With all apologies to Nas, if there’s any rapper suited to make an overarching concept album about living in 2008, it’s the self-made hit king from Atlanta.
Jeezy is a real movement. He had a historical buzz. The buzz his team had in the streets was unparalleled.
-- Shakir Stewart, Executive Vice President, Def Jam, in the August 2008 issue of Vibe
With all apologies to Nas, if there’s any rapper suited to make an overarching concept album about living in 2008, it’s the self-made hit king from Atlanta, a dude so much a populist that maybe the only thing about him more notorious than his everyman ad-libs is that three years ago his t-shirts were banned by elementary schools.
That said, on The Recession, Jeezy is not in mid-day CNBC anchor mode, so Ben Bernanke can rest easy. He is, though, at the top of his game on this, his third album. The Recession is as much a Jeezy album as his other two, all towering synths, epic choruses, heart-swelling rallying cries, and celebratory ad-libs.
But where The Recession surpasses its predecessors is in its scope. Its general focus -- the country’s rough economic times, especially as they pertains to the lower-middle class -- is narrow enough so that The Recession is not just a different Jeezy album, but a different gangsta rap album. Yet Jeezy still casts his net wide enough so that his face-value rhymes still sound like gospel when they really hit, and the result is an album so operatic that at times it's overwhelming.
Since Jeezy’s music is rooted in motivation (his words), his art is as much sloganeering as it is rap. His detractors deride him for his simplicity and rigidity (we could also read between the lines and assume they mean stupidity), and in this regard, Jeezy resembles exactly who he points his mind’s red-beam at on The Recession: politicians. To take it further, Jeezy knows that by and large, specificity doesn’t get you far if your ultimate aim is world domination, not at least as far as charisma or the ability to be looked at as a source of inspiration. So he’s made a career off leaning on the latter two, which is smart, though not exactly novel. Just ask Barack Obama or, consequently, Dennis Kucinich.
We can see this evidenced in “Put On”, the album’s lead single and a song that should go down as the epochal rap hit of 2008. Here, Jeezy manages to turn a song rooted in egotism into something that feels triumphant for the listener and the community at large, the trick that is essential to his success. When he opens the first verse by belting, “When they see me off in traffic / They say ‘Jeezy on some other shit’”, it’s easy to forget that you’re not also on some other shit, though by the time you remember that, Jeezy already has you hook, line, and sinker. When I was in Jeezy’s hometown of Atlanta in late July, you literally couldn’t go a block without hearing it on the radio in your car or pouring out of someone else's. “Put On” felt like the city’s lifeblood.
With the expectations set high, The Recession doesn’t disappoint, though as with any of his albums, it would benefit from some truncation. But unlike the previous two, The Recession follows a loose narrative, moving from his typical (and typically great) chest-thumping anthems in the beginning into a back half that is more emotional and pointed.
That beginning is decidedly hit or miss. The second song, “Welcome Back”, rumbles through dripping swag, and though it’s a pretty by-the-numbers Jeezy song, it, and its opening couplet (“’Guess what?’ / ’What?’ / ’I don’t give a fuck’”), are no less invigorating. “Crazy World”, a sort-of outlier on the first half, is maybe the album’s most quoted song, with Jeezy swearing off a new Bentley so he can keep his grandmother and aunt healthy. Its also the first song on the album that really gets into the recessionary theme, so when the songs that immediately follow it turn out to be only okay bites of old Jeezy songs, the album turns boring and disappointing.
Things kick back into gear on “Don’t You Know”, maybe Jeezy’s most anthemic song, but the album really starts to separate itself on the three songs that follow it. On “Word Play”, over a beat that sounds like something off a Freeway album, Jeezy attacks his critics head on (“Y’all niggas want word play / Well I’m 'bout bird play”), defending both his art and the people who buy it against the sniveling backpack set. “Circulate”, which borrows liberally from the soul classic “Let the Dollar Circulate”, is the album’s most stirring song, with Jeezy ceding to the emotional chorus (“Pleeeeease, let the dollar circulate”) from the song that it samples. The world-weary “Vacation”, the second single, floats in on airy haunted house pianos, and its chorus, which features Jeezy singing about desired vacation spots by rattling off Atlanta-area hoods, tells you all you really need to know about him.
The last song, “My President”, finds Jeezy venturing far outside of his comfort zone, drawing parallels between himself, Obama and Martin Luther King. Crazy? Sure, but get caught up in The Recession, and Jeezy might fool you into thinking that its not as crazy as it seems. Told you he's a good politician.