Some people really like movies. Jay-Z apparently loves them. At the very least, he has a particularly strong affection for the upcoming Denzel Washington flick “American Gangster.”
The MC/ Def Jam president told The New York Times Thursday (September 20) that he was so moved by a recent screening of the Ridley Scott-directed film that he began recording a new project, appropriately named American Gangster. The album is slated to be released November 6 on Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam Records, following the November 2 box-office debut of the movie.
“It was like I was watching the film and putting it on pause and giving a back story to the story,” Jay said. “Watching that film, it brought back all these memories. It took me back to those emotions.”
The rapper’s hit “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)” is cut into the film’s trailer. (Coincidentally, Tapemasters Inc. put out a Jay-Z-themed mixtape over the summer titled An American Gangster.)
Earlier this week, a source who heard two tracks from the album told MTV News that the songs are a return to the sound of Jay’s Blueprint era, referring to his critically and commercially successful 2001 release, which includes “Heart of the City” and a variety of songs based on ’70s-era soul samples from then-rising producers Just Blaze and Kanye West. The Blueprint was largely the rapper’s most personal album — to a degree he approached only on 2003’s Black Album — and found him responding to a number of digs from rivals at the time.
The Times article quoted the film’s producer, Brian Grazer, as saying he didn’t think Jay-Z could record an album to act as a soundtrack to the movie, due to the story being set in the 1970s. He said he wanted an authentic feel, and felt the Def Jam boss couldn’t pull it off.
Apparently he never heard Hov utter his famous refrain: “I will not lose.”
The film’s star, Washington, wasn’t nearly as doubtful. According to Grazer, the actor was pushing Jay-Z as the sole artist for the soundtrack over a year ago.
Jay-Z, however, was clear that the project wouldn’t be a soundtrack to the movie, per se. (Def Jam, in fact, will be releasing the official soundtrack to the movie, set to feature songs by artists such as Bobby Womack and the Staple Singers.) Rather, Jay-Z’s American Gangster is being positioned as the rapper’s first concept album, a collection of tracks inspired by the film.
Whatever the case may be, the album will mark Jay-Z’s second full-length project in a year’s time. Last year his comeback album, Kingdom Come, was released November 21. It was his first album since he announced his retirement after 2003’s The Black Album (see “Jay-Z’s ’Retirement’ Is Finally Over: New Album Due In November” ).
Although Kingdom Come was heavily promoted, including marketing deals with the NBA and Budweiser, among others, the much-hyped project topped off at 1.6 million units sold — sales figures Jay hadn’t seen since the earlier phases of his career. The rapper told the Times that the album may have been too “sophisticated” for listeners.
Hov said American Gangster will be a return to material listeners are more used to hearing from him. In a track titled “No Hook,” previewed by the Times, Jay compares himself to Washington’s character, rapping:
“Please don’t compare me to other rappers/ Compare me to trappers/ I’m more Frank Lucas than Ludacris/ And Lude is my dude, I ain’t trying to dis/ Just like Frank Lucas is cool/ But I ain’t tryin’ to snitch/ I’mma follow the rules, no matter how much time I’mma get/ I’mma live and die with the decisions that I’mma pick.”
Rumor has it that the album’s first single, “Blue Magic,” which was produced by the Neptunes, will be aired on New York’s Hot 97 Thursday evening during Funkmaster Flex’s show.
A rep for Def Jam confirmed the song is the first single, but had no further comment.