You don't reach the top of your game without being either a talented recording artist or a canny businessman, and Shawn 'Jay-Z' Carter is both. One of the biggest-selling hip-hop artists of all time, as well as amassing a fortune worth a reported $547 million in just 11 years of recording - it's easy to see why the rapper chose to 'retire' at the end of 2003. Nonetheless, he was inevitably sucked back into the game and made a 'comeback' with last year's underwhelming Kingdom Come, an album that was rich in guest appearances and bravado, but short on striking songs. American Gangster seeks to rectify that misdemeanour, and for the most part, is a thrilling success. Inspired by, but not the official soundtrack to the recent Denzel Washington crime vehicle, most of the tracks here are influenced by Carter's own life as a drug-dealer in Brooklyn, and each draws a parallel with scenes from the flick. Jay-Z has a role as one of hip-hop's innovators and that trend is continued here; choosing Blaxploitation-tinged samples that perfectly suit the concept (see American Dreamin' and Sweet), the lyrical content and vocal stylings are as good as than ever on this, his tenth LP. Production, too, is cinematically lavish without being ostentatious, with the ubiquitous Neptunes, Kanye West and Diddy all acquiring credits. Standouts include the Beastie Boys-sampling/Lil' Wayne-guesting Hello Brooklyn 2.0, a track chock full of bass hum and gangsta attitude; the uptempo, classy, horn-laden Roc Boys featuring the aforementioned Kanye; the slick, sleazy soul of Party Life, and his collaboration with one-time adversary Nas on the insistent Success. "This is black superhero music right here, y'all", he spritzes at one stage. Yeah, that's about right.