Jay-Z's American Gangster is one hell of a comeback album . . . for Diddy. Sean Combs, along with his production team, the Hitmen, oversees Gangster's best tracks, "Pray" and "Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)." As for Jigga, let's hope he finally makes good on his promise to retire. The rap legend allegedly got a sneak peek at the movie American Gangster and was so inspired by what he saw, he decided to come out of retirement (again!) to write and perform a new batch of songs. But instead of focusing on the film's subject, Harlem heroin dealer Frank Lucas, the CD is mostly about Jay — the old drug-dealing Jay, that is.
While musically more solid than his last comeback album, 2006's Kingdom Come — where Hov ruminated about his monied, corporate life — American Gangster feels less authentic. The emphasis on Jay's old hustling days comes off as a calculated attempt to recapture the hunger of his 1996 debut, Reasonable Doubt. On "I Know," he pretty much admits to reviving the very persona his fans would rather hear: "She wants that old thing back, she want those heroin tracks." And on "Success," he raps, "Truth be told, I had more fun when I was piss-poor." It's too bad that one of the greatest rappers ever — who also happens to date one of the most beautiful women in the world — isn't having much fun these days. But it's downright troubling that he's making mediocre albums that pander to his audience. -- Ben Westhoff