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Shawn Carter may be the American Gangster, but Brad Jordan is the unquestionable original. While the media was busy showering attention on Jay-Z’s recent effort, Scarface quietly dropped Made, his first solo effort in five years. Like a don pulling strings from the shadows, Face makes his return inconspicuous—yet unmistakably some of his finest work.

Twenty years after he helped first establish gangsta rap with the Geto Boys, Scarface doesn’t so much as elaborate on things as re-connect with its original sentiments right from the intro, where Rap-A-Lot CEO J. Prince offers that “when people question what we represent, play ‘em this one.” The opener “Never” kicks in with Face sounding just as hungry and authoritative as ever while breaking down the g-code over Drumma Boy and N.O. Joe’s crisp snares. Despite having accumulated riches and respect in the rap game, Face still respects achieving the same through the streets, as evidenced by “Big Dog Status” and the chilling pathology of “Burn” (‘I’m brain dead and I don’t give a fuck/that’s my excuse”).

But Face isn’t a one-dimensional ghetto superhero. Like on his best works (The Diary, The Fix), Made analyzes the game from several perspectives. On “Who Do You Believe In,” Face meditates on the block mentality with the detached wisdom of a street-war veteran (“got momma crying, knowing deep down he be needing her help/but he a dead man walking, still she pray for his health”). Similarly, the album closer “The Suicide Note” shows why Face is one of hip-hop’s most evocative storytellers, helped by an eerie, contemplative instrumental from Tone Capone. Admittedly, lighter moments are hard to find on Made, but the Nottz-produced banger “Girl You Know” sprinkles in some humor as Face implores his woman to respect his gangster.

Maybe Made’s inauspicious release is appropriate; a true boss–a made man–operates on the currency of respect, not attention. Regardless of its sales, Made confidently assures Scarface of that distinction.

**Note: A special version of Made—featuring the bonus tracks “’B’ Word,â€

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