Thursday, June 24, 2010

ROD: Young Jeezy- Snow Man

Rapper(s) of the Decade is a mixtape series curated by myself that will span 2010. In theory, each month I'll be dedicating a mixtape to the 12 Rappers and Groups I felt proved most instrumental in shaping the last decade in Hip Hop in no particular order. June's installment belongs to Young Jeezy.

Download: Snow Man

So, here’s a question: Who does Jay Jenkins sound like? Who taught him how to rap? Who was he influenced by? Khujo? 8 Ball maybe? Perhaps the answer is more complex. As Jeezy himself has suggested several times, perhaps he’s Frankenstein monster, born fully formed in a Pyrex pot in a roach infested Bankhead kitchen where an enterprising teen stumbled upon the perfect ratio of soda to flake. Point being that while Jenkins spent the majority of the decade vilified by the contingent of backpackers I went to college with, as well as their kind around the world, as the Rap grim reaper incarnate, the omega man/harbinger of the apocalypse for those who demand positivity and content driven wordplay from their conscious artists, there are few voices that have come along in the last ten years more original than Young Jeezy’s.

Start with the obvious, that world weary rasp, something that doesn’t sound so much a product of a 28 year old’s worn vocal chords as it does a demon croak, something ominous and timeless and barely human. His punchlines are a series of seemingly childish but deceptively complex and punny plays on words that still manage menace. In his pioneering use of the ad-lib, Jeezy found a way to comment on his commentary, to punctuate an already adrenaline fueled punch with an exclamation point, to coin a phrase that is little more than a stretch of besieged larynx. Then there’s the question of content, and truly, has any rapper ever pursued any one subject with the dogged, stubborn, single minded intensity that Jeezy brings to his hustle?

One of the best ways into Jeezy, both his great and not so great qualities as an MC, can found in “24-23 (Kobe, Lebron)”, his headline grabbing shot at friend and foe Gucci Mane from last summer. Starting with the negative, Jeezy wastes a ton of our time here. All three verses meander, and most frustratingly, his chorus goes nowhere. Is this really the time to tell us that his watch is expensive and he’s trying to fuck some chick? The hook’s final bar in which he discusses coming down on price and gives the song its name is effective as both a clever (catchy), very Jeezy brag while he sons Gucci in the abstract, but the cumulative effect of the chorus throughout the song pulls something away from the devastation of the punch.

However, over a backdrop reminiscent of “Trap Or Die”, Jeezy nails an attitude of sustained arrogant menace, so often a key to his ability to execute. There is casualness to his bouncing delivery as he hurls this grenade, a shoulder brushing in his shit talk that earns authenticity, a value in his music that Jeezy prizes above all others. There is also a very simple, scaled down directness to his shit talk. It makes for a fascinating contrast with “Ether” because both played as effective salvos while existing as polar opposites. Consider this, the real meat of Jeezy’s attack on Gucci:

“I’m on my Louie shit today, fuck some Gucci Mane

These niggas still on my dick, they like some groupies mane

Can’t keep they lips closed, they worse than coochies mane

In that fruity lookin stupid like some coogie mane

Let you trick me off these streets? You must be stupid mane

Tell em this aint what he want, not the boy snow

But between me and you I think the boy slow!”

From a technical standpoint Jeezy gets in a sick rhythm with multi syllabic punchlines wrapped around Gucci’s name, and calling him out as a “Coogi” with arms and legs makes for a great snap, but he really wins the day with phrasing and delivery. The nasal vocal impersonation he does at “lookin fruity” is spot on and hilarious, but more than that, there’s a useful simplicity to the disses/warnings. When Nas tells Jay-Z he has dick sucking lips or Jay bags on Nas because the royalties went to Serch, there’s an a distinct air of performance and one-upsmanship that we revel in, but in many ways take refuge in. The dressing up is a very clear acknowledgment of the existence of the insult in the context of a song in the midst of a rap beef, a sort of playful sparring. Jeezy gives us no such refuge and it serves the weight of the song. He doesn’t need to adorn his withering insults with clever metaphor or flourish, he feels very comfortable simply calling Gucci “slow”, and in doing so lands a broadside hay maker. You feel genuine disdain in the song, and as has been the case throughout his career, that sense of authentic contact with the writer elevates the power of his words.

But this is a story not just about a man, but a sound. Jeezy and Shawty Redd pioneered the atmospheric, synth driven monoliths that have come to define a certain prominent style of Southern production that a new wave of young Southern beat smiths specialize in (See: Soulja Boy, Drumma Boy, Zaythoven). It’s DNA shows signs of the horror-core 3-6 Mafia practiced throughout the 90s, taken to steroidal, grandiose levels previously unseen in Hip Hop. Jeezy made the perfect front man for these mini macabre operas, replacing axe wielding sociopaths and mutated monsters with crippling poverty, black ambition and dead eyed desperation. He created a heavy stylized, cartoonishly grotesque world around the dark trade. A thought started by the glamorizing golden era crack rappers in New York during the mid 90s and brought to its terrible, logical conclusion by Jeezy and the Re-Up Gang over the past ten years.

In terms of progression, in the last two years particularly, he’s gone from a one note, albeit charismatic MC to one capable of showcasing surprising range. I’d always thought of Jeezy as a bizarre, uncomfortable choice for R&B cameos, though he’s kept up with them faithfully from the outset of his career in the realm of superstardom. A guy with Jeezy’s slant, with his voice and subject matter just shouldn’t work co-existing with Christina Milian or Usher on a soft club jam.

But, on Akon’s “I'm So Paid” last year, he was the only reason to tune in, finally adjusting to inhabit the world of the song without compromising his voice, beginning to show true nuance as a writer. On the get money anthem, he has energy, the type of quotables one can imagine a dancefloor singing along to in a club and most importantly, tone, giving his verse a proper female minded tint without sacrificing gangster, a crucial distinction that can make for some awfully off key performances when rappers dabble in R&B. (See: Jada and late Jay-Z) His showstopper on Drake’s “Unforgettable” only hammers his maturation home, going borderline emo in deference to his host and still retaining his Jeezyness, running away with the album’s best moment. On “Spaceships On Bankhead”, off his stellar I Am The Street Dream mixtape, Jeezy jumps on D4L’s “Scotty”, not matching Fabo’s intensely, dare I say, based performance because it isn’t humanly possible, but displays a playfulness and energy that comes close.

One area that hasn’t seen a lot of progression are Jeezy’s albums. They’re all quite good and consistent, but there isn’t much to differentiate one from the next, so far. See, Jeezy is one of the more savvy artists working, understanding a demographic before many knew it existed. He realized a unique approach and message to peddle, one that spit in the face of Hip Hop’s old guard, then had the courage to stand behind it without so much as an apology or middle ground concession as the backlash raged. When the dust cleared he was standing. Standing with the critics and the people behind him. And so it’s only natural that Jeezy has taken note of the progression Rap is currently undergoing, and I expect Thug Motivation 103 will reflect it, without fundamentally changing his sound.

For many of us, the rise of our 44th president will always have “My President”, Jeezy’s greatest moment on The Recession, as its soundtrack, and I find something fitting in that. The song was a perfect synthesis of Jeezy’s best qualities, the aspects of his message that stray closest to, yes, positivity. The soaring anthem demands we take stock of our environments and seize the moment, that you will survive, you can succeed and anything is possible. A dream of the street. It’s one hard working, triumphant underdog and self made man speaking to another.

1. Standing Ovation Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101 (2005)
2. Moving Weight (ft. Pusha T) Mick Boogie- Dirty Work 4: More Hustle, More Snow (2005)
3. Trap Niggaz Boyz N da Hood (2005)
4. Spaceships On Bankhead (ft. Fabo) I Am The Street Dream! (2006)
5. The Inspiration The Inspiration: Thug Motivation 102 (2006)
6. Dey Know (Remix) (ft. Ludacris, Plies & Lil Wayne) Units In The City (2007)
7. Entertained The Prime Minister (2008)
8. Icy (ft. Boo) Trap House (2005)
9. 24-23 (Kobe/Lebron) (2009)
10. Chuuch Trap Or Die (2005)
11. Hustlaz Ambition The Recession (2008)
12. Make It Work For Ya (ft. Lil Wayne) What The Game's Been Missing! (2005)
13. My First 48 Hrs Trappin Aint Dead (2009)
14. Real As It Gets The Blueprint 3 (2009)
15. Get Ya Mind Right Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101 (2005)
16. My President (ft. Nas) The Recession (2008)
17. Streets On Lock The Inspiration: Thug Motivation 102 (2006)

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