Idris Elba Reveals How He 'Hustled' His Way Onto Jay-Z's 'American Gangster' Album

The "American Gangster" actor told Jimmy Fallon he wrote Jay-Z a poem that ended up on the film's companion album.
Idris Elba starred in "American Ganster," a 2007 Ridley Scott film Jay-Z made an album for.
Idris Elba starred in "American Ganster," a 2007 Ridley Scott film Jay-Z made an album for.
Dave J Hogan via Getty Images

Idris Elba on Monday revealed how he ended up on Jay-Z’s 2007 album “American Gangster,” which served as a titular companion piece to the Ridley Scott film that starred Elba.

“At the time I hear Jay was about to do an album associated with the film,” Elba told Jimmy Fallon on “The Tonight Show” during an appearance to promote his upcoming film “Beast.” “And I was like, ‘I need to get on that.’ As you do. You’re like, ‘I’m Idris, I need to be on that Jay-Z album.’”

Elba went to impressive lengths to finesse that dream into reality, and wrote the rapper a “long poem” after contacting one of Jay-Z’s associates.

“Actually it was a rap, but it didn’t sound good as a rap,” Elba told Fallon. “So I said, ‘Maybe I should speak this’ because Jay might be a little more accommodating to my speaking voice. And I sent it to him and we got this text back from Jay saying, ‘Um, I don’t love this — I fucking love it.’”

The spoken verse had Elba expound on the elements of “gangsterment” in the voice of Angel Wood, the unscrupulous drug dealer who fatally underestimates Denzel Washington’s character of Frank Lucas in the film. Jay-Z, clearly smitten by the reading, sampled it for the “Intro” track of his album.

“Your gangster is not defined by how low your jeans fall by your waist, but more how your genes stand up to their expectations,” Elba says in the cut. “Your gangster is not defined by how many rocks are in your watch, but rather how many rocks you move while owning the watch.”

Elba also appeared on Paul McCartney’s 2021 album “McCartney III Reimagined” and has a thriving music career himself. He served as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding DJ, but appears plenty proud of his Billboard feats with the iconic Beatle and his hip-hop idol.

“Both these albums I’m on, and both those artists don’t know I’m on those albums,” Elba told Fallon. “You know what I mean? I literally hustled my own onto those albums.”

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