Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Recession

Young Jeezy, when he first started appearing in the public’s consciousness, represented a gritty South, in both literal and metaphorical terms. He was rural (from Macon, GA), Southern (ibid), and a drug dealer. He was outside of even normative rap culture. Jeezy rapped about parallel markets, about how a seemingly placid rural Southern existence is fraught with navigating pickup deals, gang violence and the perpetual fear that everyone else is trying to get what you’ve got. He was paranoid and nihilistic and, at times (especially w/r/t the “snowman” brand) surrealist. Jeezy could have been compared to a David Lynch, in that his lyrics exposed a darker side of the ordinary. It may have been a cheap gimmick matched with a clever ad campaign at the right time (big ups post 9/11 mid-Bush administration), but his records have worked at a critical and at a popular level.
So things seem perfect for Jeezy’s new album, The Recession right? In the weeks since it’s been finished (and leaked) the global economy has taken a swan dive into the deep end, with the most extreme among us suggesting a new depression. How lucky for the perpetual pessimist that things somehow managed to get worse.

Does he deliver? Well……no. The intro more than does its job: “It’s a recession/ Everybody broke/ So I just came back/ To give everybody hope.” This song accepts that Jeezy has diversified his profits into multiple enterprises, and even though his clothing line might go under, he won’t be back in the unemployment line (or on the corner) anytime soon, yet still cements him as a people’s champion – something which the US has been looking for lately (according to recent polling and fivethirtyeight.com).

But then it kind of falls apart into the same high-paced high-hats, cheesy synths and empty threats. Jeezy has never been a marvel of lyrical experimentation – you should go see him, according to TI, for the birdplay, not the wordplay. What he rested on earlier was his delivery; his grit. Jeezy’s voice got him halfway to a spokesman for the further disenfranchised young poor, who now might be facing homelessness (…..again) but his lyrics left him. “I’m young by the way/ The one by the way/ I ain’t tripping I just do this shit for fun by the way” (from “By The Way”) is about the silliest hook this side of snap, and that it comes from someone who seems to want to think of himself as a disciple is ridiculous. Jeezy hasn’t said anything in a while, and it’s disheartening now that the political and cultural environment has fallen into his lap and he still can’t really capitalize on it. The “Ha-HA!”s and “Yeah!”s are running thin.

But two notes: 1) “Crazy World” and “My President” appeal to vote for Obama which is funny considering Jeezy’s past with candidate endorsement. Earlier this summer Jeezy made a shout out to McCain, which, to be fair, probably makes good sense for his personal economic security. This didn’t fly. In a fascinating backlash by the urban black music media, it became obvious that Jeezy wasn’t just alienating himself from his fanbase, he was becoming everything he had ever fought against. Forget a thug’s inspiration, he became a traitor – to his people, his race, his economic status. On 106 and Park he later “clarified” that, of course, he supports Obama…to thunderous applause from the audience. Rappers have to be liberal, I guess. But more so black people have to be black. And black people vote for Obama.

2) “Put On”, the single with Kanye West that’s been circulating for a few months (and that Kanye played at Lollapalopoza) attempts again to connect to the disenfranchised rural poor, but it falls wells short. The video is encouraging but ultimately is barely descriptive of general poverty that’s been rhymed about for the last twenty years, much less the misery of the present situation. We get it guys, you’re rich and your cities are poor. Everything you do you do for us? Uh…..cool. Great. We gonna get a cut of the album sales or something? Rampant representing of where you’re from is beyond meaningless at this point.

But then “My President” pulls through again. Nas helps out to say, “Hey! Shit’s fucked up! But things are gonna get better!” It’s a progression from “The World Is Yours”’ “I’m out for dead presidents to represent me” that is useful. I don’t know if you guys heard, but ten years after “Changes” came out and Tupac said “And although it seems heaven sent/ We ain't ready to see a black president” a black man is favored (at four-to-one odds!) to be our next president. This is big shit, guys. Are benefit shows all that you’re really going to do? So Jeezy and Nas really pull this one off. It is what The Recession should be: scared, gritty, nervous, but hopeful. Instead, regardless of what’s going to happen in the next few months, it’s obvious that Jeezy is more than surviving. Couldn’t he at least pretend that things were worse?

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