dialogue from the motion picture Frankenstein Directed by James Whale
  • "Hold On" by En Vogue
  • Additional vocals: Pharrell
15* "American Gangster" Carter, S./Mayfield, C./Smith, J. Just Blaze 3:37

An asterisk (*) indicates a bonus track.


Information taken from All Music Guide.[33]

  • Producers – Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter (exec.), Antonio "L.A." Reid (exec.), Diddy & The Hitmen (LV & Sean C, Mario Winans) (assoc.), Bigg D, Chris Flame, DJ Toomp, Idris "Driis" Elba, Jermaine Dupri, Just Blaze, No I.D., The Neptunes
  • Engineers – Andrew Wright, Jordan "DJ Swivel" Young, Victor Abijaudi, Gimel "Young Guru" Katon, Angelo Aponte, Andrew Coleman, Seth Firkins, Cedric Hollywood Jr., Derrick Selby, Darin Smith, Ryan West, Hector Delgado
  • Assistant engineers – Heather Boyden, Andy Geel, Matthew Testa
  • Assistant – Hart Gunther, Josh Houghkirk, Anthony Palazzole, Anthony Palazzole, Jordan Young "DJ Swivel"
  • Vocals – Keon Bryce, Cheri Dennis, Idris Elba, Leisa Johnson, Shannon Jones, Beyoncé Knowles, Jayms Madison, Jayms Madison, Adonis Stropshire, Cassandra Ventura, A.J. Walker, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Angela Wood
  • Mixing – Victor Abijaudi, Duro, Chad Hugo, Jermaine Dupri, Supa Engineer "Dura", Gimel "Young Guru" Katon, Hector Delgado
  • Bass – Arden Altino, Ed Goldson, James Lewis
  • Cello – Jeanne LeBlanc, Eileen Moon
  • Drums – Still Phil, Mario Winans
  • Fender Rhodes – Arden Altino
  • Guitar – Ed Goldson, James Lewis, Marty Reid

  • Keyboards – Arden Altino
  • Piano – Arden Altino
  • Sax – Andy Snitzer, Kenneth Whalum
  • Strings – Arden Altino, Timon Abuptah, Sandra Park, Mario Winans
  • Trombone – Mike David, Saunders Sermons
  • Trumpet – Keyon Harrold, Jeff Kievit
  • Viola – Dawn Hannay, Sue Pray
  • Violin – Sandra Park, Minyoung Chang, Lisa Kim, Matthew Lehmann, Liza Lim, Sarah OBoyle, Jeanine Wynton, Sharon Yamada
  • Design – Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, J. Peter Robinson
  • Art Direction – Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, J. Peter Robinson
  • Photography – Arthur Elgort, J. Peter Robinson, Hype Williams
  • Arranger – Kenneth Wallum, Hector Delgado
  • A&R – Carline Balan, Carter Administration, Terese Joseph
  • Stylist – June Ambrose
  • Mastering – Tony Dawsey
  • Percussion – Bashiri Johnson
  • Sample Clearance – Eric Weissman
  • Programming – Drew Hollywood
  • Editing – Hector Delgado

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