By diversifying his muses and expanding his range, Young Jeezy returns from a mysterious three-year hiatus with his most complete, mature set of songs yet.
The past three years have been a curious period in Young Jeezy's career, a glaring example of the label drama hip-hop artists are forced to endure on par with Lupe Fiasco's Lasers. Although in Jeezy's case the answer wasn't so simple as he didn't want to make pop music -- after all, as a pioneer of the now-ubiquitous trap rap scene, Jeezy was always an artist that made big time singles like "And Then What" and "Crazy World" entirely on his own terms. No, TM103, as best as I can tell, is more accurately an example of Rick Ross releasing Deeper Than Rap a year after The Recession to more critical acclaim than Jeezy had received in years, followed by a demand from the Def Jam suits that Jeezy match that effort ... or else. A feud between the two artists developed as might have been expected, but more importantly TM103 felt more and more like a running joke, a phantom release Def Jam and Rick Ross would never allow to see store shelves. Which, you know, is kind of odd for one of the most consistently successful artists in his field commercially, no? In fact, it wasn't until late this fall that the release of TM103 felt like a believable circumstance. In the time between 2008 and this holiday season, Jeezy had released four free mixtapes of varying repute -- the Real Is Back series for the streets and Freddie Gibbs fanatics, Trap or Die II for those who wanted to hear a progressive Jeezy and Trappin' Aint Dead for those who preferred the opposite -- and admirably maintained relevancy, in fact releasing music that held up against any of his for-pay work.
TM103 takes after Trap or Die II for the most part, which is a pretty excellent decision considering one of his biggest detractions was a tendency to choose similar sounding beats and rap similar sounding rhymes. The sonic palette for this album is certainly his most diverse, full of g-funk whines, a Mike Will-concocted clone of Drake' aesthetic, a big-time R&B jam with Ne-Yo, soulful marriage proposal music with Jay-Z and Andre 3000 on "I Do" and a token tokin' anthem called -- of course -- "Higher Learning" with Snoop Dogg and Devin the Dude. There are even nods to the "sound like Ross" demands his label likely made over the years on tracks "O.J." and "F.A.M.E.". Thanks to pacing, these sonic variations feel like kin to each other; the opening salvo of "Waiting" and "What I Do" find Jeezy in comfortably enormous territory before sliding into the more dream-like atmospheres of "Way Too Gone" and "O.J.". The former's tales of club excess drift from hallucination to boldfaced fact as "SupaFreak" delivers one of 2011's most glass-shattering bass lines, as the album slowly develops from strip club adventures to Jeezy's best approximations of a love song through the album's middle section. It's the last section of the tape that features the newest territory for Jeezy: "I Do"'s horns are celebratory rather than ominous, all soul with no intimidation, while "Higher Learning" would sound more at home on a Curren$y album and "F.A.M.E." feels like J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League's approximation of the Main Attrakionz' cloudy aesthetic. Jeezy sounds at home across all of these different themes, which is really a testament to his unexpected growth as an artist over the years.
Likewise, his subject matter has spread itself out in attractive ways, as TM101 combines the more socio-political bend of Recession with the ignorant, gutter logic of TM101 and dramatic scale of TM102. As a result you get an album where two of the best songs are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum -- "What I Do" details a gun-toting, posse-surrounded mosh pit/orgy in a club, while "Trapped" finds Jeezy looking back to his days as a teen caught up in the struggle ("how'd I get here in the first place? / oh that's right, the trap was my birth place") of thug life. The latter also features an awesome, vitriolic performance from Jill Scott, who performs a spoken word intro so lacerating it's hard to believe it comes from the same woman who sang "Golden". That track is followed by "F.A.M.E.", on which Jeezy is joined by T.I. to discuss their rise from the ashes of poverty to extreme wealth, with the song taking on a much more down-to-earth quality than when similar subject matter was broached on Watch the Throne. Especially T.I., who's more critical of himself and his life decisions than we've heard from him in the past. It's a great combo of jams, but TM103 is consistently of that quality, even when he's making tracks for the women. "All We Do (Smoke & Fuck)" and "SupaFreak" are nominees for the best tracks on the album as well, a surprise considering their obvious subject matter (the latter is boosted greatly by a supreme 2 Chainz feature). Even "Leave You Alone", the Warren G-produced and Ne-Yo assisted love song, is way more satisfying than one would expect on paper, as Warren provides a subtly luxurious background for Ne-Yo to deliver a sublime hook around which Young Jeezy plays the tough guy with a soft heart to a T. For those interested in the beef outlined in this review's open, Trick Daddy (like Ross, a Florida native) and Jeezy address it pretty openly on the album proper's closing track, "This One's for You".
I'm not usually one to advocate for deluxe editions, especially if the best of the extras were released on one- and two-year old free mixtapes. Considering the high quality of the music throughout TM103, however, it's a really attractive option to add a Freddie Gibbs feature and two of the bigger club jams of the past couple years to the equation (Lil' Wayne and Eminem don't hurt, either). "Lose My Mind" is particularly notable for being so old and losing none of its pulse, with Jeezy calmly and Plies frantically pontificating over their lifestyles while Drumma Boy's production leaves no option other than a screw face and triumphantly raised arms. Against quite a few odds, TM103 arrives not only as the most diverse set of Jeezy's career yet, but also his most accomplished. It showcases a more mature Young Jeezy, one who's much less likely to distribute a litany of one-liners than he was when he first came out, but who's equally more capable of making truly great music that just happens to double as motivational. A user of the okayplayer forums put it best, I think, when he described Atlanta's trap music as "prosperity gospel disguised as gangsta rap." If one listens to TM103, or any of Jeezy's music, as a specific way of life it's to miss the point, even if just by a little. While the lyrics are consumed with clubs, drugs and skeevy hoes, this is music for the 9-to-5 white collar worker as much as the impoverished black Atlanta youth. And while TM103 might not contain as many massive declarations of purpose as his classic debut, neither does it showcase many pledges of obedience to a singular aesthetic. This is the sound of an artist fully formed, without a single faulty track to its name. Jeezy's done a hell of a job proving the doubters wrong here.