American Gangster (album)

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American Gangster
A silhouette of a man in a suit walking into a closed business where the chairs have been put on the tables.
Studio album by
ReleasedNovember 6, 2007
StudioAudiovision Studio and South Beach Studios in Miami; SoundTrap Studios in Atlanta; Hot Beats Recording Studios in Atlanta; and Baseline Studios, Daddy's House, KMA Studios, and Rock The Mic in New York
Jay-Z chronology
Kingdom Come
American Gangster
The Blueprint 3
Singles from American Gangster
  1. "Blue Magic"
    Released: September 20, 2007
  2. "Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)..."
    Released: October 10, 2007
  3. "I Know"
    Released: November 4, 2007

American Gangster is the tenth studio album by American rapper Jay-Z. It was conceived as a concept album—inspired by the 2007 film of the same name—and was released on November 6 of that year through Roc-A-Fella Records. The album features production from Diddy & the Hitmen, Just Blaze, and the Neptunes, among others. It also includes guest appearances by Beanie Sigel, Lil Wayne, Pharrell, and Nas. The album's production is built around 1970s soul and funk, with instruments featured on the album played by professional musicians including, horns, string arrangements, drummers, and unconventional percussion created with bottles. The album's theme is based around the gangster lifestyle, the American Dream, and Jay-Z's memories of growing up in Brooklyn, New York's Marcy.

American Gangster received widespread critical acclaim and was viewed by music critics as a return to Jay-Z's best form following the critical disappointment of Kingdom Come (2006). It was ranked among the best albums of 2007 in several publications' year-end lists, including The Austin Chronicle, who ranked it number one. Rolling Stone also named the album's second single, "Roc Boys (And the Winner Is...)", the best song of 2007.

The album was also a commercial success, debuting at number one on the US Billboard 200, selling over 425,000 copies in its first week. This became Jay-Z's tenth number-one album, tying him with Elvis Presley for the second most number-one albums on the chart. A month after its release, it was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in December 2007. This would be Jay-Z's last album released under Def Jam Recordings before signing with Live Nation two years later.

Recording and production[edit]

American Gangster was recorded in sessions at Audiovision Studio and South Beach Studios in Miami; SoundTrap Studios in Atlanta; Hot Beats Recording Studios in Atlanta; and Baseline Studios, Daddy's House, KMA Studios, and Rock The Mic in New York.[1] Jay-Z would have the film American Gangster playing on the monitors above the recording booth as a source of motivation during the recording sessions.[2] 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".[3]

The Neptunes provided production twice on the album, with the first single "Blue Magic", which is the fourteenth track, and the eighth track "I Know".[4] 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 "Sweet".[4] DJ Toomp delivers one track for the album, while Just Blaze is credited for a bonus track and the re-make of "Ignorant Shit".[4] Kanye West mentor No I.D. gives two tracks also, one which he co-produces with Jermaine Dupri and vice versa.[4] 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".[4]

Jay-Z originally stated he recorded nine tracks for the album,[5] but the final track listing accumulated fifteen overall cuts (including 2 bonus tracks).[5] Def Jam executive Tracey Waples noted each track from the album would have its own "mini-film". The album cover and music videos were costume designed by June Ambrose.[6]

Music and lyrics[edit]

According to Yahoo! Music journalist Angus Batey, American Gangster used "a selection of beats built from '70s soul and funk" to reflects "the period setting; lyrically, its primary theme is an investigation of the evolution of the gangsta archetype, looking at how the drug dealer became a semi-sympathetic outlaw figure, examining the contradictions inherent in those who chase the American Dream on the far side of legality, and ruminating on what this period of US history might yet come to mean".[7] Jay-Z stated that almost every song is based on a specific scene from the film.[5] In an interview on the Charlie Rose Show, he elucidated the inspiration behind the album:

"It's a New York City true story, 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 bad guy, because the bad guy, you know, he don't seem like a bad guy, and the good 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."[8]

Although Jay-Z says American Gangster was inspired by the movie, songs such as "Say Hello" touch on the topics of censorship and the Jena 6 controversy.[9] Jay-Z also drew on personal memories he had not touched on in a while, specifically memories from his early life when he lived in Brooklyn, New York City, New York's Marcy.[10]

Release and promotion[edit]

American Gangster was made available for digital download in its entirety, at, Roc-A-Fella's website, and Rhapsody on November 6, 2007. Jay-Z had the album removed from the iTunes Store, explaining that "as movies are not sold scene by scene, this collection will not be sold as individual singles."[11] It was eventually released to iTunes in 2011.[12]

Jay-Z promoted the album with the American Gangster Live concert tour, performing material only from the album in five smaller sized venues across the US, starting on November 6 in Los Angeles and ending on November 12 in Philadelphia.[13] According to a statement from, the five-city club tour sold out in less than 60 seconds.[14]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Review scores
The A.V. ClubA−[17]
Entertainment WeeklyB+[18]
The Irish Times[19]
Rolling Stone[23]
USA Today[25]

American Gangster was met with widespread critical acclaim. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the album received an average score of 83, based on 25 reviews.[26]

Reviewing the album for Rolling Stone, Rob Sheffield deemed it a vast improvement over Jay-Z's previous record, Kingdom Come, adding that the rapper "sounds relaxed, no longer worried about impressing anyone."[23] In Entertainment Weekly, Neil Drumming said it was more than "a throwback album" and that Jay-Z adjusts his flow to each production while "emerging cockier than ever on the next track".[18] Village Voice critic Amy Linden praised its live instrumentation, finding it lush, sexy, and "tailor-made for the '70s theme ... without being shamelessly retro".[27] According to The Observer's Steve Yates, "it's Jay-Z's and American Gangster's triumph that reflecting on his appetite seems to have reawakened it".[28] Nathan Rabin from The A.V. Club called the record a "surprisingly strong return to form",[17] while Hot Press journalist Chris Wasser found its songs smooth and clever, "intelligent numbers that, instead of bombarding us with stale rhyming schemes and plastic beats, groove ever so effectively."[29] Greg Kot was impressed by the complexity of Jay-Z's metaphors about drug trafficking, making music, and relationships; he wrote in the Chicago Tribune that the rapper offers the kind of multidimensional lyrics that characterize classic hip hop.[30]

Some reviewers expressed reservations. Kelefa Sanneh wrote in The New York Times that Jay-Z's reluctance to indulge in the gangsta rap lyricism of his past resulted in wavering, equivocal songs such as "No Hook" and "Say Hello". "Once, words just seemed to flow out of him, as if he couldn't help himself", Sanneh said. "Now it's clearer than ever that he's choosing them carefully."[31] Louis Pattison of NME was more critical and called it a regression from the "slightly bloated" Kingdom Come, lamenting the shortage of "don't-give-a-fuck attitude" highlighted on "Success" in favor of less effective raps exploiting Jay-Z's entrepreneurial personage.[20] In MSN Music, Robert Christgau cited "Say Hello" and "Blue Magic" as highlights while humorously using sampled film dialogue from the latter track to frame his lukewarm opinion of the album: "Jay-Z, that's a brand name, like Pepsi, that's a brand name – he stands behind it, he guarantees it, even if you don't know him any more than you know the chairman of Universal Music".[32] He later assigned it a one-star honorable mention.[33]

American Gangster was ranked in the top ten of several music publications' end-of-year lists, including The Austin Chronicle (number one), Spin (number eight), and Rolling Stone magazine (number three).[34][35] Rolling Stone also named the album's second single, "Roc Boys (And the Winner Is...)", the best single of 2007.[36] In The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop critics poll, American Gangster finished 18th in the best albums voting.[37] In an interview with Jeff Johnson of cable network BET, 44th United States President Barack Obama said he was a fan of the album.[38]

Commercial performance[edit]

American Gangster debuted at number one in the US Billboard 200 chart, selling 425,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen Soundscan.[39] This became Jay-Z's tenth US number one album, tying him with Elvis Presley at second most number-one albums in the US with the record is being held by The Beatles.[39] In its second week, the album dropped to number eight on the chart, selling an additional 131,000 copies.[40] On December 6, 2007, the album was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipments of over one million copies.[41] As of August 2009, the album has sold 1,131,000 copies in the United States.[42]

Track listing[edit]

1."Intro" (performed by Idris Elba)
  • Elba
  • Chris Flame[a]
3."American Dreamin'"
4."Hello Brooklyn 2.0" (featuring Lil Wayne)Bigg D3:55
5."No Hook"
  • Diddy
  • Sean C
  • LV
6."Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)..."
  • S. Carter
  • Combs
  • Matthews
  • Coppin
  • Thomas Brenneck
  • Dave Guy
  • Mike Deller
  • Leon Michels
  • Bosco Mann
  • Diddy
  • Sean C
  • Skyz Muzik
  • LV
  • S. Carter
  • Combs
  • Matthews
  • Coppin
  • Rudy Love
  • Diddy
  • Sean C
  • LV
8."I Know"The Neptunes3:42
9."Party Life"
  • Diddy
  • Sean C
  • LV
10."Ignorant Shit" (featuring Beanie Sigel)Just Blaze3:41
11."Say Hello"Toomp5:26
12."Success" (featuring Nas)
  • S. Carter
  • Jermaine Dupri
  • Tony Hester
  • Dupri
  • No I.D.[a]
14."Blue Magic" (bonus track)The Neptunes4:10
15."American Gangster" (bonus track)
Just Blaze3:40


  • ^[a] signifies a co-producer

Samples and Additional Vocals


# Title Notes
1 "Intro"

Arrangers: Hector Delgado & Idris Elba
Guitar: Marty Reid
Additional strings: Timon Abuptah
Additional vocals: Angel Wood
Dialogue from the 2007 biographical crime film American Gangster, dialogue excerpts spoken by Denzel Washington

2 "Pray"

Songwriters: S. Carter, S. Combs, D. Matthews, L. Coppin, and A. Hawkshaw
Sample: "New Earth" by Hank Marvin
Strings & drums: Mario Winans
Bass clarinet & bass trombone: Aaron J. Johnson
Bass & guitar: James Lewis
Vocals: Adonis Shropshire, Carmen Cameron, Cheri Dennis, Leisa Johnson, Shannon Jones, Jayms Madison & A.J. Walker
Additional vocals: Beyoncé Knowles (uncredited)

3 "American Dreamin"

Songwriters: S. Carter, S. Combs, D. Matthews, L. Coppin, M. Gaye, A. Ross, L. Ware
Samples: "Soon I'll Be Loving You Again" by Marvin Gaye
Bass, piano & strings: Arden "Keys" Altino
Live drums & strings: Mario Winans
Background vocals: Keon Bryce
Jack Knight

4 "Hello Brooklyn 2.0"

Songwriters: S. Carter, D. Carter, D. Baker
Sample: "B-Boy Bouillabaisse" (Section 5, "Hello Brooklyn") by the Beastie Boys
All instruments: Bigg D

5 "No Hook"

Songwriters: S. Carter, S. Combs, D. Matthews, L. Coppin, B. White
Sample: "Love Serenade" by Barry White
Percussion: Bashiri Johnson
Bass & guitar: Ed "Wolverine" Goldson
Strings & drums: Mario Winans
Keyboards, strings, Rhodes & piano: Arden "Keyz" Altino
Vocals: Jayms Madison

6 "Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)..."

Songwriters: S. Carter, S. Combs, D. Matthews, L. Coppin, T. Brenneck, D. Guy, M. Deller, L. Michels, B. Mann
Sample: "Make the Road by Walking" by Menahan Street Band
Arrangement & tenor saxophone: Kenneth "Scooter" Whalum
Trumpet: Keyon Harrold & Cameron Johnson
Trombone: Saunders Sermon
Bass & guitar: Ed "Wolverine" Goldson
Percussion: Bashiri Johnson
Drums: Mario Winans
Addition vocals: Beyoncé Knowles, Cassie & Kanye West

7 "Sweet"

Songwriters: S. Carter, S. Combs, D. Matthews, L. Coppin, R. Love
Sample: "Does Your Mama Know" by Rudy Love & The Love Family
Bass & guitar: Ed "Wolverine" Goldson
Percussion: Bashiri Johnson
Additional vocals: Cassie, Carmen Cameron & A.J. Walker

8 "I Know"

Songwriters: S. Carter, P. Williams
Additional vocals: Pharrell Williams

9 "Party Life"

Songwriters: S. Carter, S. Combs, D. Matthews, L. Coppin, W. Hale, D. Stone
Sample: "Get into the Party Life" by Little Beaver
Bass & guitar: Ed "Wolverine" Goldson
Percussion: Bashiri Johnson
Drums: Mario Winans
Trumpet: Keyon Harrold
Additional vocals: Shannon Jones

10 "Ignorant Shit"

Songwriters: S. Carter, J. Smith, D. Grant, R. Isley, O. Isley, R. Isley, M. Isley, E. Isley, C. Jasper
Sample: "Between the Sheets" by The Isley Brothers

11 "Say Hello"

Songwriters: S. Carter, A. Davis, T. Brocker
Sample: "The Love We Share Is The Greatest Of Them All" by Tom Brock
Production coordination: Keke & Amy
Background vocals: Rhonda Robinson

12 "Success"

Songwriters: S. Carter, E. Wilson, N. Jones, L. Ellis
Sample: "Funky Thing (Part 1)" by Larry Ellis & The Black Hammer
Background vocals: Juan "OG" Perez
Interpolation: I'm Back By Eminem from the album The Marshall Mathers LP
Dialogue from the 2007 biographical crime film American Gangster, dialogue excerpts spoken by Armand Assante

13 "Fallin'"

Songwriters: S. Carter, J. Dupri, T. Hester
Sample: "Fell for You" by The Dramatics
Background vocals: Bilal

14 "Blue Magic"

Songwriters: S. Carter, P. Williams, D. Foster, T. McElroy, T. Ellis, C. Herron, M. Jones, D. Robinson and B. Kaun
Sample: "Hold On" by En Vogue
Sample: "Main Title/Neighbor Burial" by Bernhard Kaun
Additional vocals: Pharrell Williams
Dialogue from the 2007 biographical crime film American Gangster, dialogue excerpts spoken by Denzel Washington
Dialogue from the 1931 horror film Frankenstein Directed by James Whale

15 "American Gangster"

Songwriters: S. Carter, J. Smith, C. Mayfield
Sample: "Short Eyes" by Curtis Mayfield
Live drums: Stillphil
Additional piano: Canei Finch
Alto saxophone: Andy Snitzer
Tenor saxophone: Charles Pillow
Trombone: Mike David
Trumpet: Jeff Kievet
Violins: Sandra Park, Sharon Yamada, Sarah Boyle, Jeanine Wynton, Lisa Kim, Minyoung Chang, Matt Lehmann, Liz Lim
Violas: Dawn Hannay & Sue Pray
Cellos: Eileen Moon & Jeanne LeBlanc
Strings contractor: Sandra Park



Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[60] Gold 50,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[61] Silver 60,000^
United States (RIAA)[41] Platinum 1,000,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "American Gangster - Jay-Z". AllMusic. Retrieved September 21, 2018.
  2. ^ Elliott Wilson (October 19, 2007). Jay-Z: I'll Still Kill (Part I) Archived 2007-12-06 at the Wayback Machine XXL. Accessed December 2, 2007.
  3. ^ Andres Tardio (October 9, 2007). Jay-Z Delivers The Goods On American Gangster. HipHopDX. Accessed December 2, 2007.
  4. ^ a b c d e The Producers Behind Jay-Z's American Gangster Archived 2007-10-27 at the Wayback Machine. XXL (October 25, 2007). Accessed October 25, 2007.
  5. ^ a b c David M. Halbfinger and Jeff Leeds (September 20, 2007). For Jay-Z, Inspiration Arrives in a Movie. The New York Times. Accessed September 20, 2007.
  6. ^ Omar Burgess (October 4, 2007). Def Jam Speaks on American Gangster Project. HipHopDX. Accessed October 4, 2007.
  7. ^ Batey, Angus. Review: American Gangster. Yahoo! Music. Retrieved on 2010-02-22.
  8. ^ A conversation with rapper and entrepreneur Jay-Z Archived 2007-11-09 at the Wayback Machine. Charlie Rose Show (November 9, 2007). Accessed November 7, 2007.
  9. ^ Jokesta (November 8, 2007). Jay Z Addresses Censoring Hip Hop On New Album, To Debut with 10th Number 1 Archived 2007-11-10 at the Wayback Machine. Def Sounds. Accessed November 19, 2007.
  10. ^ Lyrical Thought (October 15, 2007). Jay-Z Regrets Kingdom Come, Corrects Kanye Archived 2007-10-15 at the Wayback Machine. Def Sounds. Accessed October 15, 2007.
  11. ^ Jay-Z Pulls American Gangster from iTunes Archived 2007-11-07 at the Wayback Machine XXL (November 6, 2007). Accessed November 6, 2007.
  12. ^ "American Gangster by Jay-Z". iTunes Store. Apple Inc. Archived from the original on January 2, 2014. Retrieved September 18, 2012.
  13. ^ Jay-Z Announces American Gangster Live Tour Archived 2007-10-24 at the Wayback Machine XXL. (October 22, 2007). Accessed November 2, 2007.
  14. ^ Jay-Z's American Gangster Tour Sells Out in Under A Minute Archived 2007-10-31 at the Wayback Machine XXL. (October 29, 2007). Accessed November 2, 2007.
  15. ^ "Jay-Z Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2007-11-06.
  16. ^ Kellman, Andy. Review: American Gangster. AllMusic. Retrieved on 2009-07-22.
  17. ^ a b Rabin, Nathan. Review: American Gangster. The A.V. Club. Retrieved on 2010-02-22.
  18. ^ a b Drumming, Neil. American Gangster. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved on 2009-07-22.
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  27. ^ Linden, Amy. Review: American Gangster. The Village Voice. Retrieved on 2009-07-22.
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  30. ^ Kot, Greg (November 4, 2007). "'American Gangster' freshens Jay-Z's storytelling". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
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  32. ^ Christgau, Robert (January 2008). "Consumer Guide". MSN Music. Retrieved 2012-08-26.
  33. ^ "Consumer Guide Album: Jay-Z: American Gangster". Retrieved April 14, 2019.
  34. ^ Best Albums of 2007 Archived 2008-03-05 at the Wayback Machine. Metacritic. Retrieved on 2009-06-29.
  35. ^ Robert Christgau, David Fricke, Christian Hoard and Rob Sheffield (December 17, 2007). The Top 50 Albums of 2007. Rolling Stone. Accessed December 19, 2007.
  36. ^ The 100 Best Songs of 2007 Rolling Stone (December 11, 2007). Accessed December 13, 2007.
  37. ^ "Pazz & Jop". The Village Voice. 2007. Retrieved September 11, 2016.
  38. ^ Barack Obama Digs Jay-Z But Wishes He Was A Little Kinder, Gentler Idolator. Accessed June 6, 2009.
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External links[edit]