By Chris Richards
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Take an MRI of Young Jeezy's throat and you might find loose gravel, shards of glass or a misplaced set of Ginsu knives. Since his 2005 debut, the Atlanta rapper's serrated rasp has billowed into a larynx-flaying roar, swollen syllables erupting from his mouth the way flames burst from an exploding building.
So when Jeezy announced that his third album, "The Recession," would offer a candid portrait of America's damaged psyche, it made perfect sense. Who better to narrate the woes of surging gas prices, a dysfunctional health-care system and perpetual warfare than someone whose vocal cords sound like they've suffered the worst of it? And while "The Recession" is a few tracks too bloated to make it 2008's "What's Going On," it still captures an incredible hulk of a rapper brilliantly embracing his "Dark Knight" sensibilities, delivering gloom and boom in a voice that refuses to be downsized.
"I think Bush is tryna punish us," Jeezy scowls on "Crazy World," a tune about an economy that has put the rapper in a tight (yet uniquely American) spot where empathy and avarice intersect. "Light bill, phone bill, plus my granny's nerve pills," he groans, rattling off his expenses. ". . . I want a new Bentley, my auntie need a kidney."
And with these colossal gripes come colossal beats -- backing tracks that eschew synth sizzle and 808 thump for soprano shrieks and timpani thunder. "Who Dat" elevates this turgid soundscape to almost anarchic levels -- the drums sound like Godzilla chasing Mothra down Atlanta's I-75 freeway.
Yet Jeezy's sheer forcefulness turns out to be his greatest weakness. He seems to relish pummeling our eardrums into Silly Putty and insists on doing the job alone. Until Lil Boosie pops up for a sneering guest verse 13 tracks in, Jeezy's is the only voice to be heard.
But, like a cartoon snowball rolling down a cartoon mountainside, "The Recession" builds exponentially. The thrills start to swell with "Circulate," a tune that samples Billy Paul's 1975 ode to Gerald Ford-era stagflation, "Let the Dollar Circulate." Jeezy gives a quick shout-out to Washington's go-go scene before playing mockingbird with Paul's chorus: "Inflation's getting higher, makes it harder on the buyer." Later, the rapper grouses from inside an empty safe, wondering if his diamond-encrusted watch was "a bad investment." This isn't the bling-guilt Kanye West espoused with "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" -- just good ol' American buyer's remorse.
Mr. West himself shows up later to add auto-tuned levity to the radio hit "Put On," a song where Jeezy pushes the disc toward its melodramatic apogee.
But "The Recession" reaches its climax in the final five minutes with "My President" and its guttural, giddy accolades for Barack Obama. "My president is black," Jeezy bellows on the hook, ditching the minor-key dysphoria for synthesizer sunbeams. "We're ready for damn change, so y'all let the man shine." The Democratic presidential nominee might not rush to embrace such an endorsement, but his campaign surely dreams of a finale as triumphant as what Jeezy achieves here.
Now somebody pass this man a lozenge.
DOWNLOAD THESE:"My President," "Put On," "Crazy World," "Circulate"