Young Jeezy is a terrible MC but a solid rapper—weak as he is in the basic mechanics of MCing, his lyricism, flow, wordplay and meter leave much to be desired. At the same time, he is a master of delivery, groaning his coke-rap tropes in a charismatic and powerfully layered rasp with a practiced blend of bravado and weariness, bullshit and posturing idiosyncrasy.
With last year’s Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101, Jeezy proved himself one hell of a businessman. He played his part pitch-perfectly, walking the line between the roles of the embittered crack dealer still slinging with death in his eyes and the motivational voice of the streets. You hear this on The Inspiration‘s first track—“now I command you niggas to get money!”—a selectively-blind Billy Graham of the ghetto preaching empowerment to the disenfranchised people of the hood while ignoring the fact that it comes through the further disenfranchisement of those people in the hood that financially support them. This, naturally, brings a whole host of issues with it. How can Jeezy portray crack-slinging as a badass shot in the face of standard capitalist successes when really it does nothing but bring capitalist stratification even further into poor neighborhoods?
The beauty of Jeezy’s business plan lay in the fact that he could make most everyone not give a shit. Most Americans buying music know crack dealing is wrong, but most Americans buying music have never been affected by crack dealing on any visceral or personal sort of level, and so most Americans buying music will either be A) “nigga”-dropping suburban teens, mostly Caucasian, who think this is pretty fucking cool (“badass! badass!”), B) white hip-hop critics who feel accepting and pat themselves on the back for unconditionally praising trap rap because it makes them feel like they can see the poetry in everything! everything! so they’re not racist and definitely not just buying into what Little Brother calls the modern-day minstrel show, or C) the broadest group, people who say “ehh, crack dealing, bad, ehh,” and then think of it like they think of the kids glueing together their Nikes for pennies a day (namely, not really at all).
With most everyone not giving a shit, Jeezy now had an open door to walk through. He then proceeded to ride through the door instead with some of the best beats of the year on his record, beats like the frenetically dark synth bounce of “Bottom of the Map” and the sublimely off-kilter horn fanfare of “Go Crazy”. Add to this his ridiculous timing, right at the start of today’s coke rap renaissance, and his tendency to punchline almost non-stop, and Jeezy’s success is no accident. This is even before we account for his hugely successful snowman t-shirts.
What The Inspiration does that is interesting and inadvertent is remove certain outside factors in Let’s Get It‘s success—the timing, the novelty, and the t-shirt phenomenon’s momentum—and present a basically identical album in another context: 2006, the height of the Rick Ross and company coke rap trend, and every big name rapper ever is dropping a new album. It’s the same album in almost every regard, spiritually and (mostly) in quality, but on this different stage it fares surprisingly worse.
If Jeezy is anything, he’s consistent; he doesn’t slack here, offering up much of the same as before but every bit as well. What The Inspiration exposes even more so than Let’s Get It is that Jeezy can make a rap album good, yes, but he just can’t make it great. Where Let’s Get It gave him solid, strong beat after solid, strong beat with some unbelievable standouts thrown into the mix, The Inspiration gives him a slew of great beats but nothing all too crazy or memorable. There are no real bad tracks, but nothing really magical happens either. So while Jeezy works on the same level he has in the past, his producers together succeed for the most part and yet still fail at elevating him beyond this as they once did.
There are still some nice beats—the title track’s soul collage, “Hypnotize”‘s spooky gothic-gangsta organ, and “3 A.M.“‘s Timbaland texturing—but the lack of a real classic beat exposes even further the cracks in Jeezy’s prominent politics, which have only muddled further. In the past, he got by even on the tough crack questions with some nimble explaining: Jeezy was not promoting crack dealing itself, so he claimed, but crack dealing as a means of getting enough money to not have to deal crack anymore. Fast forward to 2006, and it’s clear Jeezy is lying to somebody: with enough money from his success so far to not have to be anywhere near a brick, Jeezy is still rapping about his same old crack dealing and being the realest on the streets. And as he equates it with self-betterment, all while profiting off of the addictions of others, things like his boast that his mother has been clean for 10 years start to raise similar questions. With no shiny, distracting megabeats in tow, Jeezy’s inherent flaws stand out much more sharply.
In the end, Jeezy gets by here with his workmanlike personality flaunting and above-average production the second time out. The nagging question is there, though: will this work next time around? Probably not.
// Notes from the Road
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