Young Jeezy is not a philosopher. He’s just your average dealer; that’s his charm. And his 2005 major-label debut, Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101, delivered on the promise of his mix tapes: icy edifice, inner-city edification. His latest outing follows suit, twisting the language of self-help. Problem is, everyone was waiting for a moon leap—Thug Motivation 201 at least, an upper-level track in Jeezy’s cocaine workshop.
Mid-level’s not so bad, as it turns out. An eccentric, macho torch song, “3 A.M.” parades Timbaland’s return-to-rap spectacle: a layer cake of churning strings, skittering beatbox patterns à la “My Love,” and floor-shaking tremors. Beneath the glaze of nonchalance, it’s easy to miss the desperation. He’s about to leave the club alone, oh no. He’s girl-less in the parking lot. Now he’s buckling his seat belt. Even lone rangers don’t want to sleep solo.
Centerpiece “I Luv It” captures DJ Toomp plagiarizing himself, recreating T.I.’s space-operatic “What You Know” from top to bottom, skyscraping Scarface synths and all. Over this rocky foundation, Jeezy unspools, in a strangely delicate and breathy register, an appreciation of how he’s mangled the already-mangled American dream. “I’m the Realest,” meanwhile, shines a floodlight on the logical wrinkle in gangsta rap’s black heart: that the true-blue “authentic” hustler would be out there on some corner, hustling. Not rapping. No surprise that Jeezy’s still tripping over himself to prove that Rapper X and especially Rapper Y are at least 15 percent less real than he is, that his past is bloodier and his rap sheet two lines longer, his magazine subscriptions more sordid, etc.
Supposedly, “Bury Me a G” is a nod to Tupac. But as Jeezy fussily narrates his own downfall, the song becomes more of a Freudian nod to the death instinct itself: the mystifying worship of, and inner drive toward, self-destruction. Coupled with the video, a tricksy revenge dramedy boasting actors from The Wire and a Hummer 2, Jeezy reshapes the myth of black male violence into a gold-plated capitalist axiom. When he kneels prayerfully and begs forgiveness “for every gram I sold/Every Glock I popped/Every rock I shopped,” we get the sense we are listening to anti-trap music. But all the gun-battle theatrics and thrilling brushes with mortality prove it’s still a trap.