Is there a hip-hop artist who cares less about artistry than Young Jeezy? Dazzling wordplay, unpredictable flow, tricky rhyme schemes – these are froofy, frivolous concerns to the Atlanta drug-dealer-turned-MC. "Bitch, I'm legendary/Bitch, I'm a living legend," he announces, with typical wordiness, on his long-awaited fourth LP. Blunt-edged lines like these have never been a problem for Jeezy – he's selling a vibe, not virtuosity. Narrating coke-trade exploits, exhorting his fellow hustlers ("Let's get it!") and settling into incantatory cadences like a warm bath, he rhymes with a luxuriously unhurried bravado that’s contagious.
Hip-hop has transformed in the three years since Jeezy's last album. Lil Wayne has returned daffy verbosity to the pop charts; Drake has opened new veins of emotiveness; and Rick Ross has taken Jeezy's spotlight, rapping about drug-trade hedonism with booming gravitas. How does Jeezy react to all this? Mostly, he ignores it.
Jeezy stays stubbornly true to form on TM:103, rapping with minimal embellishment about getting rich (and high), treating beautiful cars poorly and beautiful women worse. The beats, produced by Southern luminaries like Drumma Boy and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, are full of imperious synthesizer pageantry, rumbling bass and frenetic percussion. No song would be out of place on his 2005 debut, where he con- jured a seamy world out of little more than a wheezing growl and vivid one-line vignettes about roach-infested kitchens and dirty cash bundled by rubber bands.
Jeezy's worldview has always been narrow, but here it borders on claustrophobic. "All we do is smoke and fuck," he chants on "All We Do." "Trapped" is about the impossibility of escaping the drug-game mentality. On the defiant "F.A.M.E.," in the closest he comes to a glimmer of introspection, he barks, "I wake up and feel empty." Just a hunch, Jeezy, but maybe the whole nothing-but-smoking-and-fucking policy isn't helping.
Introspection isn't Jeezy's trade; charisma is. That's why deeper, wordier thinkers like Jay-Z, Wayne, Fabolous and Andre 3000 all pay their respects on tracks like the brassy, upbeat "I Do" and the slinky "O.J.," about “killing that white bitch” – an off-color coke boast by way of Nicole Brown's corpse. Other metaphors don't quite come off: "You worse than Frito-Lay/Yeah, you no cheddar," he sneers. When Jeezy attempts snazzier turns of phrase like these, they can sound like they're penned in a foreign language and mangled by Google Translate.
He's better when he sticks to his native tongue – the street-cred-radiating plain-spokenness he calls "real talk." When he raps, on the opening "Waiting," "I made it this far, a fool with my foolish pride/Look at me, what you see, a fool in his foolish ride," you want to hop in the passenger seat. And whenever he delivers his signature drunk-uncle chuckle, "Ha haaa!" it's hard not to chuckle along with him.
Listen To "I Do":