Over the past few weeks, Jay-Z's been steadily popping up in more and more Instagram images with other rappers. While nothing's been officially confirm, it does lead one to suspect that Jay may be hitting the studio and recording as of late. Whether that's the case or not, XXL wanted to take a moment and look back at our December 2007 cover story with Jay, as he was gering up to release his acclaimed effort American Gangster.

Just when you thought it was safe, just when you thought the world’s greatest mc had left the streets behind to put his feet up on a beach chair, just when you least expected it: Jay-Z’s back. Again. With a vengeance. - Words by Elliott Wilson

There’s a party going on at New York’s Roc the Mic studios. The music is deafening, the Patrón shots are flowing, Beyoncé is shaking her rump, and everyone has stopped watching Denzel Washington on the monitors above the booth. This is where Jay-Z has been for the last two weeks, creating an album in a whirlwind of inspiration after catching an early screening of the movie American Gangster.

In the flick, Denzel plays Frank Lucas, a superduper heroin kingpin who accumulated $250 million in the 1970s. The character’s calm, cool persona reminded Jay of himself and relit a spark inside him to record music about his own checkered past. Who’s to say he said it all in Reasonable Doubt? “I lived a rich life,” he says, fiddling with his black laptop to cue up the next song. “I knew there were stories there, I just didn’t think that I would be able to get there in an honest way and really relive those emotions.”

It seems like strange timing. An album of unapologetic criminology rap at a time when—in the wake of the Imus scandal— even folks like Russell Simmons are endorsing censorship. Then again, a year after Jay’s last album, Kingdom Come, was widely panned as “adult contemporary” hip-hop, his street credibili- ty could sure use a boost. Former hustler buddies Calvin Klein and DeHaven have gone public with accusations that Jay is out of touch and dishonorable, while disgruntled Def Jam artists like LL Cool J complain about getting the back-burner treatment as their label’s president puts out his own music.

Speaking of the corporate side, Jay’s contract is up at the first of the year, and rumors have him bouncing to join his old Roc-A-Fella protégé Kyambo “Hip-Hop” Joshua and Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin in rebuilding the venerable Sony/Columbia (though the pair just signed one of Jay’s most vocal antagonists, Dipset’s Jim Jones). Looks like it’s gonna be a hot winter. But in the meantime, Jay-Z’s 10th album is on par with some of his finest work. And, for now, he’s lost in the music.