Young Jeezy walked into the lounge of Quad Studios in Manhattan, the black-on-black cover to his new album TM103: Hustlaz Ambition (out December 20th) posted on an easel in the corner, low key. The room was small, dark and smelled vaguely of vanilla-scented candles. Def Jam staffers greeted writers, and Irv Gotti (who is very publicly lobbying to be president of the label) walked in with a winter cap and a smile, shook hands and then left. It was a friendly atmosphere, and Jeezy seemed in a good mood, despite the journey: "It took a little time, but more on that later." He laughed, everyone laughed, though it wasn't really a joke. "It's been a long time coming."
TM103, his fourth album but the third in a series, has been less pushed-back than shoved, a tortured process of try-try-againing. The album's lead single, "Lose My Mind," a wall-puncher with Plies, hit the streets over eighteen months ago. Three other songs have been released to radio since; none will make the final master. An official tracklisting, released six weeks ago through Jeezy's Twitter, is unrecognizable from the album today. When asked what happened to "Shake Life," he shrugged, his voice more gravelly than usual: "It's just one of those things, man."
The oh-so-appropriately titled opening track "Waiting" bursts with operatic swoons, big drums and bigger bass, as Jeezy not-so-gently attempts to take back his spot. He reintroduces himself, saying, "the one you been waiting on…one of niggas talking this real shit," not-so-veiled shots in Rick Ross' direction. (Ross has quickly and effectively Talented Mr. Ripley-ed Young Jeezy in the past two years, becoming a superstar in the process. Once friendly, they're now, well, not.) This sets the tone for the album, a whirlpool of aggression, unsurprising if solid.
Jeezy makes a specific type of record very well: the soundtrack to a club fight. Throughout the album's fourteen tracks, Jeezy hits that nail repeatedly; so often, in fact, that it can be rendered unremarkable. (Four of the songs played last night probably wouldn't be able to be picked out of a police lineup.) The best of these is the perfectly lurching "Smoke & Fuck." (Jeezy, explaining the song, said it was about "smoking and fucking.") In "OJ," a cocaine-flow fantasia, he brags about "killing that white bitch," with Fabolous and Jadakiss each joining the powder melee. Jeezy makes a reference to having a "dirty white bitch, Kat Stacks." Kat Stacks is Venezuelan, but whatever.
In this context, the standouts come when Jeezy steps out of his own shadow, attempting crossovers, softening his fire-scorched voice. He recalled a conversation he had with Ne-Yo, leading up to their collaboration: "I said, 'Yo, I got this idea 'cause I'm trying to get the chicks in my show. It's full of thugs…I tried to sing the shit to Ne-Yo, but it didn't come out right'." He laughed that smoker's laugh before playing "Leave It Alone," the kind of smooth hit that radio station PDs eat up. (Produced by Warren G! It sounds very airy, breezy, Watch The Throne-y.) Jeezy: "That's what a Ne-Yo and Jeezy chick record sounds like. This is what a Jeezy chick record sounds like." That led into "Smoke & Fuck," which is not a chick record at all.
"I Do," the grand finale, sounds lush, a long-lost sibling to Three-6 Mafia's "I Choose You." The final track has all of the soul that the album had been missing up to that point. (It's about finding love in the club, love in the chapel, and the nights in between.) "I won't even tell y'all who's on the track. I'm just gonna play it." Jeezy grinned, then retreated to the corner, drink in hand. He sipped, watching the room enter freak-out mode, returning to shake hands and dap up glint-eyed writers first as they heard Jay-Z's voice kick in, and again when Andre-3000's verse started. Jay rhymes "Mercedes" with "make a baby," but Andre is particularly fun, here: "You know that juicy fruit ain't gon' fall far from the tree, so if we ever whoop-di-whoop and then we beep-de-beep…" They played it twice, and twice wasn't enough.
It's unclear whether Jeezy will regain his spot. With so much well-publicized hype, it can never live up to expectations; the cards against him stack high. But, there are definitely needles in the haystack; more appropriately, there are bullets in the gun. And, it seems, there's still fight in the dog.