Live: Young Jeezy Plays To The Locals At The Highline Ballroom

Young Jeezy Highline Ballroom Monday, July 25

Better than: Listening to Funkmaster Flex break a record live on air.

Yep, Jay-Z did come out to play, and yes, Kanye did put in an appearance, but the biggest draws at Young Jeezy's NYC gig were the secret stars. Despite initially taking the stage with a backing band—presumably because 'Ye doesn't get out of bed these days unless an artist is backed by a quintet in matching tuxes, and because apparently Jay now doesn't do anything that Kanye hasn't already told him is the done thing—it was only when Jeezy's show ditched his musical charges and pared down to rapping over a backing track that proceedings sparked. So Mannie Fresh and Shawty Redd, who held down the best production on Jeezy's Thug Motivation: 101, became the night's biggest motivators, with their sharp, booming drum beats and sinister synths moving the crowd where the band's grooves largely failed.

Your favorite trapper's favorite trapper entered looking like a superstar, clad in an all-black hat, leather jacket, and tie (and sporting a medallion suitable for Slick Rick), but for the first four or five tracks, including the anthemic "Go Crazy," the band's groove simply saturated Jeezy's style. As a rapper, Jeezy trades in reciting economically pronounced phrases—like a trap version of the junk Michael Scott pastes on the walls in The Office—that work best over drum machines and scant synthesizer riffs. When it works, he can spit something as uninvolved as "Even when I'm constipated I still shit on niggas" a capella and sound like a high religious rap motivator. (Pass the collection plate!) But with the band backing him, the performance was sapped of any visceral appeal—and this isn't just a pesky critic's thing, as the girl in front of me sporting a fedora chose the third act, when the band returned, as an opportunity to separate herself from the music and email a response to the 2nd Annual Men's Day Community Barbecue (whatever that may be). She wasn't alone.

Of course, for an NYC show Jeezy did all the right things (although he seems to think the five boroughs are the Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem, Jersey and Flatbush). But instead of the show being a revisiting of his debut, Thug Motivation: 101, as tentatively billed, it was more Jeezy playing a bunch of songs that just happen to co-star rappers he knows who live in New York. It meant that at times Jeezy seemed to be pushed to the side at his own show; instead of taking you inside Jeezy's trap star world, the night left you acutely aware that you were watching some sort of industry showcase promoting his forthcoming Thug Motivation: 103.

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Jeezy, of course, is that rare rap thing—a modern-day sales star—but the night left you wishing he had a bit more confidence in his own starpower and a bit less reliance on his rapping friends. He didn't become a star by pandering to New York, after all.

Critical bias: I miss the days when DJs and their record boys didn't spend the time in between songs gawping at their smartphones.

Overheard: "Everyone off the property! Please, I told you guys..." (The bouncer outside, doing a great impression of Twofer from 30 Rock.)

Random notebook dump: The on-stage cameraman looked like Ice Cube in his paunchy prime (that's a good thing, if a little distracting).

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