15 Songs, 58 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Following a false retirement (The Black Album) and a rocky return (Kingdom Come), American Gangster posed the question: How can an artist defined by struggle still make his music feel urgent after the struggle is over? At times, the pose here—hard, hustling—felt like a return to Jay's iconic 1996 debut, Reasonable Doubt, a survey of the kingpin myths he’d spent a decade perfecting. The wordplay was back, and so was the storytelling—from naïve rise (“American Dreamin’”) to bitter regret (“Fallin’”), or, as Jay framed it on “Roc Boys,” “black superhero music.” But most telling was “Ignorant Sh*t,” a rebuke to critics that doubled as a meditation on the mixed signals given to black entertainers: Do you want the thinker, or do you want the thug? Here, he synthesized both.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Following a false retirement (The Black Album) and a rocky return (Kingdom Come), American Gangster posed the question: How can an artist defined by struggle still make his music feel urgent after the struggle is over? At times, the pose here—hard, hustling—felt like a return to Jay's iconic 1996 debut, Reasonable Doubt, a survey of the kingpin myths he’d spent a decade perfecting. The wordplay was back, and so was the storytelling—from naïve rise (“American Dreamin’”) to bitter regret (“Fallin’”), or, as Jay framed it on “Roc Boys,” “black superhero music.” But most telling was “Ignorant Sh*t,” a rebuke to critics that doubled as a meditation on the mixed signals given to black entertainers: Do you want the thinker, or do you want the thug? Here, he synthesized both.

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