So it stands to reason that there’s only one American Gangster album that people should be interested in and that’s Jay-Z’s new release. It’s his second full length album post retirement and it’s not getting the greatest of reviews, partly because it’s his second full length album post retirement and the first one was bad enough. Why are we telling you this? Because if you’ve got a big heart, the powers-at-be want you to think there are two American Gangsters worth learning about this week: Jay-Z (the second best rapper alive—props to Lil Wayne) and Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington in the film American Gangsters. That movie is raking in cash by the boatload (at the box office and with bootleggers), while Jay-Z’s album of the same name is getting lots of buzz on it’s own. But still, there’s a third American Gangster that you need to know about and we’re not talking about George W. Bush.
Hank Shocklee, of Bomb Squad and Public Enemy fame, was intricately involved in the scoring of the aforementioned film and the soulful jams that emerge on American Gangster’s official soundtrack are worth some recognition of their own.
Shocklee not only produces two new tracks for Anthony Hamilton, "Stone Cold" and "Do You Feel Me" but he also works up four brand new tracks of his own that are great mood setters. "Checkin Up On My Baby" with its 1960's "Green Onions" feel seems like something Booker T and the MG's would have cooked up. "Nicky Barnes" is all seventies gangster and seems like it would fit right in with any blaxploitation film of that era. What's interesting is that Shocklee got the nod for this project in the first place. Known mainly for his stellar work with Public Enemy, the six ditties that Shocklee coughs up on this soundtrack are way outside of hip-hop's hemisphere and broad enough to make Hank an American Gangster in my eyes any day.
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There's also a solid collection of old school grooves including Sam and Dave's "Hold On I'm Coming" and Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street" that make this one of the most enjoyable soundtracks to come out all year. -- Jonathan Cunningham