This album has been better received than Kingdom Come, but personally I feel that the quality is about the same when things are going well. What helps American Gangster is that, unlike it's predecessor, there are no real abominations to be found (see "Hollywood" and "Anything" from KC).
What we have here is a loose 'concept album', inspired by the Denzel Washington film of the same name based on the life of Harlem drug-lord Frank Lucas. This concept allows Jay to return to the subjects he came into the game spitting; hustling... the street life. But Jay's content is deeper than many give him credit for. He deals with issues in his own typically emotive way, one minute glorifying the highest highs ("Roc Boys" and "Party Life") and the next, sounding a warning on the downsides of the business ("Success" and "Fallin'").
The lyrics, as ever with Jay, are excellent throughout (see "I Know" for an incredible extended Heroin metaphor), and for the most part the music is too. There are a few missteps that don't quite fit, notably the Dirty South sounds of "Hello Brooklyn 2.0" featuring, oddly, New Orleans native Lil' Wayne on the hook, the Neptunes-helmed elctronic sound of "I Know" seems out of place, and some of the 70's soul-infused beats, provided by Puffy's 'Hitmen' production team, although evocative of a certain era, forget to be ear catching at times ("Pray"). Though much fanfare greeted Puff's involvement in this project, tellingly, the two best beats on the album are provided by Kanye's mentor NO I.D. and former in-house Roc-a-Fella producer Just Blaze.
The album closes out with two excellent bonus tracks; the Rakim/80's homage "Blue Magic" in which Jay adopts the simplistic flow of that era without compromising his incredible wordplay (check the "Iran Contra/ I ran contraband" line for proof), and the celebratory Just Blaze-assisted title track, packed with urgent horns and the catchy soul that some of the other beats here were short of at times.
In summary, the lyrics are as incredible as ever, the beats only falter in places, and Jay has maintained his postion as the one to follow in terms of mainstream, marquee Hip Hop.