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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Ode to an American gangster

Published: October 5, 2007
Section: Arts, Etc.

With the ever growing popularity of stories of gangsters lives, rapper and self-proclaimed former hustler, Jay-Z sees it fit to go into the studio and take it back to basics.

Jay-Z's next project will be entitled American Gangster after the upcoming Denzel Washington movie of the same name.

After watching a pre-screening of the film, Mr. Sean Carter (aka Jay-Z) conceded that hes never heard of notorious drug lord Frank Lucas, the African-American protagonist of the film whose exploits garnered so much attention because he was, for a time, more influential than the mafia.

Mr. Carter, after having watched the film decided that he wanted to take it back to the '80s. His rapping style, album personae and general public image have all shifted in the midst of his new effort. Now Im Jigga says Mr. Carter, referring to one of his original aliases before he became more popularly know as “Hova.”

This proclamation is one of many clues that tell us Jay means business and that he will not present himself on the album as a sophisticated, successful black icon but a drug dealer, a hustler.

In this album, Jay-Z seeks to not only juxtapose himself with Frank Lucas, but differentiate himself, who he views as a true American gangster, from all the gimmicks now prevalent in pop culture.

Ever since Jay-Z famous freestyle turned song, known popularly as Dear Summer, Mr. Carter has made a habit of going over a lot of heads. Will his new (or rather re-newed) gangster perspective put an end to this?

No, this is definitely not the case. His latest single , Blue Magic, features Jigga,” not rapping, but speaking menacingly and quite authoritatively in rhyme, on the subject of hustling in the '80s:

“[They] wanna bring the '80s back/ Thats okay with me, thats where they made me at./ Except I dont write on the wall, I write my name in the history books, hustling in the hall./ Nah, I dont spin on my head, I spin work in the pots, so I can spend my bread.”

Why isnt this song yet another drug laden negative rap song? Well from the artistic perspective theres a bit more than meets the eye (or ear?).

For one Mr. Carter is allegedly giving us his authentic perspective. This isnt another song glorifying a narcotics-based sub-culture. This is uncensored Jay-Z.

Besides reminding us that hes the last of a dying breed, Jay gives us a look through his eyes at everything from how to split up shipments of drugs to how he gets his arrested employees out of jail.

This song doesn't have much fluff to it, but whether Jay-Z did these things himself is debatable. However all the events and anecdotes mentioned in Blue Magic are quite authentic.

Jay-Zs new single gives us the feeling of an drug-lord movie like Scarface, In Too Deep, or New Jack City, to name a few. However Jay takes it a bit further by giving us more details and compacting all this into a four-minute song.

Besides the content of the song, Jays unorthodox delivery is also impressive. The song is riddled with ridiculously clever metaphors and interesting experimentation with flows and change of cadence (on the last verse hes basically just throwing words onto the track wherever they fit).

This glimpse into the past will not be the only one of its kind on the upcoming American Gangster album, which will be an album and not a movie soundtrack as Jays project will sample from and jump in and out of the story of the movie without sticking faithfully to the movies plot.

The movie itself holds as much promise as well. I expect a spectacular performance from Denzel Washington in American Gangster in which we will be happy to revisit the darker side of Denzel (think Training Day but he lives). All this added up, equals introspective, enlightening and intense entertainment from these two very talented individuals. It seems that between Jay and Denzel, there is a true ode to the American Gangster in the making.