[1 November 2005]
Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 is Young Jeezy’s first official album after a couple extremely popular mix tapes, including Trap or Die, which got Jeezy more buzz on the street than a leaf blower and assured this his debut under Jay-Z’s Def Jam is going to be given the due praises. Let’s Get It is not a brilliant rap record, leave that to Raekwon, but Jeezy has still created his own worthwhile tribute to the poetic slang of the American crack cocaine economy. Every line is intended to represent the secret language of the trap star. “You ain’t never seen them pies / We’re talking so much white, it’ll hurt your eyes / I really lived it, man / Counted so much paper, it’ll hurt your hands”. The title track is an epic guttery gladiatorial theme song, prepped for the film adaptation of the book / CD / T-Shirt. Jeezy has said that his album doesn’t promote the life of a drug dealer. The lyrics don’t so much promote crack dealing as give advice as to how to become a better crack dealer, so as to inspire thugs to earn enough money to get out of crack dealing and do something with less of a prison sentence attached. “A hundred grand on my wrist, yeah, life sucks / Fuck the club, dawg, I’d rather count a million bucks”. Jeezy’s non-promoting braggadocio is witty. I’m always astonished at how few MCs who came up by selling crack ever talk about the people they sold it to. There’s nothing more horrible than seeing the ravages of crack addiction. Drug addiction is ugly looking. A crack dealer has got to deal with some ugly, sick, demented people with serious health problems. Drug addicts should be in hospitals, but instead they roam the alleys and pick their scabs and get exploited by drug pushers. And these are the sickly, imperfect souls whose disease pays for all gangsta rap’s riches. The thing to remember when you look at the cover image of Jeezy sitting in a dark basement closet surrounded by boxes and boxes of cash money is that it suggests his money came from exploiting the weakest, sickest, ugliest, most abused and disrespected people in American society. Drug addicts are the untold story of modern gangsta rap.
But on to more fun stuff: The Jeezy music! Like the recent Ying Yang Twins, or the little-known MC Yung Wun, three other bluesy rappers from Atlanta, or David Banner, yet another Southerner, Young Jeezy’s words are twanged out to give his flow supreme musical range. He’s almost singing here. Jeezy’s trademark is to finish each line with a brilliant punch line, like an old time comedian. It’s a simple pattern that is easily transformed into soulful moaning when the time calls. Jeezy has tons of range - he uses his voice like an actor. You can hear a comedic pleasure in the wordplay, comparing crack dealing to selling Krispy Kremes (“cooking them Os”) or playing horseshoes (“tossing them Os”), and about being “posted on the corner like a light pole”. All of it delivered in that unmistakable rasp. The rasp of a man who’s been there, done that. Young Jeezy will have no problem aging in the rap game—he already sounds old. ODB collected welfare cheques, Jeezy gets the senior’s discount. He’s a grown-ass man, alright. Dude sounds like his seeds are grown-ass men. Whatever he says, you feel like he earned the right to say it. Or that he smokes a fuckload of cigarettes and his next album will be produced between bouts of chemotherapy. But seriously, the rasp is what makes Jeezy a star. He might compare himself to Ghostface Killah, but it’s not for the skills it’s for the skrilla. Once you’ve accepted that Jeezy is not a master at the mic, you can begin to understand why he’s still so awesome.
The Jeezy rasp is strange because it sounds incredibly overproduced and massively computer harmonized, so deeply digital that it’s hard to imagine he actually sounds anything like he does on record. Might be why he avoids skits. At the same time, when you listen carefully, it isn’t like he’s an OK Computer or something. He doesn’t rasp in the conversation he has with a police officer in the short skit at the start of “Don’t Get Caught”, a lousy song anyway. So the rasp is a vocalized style, as important to Jeezy’s success as his multi-volume thesaurus of cocaine slang. But what does he do for interviews? He told Murderdog Magazine that: “I don’t even consider myself a rapper, to be honest with you. I ain’t the type of nigga that’s gonna sit around and rap all day. I’m the young nigga with the new coupe. The young nigga with the new J’s. The young nigga with the up-to-date watches.”
Jeezy uses the rasp like another instrument. His songs are draped in Jeezyisms. Sampled renditions of “Heeeyyy”, “Yeaahh”, “Ha ha”, “That’s rriiiight”, “Daymn”, “Djjyeah”, “Ohh”, and of course “Let’s get it” create a sense of Jeezy sliding through the music like a choir of clone Jeezies, snowmen hype men offering variations on the trademarked phrases and doing repetitive brand identification. The style is probably a product of the rise in mix tape sales, where an MC competes to make his voice stand out among the shower of voices in a whole ecosystem of DJ mixes. The most important in Jeezy’s library of noises is “Heeeyyy”, because it strikes just the right note of surreal music and honest trap swagger—it has great artistic versatility. He probably uses “Heeeyyy” about six or seventeen times each track; doesn’t get boring. Nevertheless I do not believe he can get away with this arsenal for too much longer. Unless he starts to cycle through a replenishing series of words and exclamations, I’ll go nuts having to listen to it all again next time around. Because after a whole album of Jeezy’s sampled voice-notes (all harmonized), I’m convinced he is a robot. A fly has a million eyes. A Young Jeezy has a million mouths. Someone should make a Photoshop picture of Young Jeezy inside every square of the grid on a microphone. I had nightmares of being attacked by Daymns and Yeeeaahs, which looked like very cross blinging snowmen, naturally. For the next album, I might suggest “Uhh-huhhh”, “Whooaaa”, “Brinng iiit”, “Forget it”, and, in replacement of “Heeyyy”, I would start putting “Swwweeeet” on heavy rotation, see how that works with Kayslay and Drama.
“I run with real niggas that’ll cut your throat, and they don’t drink Pepsi, they only sell Coke.”
“I’m emotional, I hug the block / I’m emotional, I love my Glock.”
“It’s kinda hard to be drug free / When Georgia Power won’t give a nigga lights free.”
“A lotta niggas crossin’ over, naw dawg, not me / The closest I been to commercial is when I watch TV / And errbody know I rep these streets faithfully.”
“Jeezy McGuire - show me the money.”
And Beanie Sigel’s favorite: “If it ain’t locking up, bring it back / You was short anyway, bring a stack / Patty cake, patty cake, microwave / Circles make a square / Damn, I paid / Other than that, ain’t no real motivation.”
The last line is from “Dem Boyz”, Boyz N Da Hood, Jeezy’s group project on P. Diddy’s Bad Boy South label. BNDH are not the Lox. Not the G-Unit. Hate to hate, but the Boyz remind me of a Jeezy mix tape rap: “Your album’s garbage / I bought your shit, man / I listened to it / Now it’s in the trash can”. Boyz N Da Hood should never record together again. I don’t know what went wrong. P. Diddy’s not talking. But this must never happen again. Thanks to the rasp (Long live the rasp!), the Boyz will survive this misstep and probably release a better second album.
And forget it, “Go Crazy” is the best rap track of the year. Hands down. The beat is sick. What is that beat? Producer Don Cannon has pulled off the craziest, sickest, most avant-garde sample I’ve heard in a long time. He takes a drum roll and horn section from Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, loops it in a halting rhythm that should not work, but does, punctuating it with the most nauseating 303 handclaps and synth bass kick—these days rap beats are incredible, and this one is unbelievable. No doubt the microphone fiend in Jay-Z was gagging to spit over this track, and his lyrics for the mix tape version are obviously a little more refined and quick-tongued than Young Jeezy with his asthmatic drawl, but this is still Jeezy’s song. It was written for him alone, and be honest, even the Hov’ just doesn’t sound as good rattling away his Gatling gun rhymes. Jay-Z is working his ass off on the remix, but Jeezy’s rhymes are simple, damn witty, and not to be topped. Jeezy’s slow, no pressure flow works better.
The rasp and the production. The rasp is Jeezy’s invention, but he needed the right music to put it in the proper context. Jeezy’s choice of beats is nearly pitch-perfect. Balancing his cigar-throat with Kraftwerk-style eighties computer bleeps and glitter-ball rave synth lines creates a striking lineage between Jeezy and Eddie Grant. A sense of robotic reggae is essential to a great Jeezy beat. Shawty Red produces some of the best for Beat Bangers, including “Bottom of the Map”, which is my favorite beat of the year. I can’t believe what’s going on there. But it is robotic reggae—slow, dubby, kushy, and Jeezy just sleeps on it. To hear Jeezy at his very best, “Bottom of the Map” is where to look. He’s on a whole other level here. The flow is “bananas”. The beat is exquisite. The beat is unbelievable. I’m addicted to this song. Shawty Red produced “Trap or Die”, “Thug Motivation”, and “Air Forces” too, so he’s a genius is what I’m trying to say. I think he understands Jeezy best. Mr. Collipark is less generous, and gives Jeezy a bit of a doozy Casio break that few other MCs would even know what to do with. Jeezy turns it into a hockey anthem for everyday “trap stars”—I’m sure thugs cry like doves to hear it performed live. Jeezy’s not the MC who needs to jack beats to get his voice out there. The rasp needs its own territory, and this record stakes out some fancy digs. Scarface alive in Blade Runner‘s future
Last question: How will that rasp be translated into print? How’s a thug supposed to get motivated without the rasp? Will someone please get Jeezy to do an audio book mix tape version? And can I request he read chapter 2 over “Santana’s Town”?