I nearly purchased the American Gangster soundtrack a couple of times since seeing the Denzel Washington/Russell Crowe flick at the drive-in movie theater, but when I visit InSound to do so, they scare me off with their assessment that the disc is “An entirely fitting companion piece to the movie, but certainly not on the endlessly playable level of the Dead Presidents soundtrack discs.” And I have them, so why would I need this. Well, I’m beginning to make up my own mind on this matter.
The American Gangster soundtrack is not to be confused with Jay-Z’s album with the same title (preview all the songs here) that was inspired by the movie. Jay-Z’s is a concept album, and each track comes directly from a scene. He played the film in the background while recording. There’s also an a cappella version of the Jay-Z album for the DJs to mess around with, as usual. That’s all very interesting, but I’d actually prefer an instrumental-only version. The hooks are what keep me listening to Jay-Z, not his lyrics; for instance, in Soul Sides’ post of Jay-Z’s 99 Problems, the Dap-Kings are on the instrumentals, and I wish Jay-Z would just be quiet. Similarly, his business savvy is what keeps me following him in the news, not necessarily his rhymes (as is the case with lots of other rap stars).
Antony Hamilton singing Do You Feel Me (download it at Soul Sides or stream it at Def Jam), the featured song in the movie, is great. It was written by Diane Warren, and also relies on the Dap-Kings for the groove. Sometimes I think I’d like Hamilton’s vocals to be more silky, but it doesn’t stop me from listening. He convicts me with the line: “And you like to keep keepin’ me.” I think I keep him because the vocals sound like a man is singing them. There’s a bit of falsetto, but it’s not gratuitous, not like Pharrell Williams, who’s an interesting cat (The Neptunes) with a nice sound, but it’s certainly not manly when he sings.
The producer of the Hamilton single is Hank Shocklee, and he talks about the process in an interview here. I like that he used the Dap-Kings (of the we-may-have-backed-her-but-we-ain’t-no-Amy-Winehouse ’cause-we-been-doin’-this-for-a-long-time-and-ain’t-nobody-been-listenin’ Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings) as his session band and recorded at Daptone Records with old (“vintage”) equipment. Shocklee, famous at first for his work with Public Enemy, said, “the thing that I thought was most amazing was me actually working with live musicians again. I think that is an art that has been lost. Everybody is more drum machine and sample-oriented now.” I hope it moves Shocklee and the music he influences in a little different direction.
The final assessment is I think I talked myself into the Hamilton solo album rather than the American Gangster soundtrack … review coming soon.