Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam
Producers: Chris Flame, Idris Elba, Diddy, Sean C & LV, Bigg D, The Neptunes, Just Blaze, DJ Toomp, No I.D., Jermaine Dupri
Features: Lil Wayne, Pharrell Williams, Beanie Sigel, Nas, Bilal

It's hard to know where to rank American Gangster. On the one hand, in a certain respect, it's flawless. (Some of us—well, at least one of us—wanted to put it at least three spots higher on this list.) There's not a bad song on it. It's smooth, skillful, subtle grown-folks rap. That subtlety is the problem, though. The cool, mellow confidence it exudes is, in another sense, less exciting, less explosive than what we've come to expect from Jay-Z's best work. Listening to American Gangster, you're not liable to be thrown into spasms of fist-pumping ecstacy. You're not liable to grab your head and say "Oh my god!" and demand that your friend rewind that last part. There's no towering-achievement smash hit here, either. Nothing that you find yourself humming on the subway after not hearing it for a few months. But, man, for "study music," or just, like, making dinner, or, as Puffy told Jay he liked to do to the raw instrumental tracks, walking around your apartment in your socks, rap doesn't get much better. — Dave Bry