When Young Jeezy made his official solo debut, 2005’s Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101, the scent of the streets still hung heavy ’round his neck. The reformed drug pusher had gone from posting on Atlanta corners to signing deals in Manhattan corner offices, and he had brought his bulletproof swagger with him.
It didn’t hurt that Jeezy rapped exclusively–with a glee bordering on the maniacal–about pushing coke, not like the finely crafted fiction of Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx; not like the detached reminiscing of Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt; definitely not like the flippant, thug-building exercises of youngsters Lil’ Wayne and Juelz Santana. The Snowman rapped about coke like rap was a secondary concern, like he half expected this straight stuff to fall through. Jeezy facsimile Rick Ross shouted out Noriega. Jeezy shouted out Black Mafia Family don Big Meech. Something tells me Ross doesn’t have Manuel’s cellphone number.
But by the time The Inspiration came about, it was getting harder and harder for Jeezy to maintain that street edge. Of course, it had been years since he had actually handled a brick or passed out testers. And the critical knocks on the double-platinum newly minted rap star–that he couldn’t get lyrical on the mike, that he was all empty bravado and ominous threats–appeared to be getting to Jeezy. What was a crack-rap king to do?
Jeezy’s response on The Inspiration is to strike first and fast against accusations of hood abandonment. “I said that D-Boy bullshit, yeah I’m still on it./ Got a half a brick left; do anybody want it?,” he asks early on “Still on It.” We catch Jeezy in a transitional stage, then, halfway between his “hustler-not-a-rapper” guise that was so dependably entertaining on his first album and the spottily effective gangster posturing that dominates The Inspiration. Throughout the record, Jeezy tells us he’s “the mutherfuckin’ realest,” that “if you a gangsta you gon’ love this shit,” that when “I speak, these niggaz believe me.” Compared to the goofball bluster of songs like “Go Crazy”–“Pimpin’, I’m so fly./ If I take this parachute off, I might fall and die (damn!)”-it’s not exactly desperate, but it’s not the effortless hood charm Jeezy used to have by the bushels, either.
We’d be remiss not to mention “Bury Me a G,” Jeezy’s most ambitious record to date. Imagining his own death-by-nightclub-shooting, Jeezy doesn’t get too deep. He apologizes for every gram he’s sold and every glock he’s popped, but he doesn’t sound too sincere. Otherwise, he’s obsessed with settling old debts and making sure he’s well-dressed in his casket. But the concept allows Mr. 17.5 to get vulnerable, to regain a touch of humor. “I hope heaven’s got a VIP line,” he quips.
One of the album’s most memorable lines is a silly little couplet off “J.E.E.Z.Y.”; “Jeezy like to drink, Jeezy like to smoke/ Jeezy like to mix arm-and-hammer with his coke.” It was morally reprehensible, possibly even hazardous, and somewhat lower-common-denominator-ish, but, fuck it, we miss the drug talk, dude.