It’s been nearly a decade since the dot-com bubble burst, so being in a recession is nothing new. After the long period of economic growth during the Clinton administration, I’d wager we’ve kind of gotten used to an average-ish economy during the Bush years. Sure, this time around things are a mite more severe than the bursting of the dot-com bubble, In the first track off The Recession, the title track, Jeezy declares:
“It’s a recession!
So I just came back
Gave everybody hope!”
It’s a gloriously weird piece of hip hop machismo. “A contraction in the global economy! Who will save us? Call Young Jeezy, he’s the rapper who cares!” Not even Barack Obama is that dramatic when chastising the Republican economic plan – though I wouldn’t mind if he started using that song at his rallies. Hell, if McCain can enlist Daddy Yankee…
No, this isn’t a concept record about cutting costs and selling your house and investing in renewable energy. At first, it’s a listenable, yet unambitious, record – which is unfortunate for an album that sounds so big. Through the first half of the album, every beat is so foreboding and epic sounding, which injects a good amount of tension into each song – but it all feels a little artificial and generic. Throw in a lot of posturing and musing on wealth, and you would have a fairly standard hip hop record.
But there’s a catch. For every reminder that his life was rags to riches, for every statement about getting money (I get money, I got money, I am about to have money, I will have had money) there’s a moment in which Jeezy looks a little deeper. Take “Hustlaz Ambition”, in which he espouses:
“What’s all the doubt about?
Because he ain’t sellin’ out?
Because he ain’t givin’ up?
Because he don’t give a fuck?
Because he ain’t jaded enough?
I guess he ain’t lame enough
And just know I’m sayin enough
That you play with my sanity
Gives a fuck what you think of me
Unless you’re feeding my family”
The best parts of the album are when Jeezy lets down his guard. Sure, he’s got swagger – but he’s got his priorities in order too. You can strut all you want, but at the end of the day he’s got a family to support. Maybe this is what happens to a rapper at 30 – the cocaine days are over, there are other people depending on him and he’s got to saddle up, even if he doesn’t give a fuck. Or take “Circulate”, sampling an old soul track by Billy Paul, which has some of the best production on the album behind Jeezy revealing some financial personal insecurity. Is this what the recession means to rappers?
“Looking at my stash
Like where the fuck is the rest at?
Looking at my watch
Like it’s a bad investment.”
The further you go into the album, the better it gets – both lyrically and musically. “I’m way too intelligent to play up my intelligence / What you tryin’ to tell me, what I’m saying’s not relevant?” he wonders on Word Play. While some rappers have slightly inflated views of themselves as political analysts, Jeezy seems to know when to keep his mouth shut – in fact, he might err on the side of caution a little too often. On “Vacation,” he sucks in his pride and admits that he needs a mental health break from hustling. Trey Songz provides a stellar hook to “Takin’ it There”, where the dramatic beat actually does the subject matter a favor. It turns what could have been a hookup song into something a bit more worried-sounding. Put On, the first single, obliterates any arguments claiming Kanye is a terrible MC and instead turns him into the A-lister that can turn a single guest verse into an event, using Autotune to add emotion to a track rather than just some T-Pain infused spice.
The album is too long. What hip hop album isn’t? Jeezy has some great tracks in here, but more than anything I’m left looking forward to his next album – this all seems like some grand foreshadowing of a hip hop classic, like he’s packed it with the glimmers of promise that precede his magnum opus. Jeezy’s here, and he’s only getting better. If only he could drop some of the dead weight and start running his mouth a little more – maybe he’s too intelligent to play up his intelligence, but the hip hop world can never use enough brainiacs. I don’t think too many people would mind if he got up onto a high horse. The album is hard to get into, but if you have the patience, you’ll find The Recession extremely rewarding.
The last track, “My President,” which features an unusually optimistic Nas, is perhaps the best example of what Barack Obama is doing for hip hop. It’s not just hope and change, but it’s also pride. Jeezy recorded it June 3, the last day of the primary campaign, and the track just exudes ebullience from start to finish. You’ve got a former drug dealer and the author of “Life’s a Bitch,” both of whom genuinely believe that things could actually change, that this really is what they’ve been waiting for. What started as a fascinated but bleak acknowledgment that there’s life outside the hood passes through a willingness to step up and take responsibility and finally ends at a surprising mix of pride, joy, and hope that things are gonna get better. That’s a storybook, man.
Posted by Joe Kaiser at Sep 04, 2008 10:49 PM