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Overlooked: 9th Wonder’s “Black American Gangster” (Album Review)Posted by Dharmic X on 01/07/13 | Filed under Top Stories, Opinion, 9th Wonder, Album Reviews, Overlooked
It is safe to say at this point that "American Gangster" is the hidden gem in Jay-Z’s incredible catalog of music. Amidst the hype over albums like "Reasonable Doubt" and the "Blueprint", the two often cited as his best bodies of work, and the more recent projects like "Blueprint 3" and "Watch the Throne", which spawned his most-successful singles, American Gangster is a cohesive, cinematic homage to his roots, using Frank Lucas and the movie based on his life as a symbol to chronicle his own rise to peak of hip-hop’s totem pole.
So what happens when 9th Wonder, someone who has produced for Jay in the past and someone who first gained exposure and notoriety for "God’s Stepson", a remix project for Nas’s "God’s Son" album, decides to put his own spin on this underrated album? The result is "Black American Gangster", a project that dramatically alters the sound, introducing its own sensibility without tarnishing the original work.
9th putting together Black American Gangster takes nothing away from Sean C & LV, who produced almost half of the original work, which is minimalist in nature, creating a somber, introspective mood for Jay to get into the zone and black out with his bars. It takes nothing away either from Just Blaze, The Neptunes, or No I.D., who each produced two tracks (No I.D. co-produced with Jermaine Dupri). In fact, the only beat that might be considered subpar on the original album is “Hello Brooklyn 2.0,” the collaboration with Lil Wayne which felt like it was missing something at the time.
Instead, 9th is offering his own interpretation of what American Gangster could have sounded like, and it is a rich sound oozing in soul. Take “Pray” for example. 9th transforms the hushed piano-driven backdrop, and opens up the song with a haunting wail: “My love.” From there, the song bounces with an added depth while not overpowering Hov’s vocals. “Hello Brooklyn” transforms into an instant head-nodder, way more melodic than before. The samples 9th uses come from familiar sources, but they serve as the basis for a majestic set of beats that have turned out beautiful. You did not realize how necessary this sound was for the project until you press play, and within seconds it becomes apparent.
Of course, listening to a certain album can evoke memories that reflect a time period. American Gangsters was one of those albums that had a very powerful place in my heart, adding new meaning to my life even years after its release. Therefore, before listening to Black American Gangster, I was heavily conflicted; there was a very likely possibility that the project could have been dope and I would not have approved, the songs that meant the world to me could have been ruined. My worries, however, were ungrounded. “No Hook” has a new polish to it, with the cascading horns and a Curtis Mayfield sample that deceptively seems to say “Jigga.” “Fallin” similarly does not disappoint.
Meanwhile, in the course of listening to Black American Gangster, I have gained a newfound appreciation for “American Dreamin,” a song where Jay talks about the beginning of his story and what fueled his ambition. 9th’s beat accentuates the lyrics perfectly, sounding upbeat yet sinister at the same time, as if outlining the traps that one could fall into in pursuing the life of crime. The highlight of the project comes with the song “Blue Magic,” which was actually the first single off the original project. Here, 9th tackles the song twice. When I initially heard “Blue Magic” in 1997, I wasn’t a big fan of the beat. It felt off. Each one of 9th’s versions feels like an improvement over the original, with my nod going to the project’s closer, “Blue Magic Revisited.”
Overall, these might be some of 9th Wonder’s strongest beats of 2012, a feat considering the exhaustive amount of work he did this year, whether it involved pushing forward his crew over at Jamla Records (Rapsody, Big Remo, Actual Proof, etc.) or offering heatrocks for rhyme veterans such as Sean Price, Skyzoo, and Raekwon. The only record 9th does not tackle from the original project is “Roc Boys,” which might be appropriate when considering just how distinctive and signature that record felt, especially with the horns. While Jay might have needed the original beats to craft the great body of work that became known as American Gangster, the hip-hop world has been enriched with the presence of 9th’s latest remix project, perhaps his best one yet.
See Also: Saluting The Rest of 2012’s “Overlooked” Albums