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CD Review

Young Jeezy taps into our hard times

Young Jeezy Rapper Young Jeezy visited MTV's "Total Request Live" on Sept. 2.
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / September 5, 2008
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Soul singer Billy Paul penned "Let the Dollar Circulate" at a time when it wasn't.

It was 1975. The gross national product was down. So was investment. Inflation was up, but not as much as unemployment, which had peaked at 9 percent that year. War in Vietnam had quadrupled oil prices, so gas was up to 53 cents a gallon - pocket change now, but it was 16 cents more than people were paying five years before that.

The way Paul captured it all in that song - from the dramatic horns to his pleading voice - was perfect for Young Jeezy.

The Atlanta rapper wanted his third album to be like his first album, only "on steroids." But it couldn't be exactly the same. Not with US unemployment at its highest since 2004, a bag of groceries costing about 6 percent more than it did when the year started, and gas money coming from a debit card instead of a couch cushion thanks to another war.

This album had to acknowledge the times or else it would be an insult. So he sampled Paul's song to make his own, "Circulate," a track from Young Jeezy's new album, "The Recession," out this week. The song is to "The Recession" what the cash-tossing celebration "Go Crazy" was to his 2005 debut, "Thug Motivation," both soul-drenched, sample-heavy odes to their moments in time.

As Paul's soulful voice croons, Jeezy's hoarse voice echoes, with the familiar ease and intensity of his now famous ad libs.

"Interest rates going up," Paul sings.

"Interest rates going up!," Jeezy croaks.

"Seems like nobody gives a . . ."

"Somebody's gotta give a . . ."

"Meat prices up to steak."

"Meat prices up to steak!"

"Utilities are on their way."

"Damn."

"Airlines are running late. Say, please!"

"Please!

It's the same song more than 30 years later. Paul's version probably did more to capsulate the recession of the mid-'70s than Jeezy's entire album, but consider Jeezy's starting point.

In just three years, he has been blamed for a lot. He flooded rap with cocaine references, as if the genre needed anymore, and since he made it without really being able to rap, rappers like Gucci Mane and Shawty Lo have careers even though they really can't rap, either.

On "The Recession," Jeezy doesn't exactly slip into a state of social consciousness (his song "Black President" with Nas also describes his blue Lamborghini, green money, and "great white" cocaine). But after his generally commercial sophomore album, "The Inspiration," his rhymes are crisp and targeted, full of purpose and also remorse.

"Got me lookin' at my stash like, 'Where the rest at?"' he raps on "Circulate." "Lookin' at my watch like it's a bad investment."

He still gives in to familiar habits. Songs like "Who Dat" and "Amazin' " are essentially recorded money showers, "Don't Know You" would be a nursery rhyme if the beat didn't knock so hard, and "Word Play" is a song about how it doesn't really matter if he can rap, because he's "still talking crack rock."

The plus side is that he's in familiar territory. He called on many of the engineers behind "Motivation" to create the menacing tones for "Recession," from Midnight Black to Shawty Redd to DJ Toomp. Drumma Boy ties the sound together, carrying the same elements the sound of a spaceship taking off, the Michael Myers "Halloween" piano theme, the heartbeat bass thumps, and hand-clap snares through "Amazin'," "Hustlaz Ambition," and the summer's anthem, "Put On," with Kanye West.

Jeezy toes the line between empathizing with the circumstances and pandering to the people struggling because of them. But the prevailing feeling is that he's somewhat sincere. After all, his stacks aren't as high as they used to be, either.

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