The latest releases reviewed.

JAY-Z American Gangster Roc-A-Fella ** **

Retirement? What retirement? Jay-Z may regret saying he was slinking off to his hammock in 2003, but few listeners are complaining about his return to work at the mic. Jigga is, after all, one of the few rappers who can deliver blockbuster rhymes and riddles that both sell and intrigue. Here, on his own backstory to Ridley Scott's cinematic epic of Harlem gangster Frank Lucas (see review, page 8), Jay-Z is the magisterial elder statesman recalling the dramas, codes of honour and what

it took to be king of the streets. He sounds far more comfortable on this terrain than he did on last year's comeback album, Kingdom Come, when the corporate suit he now wears seemed to impede his flow. Instead, working with the imagery of street dealing and hustling (and with premier-league beats from The Neptunes, Kanye West, Nas and Just Blaze), Jay-Z delivers a powerful, prize- winning turn that few of his peers will better. www.rocafella.com JIM CARROLL

Download tracks: Blue Magic, Prayip-hop