DJ Drama and Young Jeezy
I Am the Street Dream!
Corporate Thugz Entertainment
here’s been a big to-do on the internets lately about Young Jeezy’s abilities as a rapper. The same bloggerati who gushed about his coke talk in 2004 are now telling us that he’s actually pretty shallow. He often rhymes the same word with the same word, they note, adding that he doesn’t rap so much as intone “Yeahhhhhh” slowly over beats that deserve far better.
Don’t listen to this reductionist back-pedaling; it’s just the sound of the blogosphere eating itself alive. Young Jeezy remains one of the most compelling figures in hip-hop. He’s never going to drop a particularly nimble couplet or a mind-bending simile, and he doesn’t impress with Olympic feats of breath control or tongue-twisting. He creates a world of charisma using simple tools, primarily his spectacularly lived-in, burnt husk of a voice. When he offers a banality like “You know how I play, two hundred-fifty for the kicks / Wear the shits one time cuz they match my outfit” he draws as much sound as possible from the words, stretching them out until they can mean anything, or everything. Forget rapping: Jeezy orates.
Jeezy’s new mixtape, I Am the Street Dream, is a run-up to his second studio album, Thug Motivation 102: The Inspiration, the sequel to his immensely popular and critically beloved Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101. Like almost every worthwhile mixtape this year, it was made with DJ Drama, an obnoxious bozo from Atlanta with an immaculate ear for picking beats and the unerring ability to summon world-beating performances from his collaborators (Notable but understandable exceptions: Jim Jones and Pharrell). The beats on I Am, many of them album tracks from the upcoming Inspiration, are towering, built from massive, mock-heroic synthesizers that seem to announce the Rapture.
Jeezy, meanwhile, is back at the top of his game. His tossed-off boasts—“Run through a hundred grand / Call it wastin’ time” he gasps on “I Do This”—have a desperate edge, magnified by fatalism: “Live for the moment, Lord knows I’m gonna die / And when I get to Hell, Lord knows I’m gonna fry / Woke up this morning so I’m still alive.” And while he spends a lot of time bragging about diamonds and cars, he manages to make conspicuous consumption sound positively Biblical: “Ride with the top down, so I’m closer to God,” he rhymes on “I Love It.” His thuggish threats of violence still carry the chill of plausibility; when he snarls “See this big toy? Play if you wanna, n***a / Head over here, your chest around the corner n***a,” it practically freezes your blood. And, yes, he offers plenty of his signature adibs— “Yeeeaaaahhhh,” stretched into infinity, “Ha-haaaa!” and “That’s riiiight!”— in between the crevices of his lines, but they focus the ear on Jeezy’s words rather than distract.
Jeezy is aware people think he can’t rap, and he answers them both directly, as in “Let’s Just Say,” (“You can’t just wake up and walk like this / You can’t just wake up and talk like this”) and indirectly, by delving deeper. On “Child of God,” he rhymes over a sped-up vocal sample caught in mid-melismatic run, surrounded by a swirling haze of strings and booming piano. Laying out a scenario where he’s been shot by enemies, Jeezy proves he’s an MC, not just a reciter of catchy slogans: “Everybody standing over a n***a screamin’ and shit / Damn, y’all give a n***a a second to think / Which one of you shot me, which one of you bastards? / I bet my n***a Keke throw a hundred grand in my casket.” He pleads for a chance to stay— “I can’t leave now, n***as owe me money”— and laments: “I shoulda hugged my son, shoulda kissed my mother / Shoulda spent some time with her, show her I love her.” It’s simple, but effective and as immediate in its own way as one of Ghostface’s street narratives. Jeezy may be limited, but he’s not one-dimensional, and with I Am the Street Dream, he proves he still has a lot of mileage left in his narrow range. Keep the faith, bloggers; while time has a way of deflating swagger, Jeezy sounds just as untouched and invincible as he did on Let’s Get It.