The Listening: Young Jeezy


I was waiting for this video to drop to hype one of the albums that’s been in heavy rotation here for the last couple months — Young Jeezy’s The Recession. Releasing the album earlier this year, Jeezy smartly picked up on the coming recession as the underlying theme for the everyman-as-a-drug-dealer thematics that he has been mining since his beginnings, and defined on his major label debut, Thug Motivation 101. This not only seems particularly auspicious right now as the financial markest are in a tailspin, but also works surprisingly well as hip hop music — he ends one of his songs, the street business anthem “Don’t You Know”, which repeatedly stresses alienation between buyer and seller, by saying “America is me.”

This might sound easy, like a fig leaf over all the talk of trapping and hustling, but Jeezy brings enough conviction to make it work. He is far from the greatest rapper around, and his lyrics are sparse and unadorned — he admits as much on “Wordplay” (“Y’all niggas want wordplay, but I’m ’bout bird play!” — but he keeps his shit relevant. Though far from the sophistication level of his fellow Atlantans OutKast, he achieves a similar balance of street talk and subversiveness, and he does it by playing his working man role straight.

“Crazy World”, as seen in video version above, is emblematic of this approach. Jeezy’s hoarse delivery over the type of bombastic track he has by now made his signature, he paints an almost delirious-sounding picture of everyday desperation in a game of ever diminishing returns and compounded risk that becomes more than the sum of its parts. Sure, on one level it’s just a cool-sounding street tune with pretensions of socio-political commentary, but by unflinchingly striking for that balance, he comes across as earnest rather than disingenious.

Jeezy works the by now ubiquitous theme in hip hop of living off the drug game. It is the latest permutation of one of the oldest motifs in hip hop — the transcendent, ghetto exit, rags to riches ambitions codified in hip hop classics from “Rapper’s Delight” and “Paid in Full” to “Juicy” and “Black Republicans”. Tellingly however, it is generally the least optimistic manifestation of this tradition — gone is the anti-authoriarian fervour of gangsta rap and the delusional high-life fantasies of player rap, and in their place is street level pessimism.

Jeezy’s world is, however, suprisingly unglamourous even for this bleak subgenre. He has very little of the swagger of a TI and eschews the complex, vivid realism of Clipse and the Re-Up Gang. In their place are simple, at times almost iconic, songs about a daily grind so crushing that even the “Vacation” Young dreams about — with a nod to Ice Cube’s classic “My Summer Vacation” — is merely an opportunity to slang elsewhere, at safer distance from the feds. No way out-narratives given enough self-assertion and pathos to serve a universal, if somewhat desperate message self-empowerment all the while providing something to bump in your ride.

And then, of course, there’s this. So far the best Obama rap. It even has Nas sounding better than he did on most of his ambitious but ultimately disappointing album from earlier this year.

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