“The idea for the album was that everybody needs money” —Don Cannon ("Don Cannon Reflects On Billy Paul and Making 'Circulate'")
Jeezy is a realist. After a decade-and-a-half of delivering forthright rap music, this much is evident. On the eponymous intro of his 2005 Def Jam debut, Thug Motivation 101, the Atlanta-raised rap star could not boast of his kitchen with marble floors without the contrast of cockroaches festering in his former residence. Plainly stating the product he used to sell wasn’t enough, Jeezy noted how the action of dope dealing was a byproduct of the environment that raised him.
Consider the first half of his career as investigative journalism into trap houses and street corners, cocaine residue and BMF affiliation, fast money and the prosperous lifestyle it affords.
Rappers embellish—stretching the truth is part of their creative makeup. There is a fine line between those respected for being real and posers who are labeled as liars. But Jeezy's slices of realism remove any suspicion of a caricature. When he still had "Young" attached to his name, the boasts were the bragging of a former dealer who trapped and didn’t die.
The Snowman’s triumphant brand of trap music is the result of surviving an unlawful business that rewards riches at the risk of imprisonment in a cell or coffin. Jeezy glorifies the escape, the hustle, and how his impoverished upbringing encouraged the fast life that eventually funded his transition from rags to rapping.
“Counted so much paper, it'll hurt ya hands,” he gloats on Thug Motivation 101’s opening track. Instead of questioning the validity of his lyrics, listeners envision hundreds of money counters surrounding Jeezy, with a swollen hand the size of Thanos' infinity gauntlet. To begin his classic single “Go Crazy,” an uncredited woman says, “Yeah, dope boy. This is the official hustler's anthem. If you getting money throw it in the air,” as if money is so abundant that discarding a few hundreds is just a symbol of wealth that occurs regularly. In Jeezy’s world, holding tightly to your dollars speaks of how little you have.
What made Jeezy's motivational sermons so impactful is the idea of the hustler conceptualized as someone with the capacity of making an infinite amount of money. Jeezy wasn’t focused on what you were born with, but what could you make with a little hustle and finesse. He spoke of cash as if dead presidents were available to whoever had the hunger to chase paper. Jeezy simply provided the soundtrack.
That’s why the opening track of his third studio album, The Recession, is so striking—Jeezy cut a slice of realism that was a little too real. The celebrated hustler is frank about the economic reality of the United States in 2008: No money, mo' problems.
“The Recession (Intro)” is dystopian paranoia over a soundbed fit for a gladiator, a hip-hop banger about how everything is bad. “Young won't you make it rain, bitch is you insane?” the "Trap Star" rapper belts over DJ Toomp production that was originally made with T.I. in mind. Jeezy is stressed rather than celebratory; a bald man who sounds as if he’s losing his hair. Money was no longer limitless, but scarce. Even the rich were pinching pennies.
Before the album's release, Big Meech was sentenced to 30 years, the government had failed its people, and a nationwide drought was drying up every nickel and dime. Everybody was broke and the recession was to blame. Let Jeezy tell it...
“When money was plentiful, I was the first one who told you to stack it. Live your life with it," he says. "Now that money slowed up, I'ma be the one telling you to save it like they ain't gon' make it no more.” —Jeezy (Young Jeezy: “I’m Not Capitalizing Off The Recession”)
After millions of records sold and the perception of millions attached to his name, Jeezy wasn't what you would consider common folk. He didn’t feel the pressure of applying for jobs in a crumbling market or having to decide between feeding his growling belly or filling his starving gas tank. These weren’t his day-to-day problems. But he also wasn’t a celebrity who entered the ivory tower to escape from the real world. No, The Recession proved how aware Jeezy was of the times. Being connected to the streets wasn’t just visiting the hood with turkeys on Thanksgiving. Real-world repercussions were happening; people were confused and uncertain, and Jeezy tapped into that energy.
The Recession as an entire body of work doesn’t follow a strict narrative of decline. This was still a Jeezy album—the anthems were grandiose, the boasting of a giant, and triumph was still at the heart of his message about overcoming. Yet, duality is his saving grace. For example, “Vacation” sounds nothing like an exotic trip away from the worries of home. The locations he talks about visiting aren’t Hawaii or Los Angeles; Jeezy is going into the hoods where money is fast and decisions are risky.
To provide the perfect dark undertones necessary to sell the emotion in his lyrics for "Vacation," Jeezy leaned on The Inkredibles and their haunting production. Musically, The Recession is cloaked in an aggressive madness, with producers like Drumma Boy, Midnight Black, Shawty Redd and more creating the sense of trouble being around each corner of each of the album's 18 tracks.
“You going back to jail, that's what my conscience keep on telling me,” Jeezy says on “Crazy World” with the conviction of someone who truly believes he hasn’t escaped the possibility of serving a life sentence. When you consider that, in 2008, Jeezy’s name was brought up in the FBI investigation of BMF, the distress is fitting. The Recession isn’t paranoia based on disillusion, but fear.
One of the most transparent lyrics of his career is rapped on the song's second verse: “I want a new Bentley and my auntie need a kidney / And if I let her pass her children never will forgive me.” Jeezy's bank account isn’t bottomless. Luxuries cost money. Healthcare costs money. Lifestyles and livelihoods were greatly affected by the economy, from superstar rappers to their ill family members.
“I got family members, aunts, uncles and friends that still live their life. You going through trials and trills, but you can’t save everybody, so it definitely affects me when I get the phone calls and somebody’s getting put out of their house, somebody doesn’t have a ride to work, somebody can’t pay their bills and there ain’t really a lot of opportunity out there for you.” —Jeezy (Young Jeezy: “I’m Not Capitalizing Off The Recession”)
Lyricism isn’t Jeezy’s strength. He delivers strong bars mixed with the encouraging message to hustle with ambition, but what he lacked as a clever scribe he more than made up for with sheer charisma. The Recession is Jeezy attuned with what makes him so captivating: he tightened his delivery, focused his songwriting, added more weight to his rasp, and chose some of the most pristine production of his career. It’s an album that aimed to correct critical gripes and oversell what fans loved.
Being self-aware of what was expected of him and of what he wanted to create allows The Recession to house “Who Dat” and “By the Way” juxtaposed by “Circulate” and “Don’t Do It.” Classics for the club, for the streets, and for the hip-hop listener who doesn't fit either demographic. Then you have a record like "Put On," the Kanye-assisted time capsule that speaks to all three. With a theme that focuses on the world's problems, Jeezy made his most accessible, sophisticated, and edgy body of work.
In retrospect, The Recession is an album that concludes with a hopeful ending, not a happy one. After spending 17 songs stressing about the state of America in the final days of the George W. Bush administration, Jeezy saw hope in Democratic candidate Barack Obama. It’s almost a work of fiction to believe one man could save an entire nation from a financial deficit, but so was the idea of a black president.
That’s the great irony of 2008: America resting its faith and future in the hands of a black man endorsed by a rapper who had a nationwide T-shirt ban in schools because of he turned a snowman into a cocaine motif. “My President” believed in the change Obama promised; if money symbolized the wealth of a hustler, Jeezy saw Obama as the antidote to save us from the plague. He wasn't the only one.
Jeezy made “My President” before President Obama’s election. It was a premature prediction, believing in the impossible with loud conviction, but that’s also why it was the perfect victory lap after Obama had won the White House. Jeezy had given people the soundtrack to their woes and to hope. The Recession touched the very pulse of how it felt to be in a climate of change. To know how it felt to enter job fairs with elders twice your age; to go years without seeing a single sign about hiring but still wanting to spend a Friday night at the club; to believe in Barack Obama while aware of how the government has continued to fail black people.
The moment Jeezy captured on The Recession isn’t unlike the moment Kendrick Lamar seized on DAMN., a political record based on the angst of America from the black perspective. Kendrick said no one was praying for him, while Jeezy was praying for hope, change, and the strength to keep us motivated during such a trying time.
Ten years later, The Recession stands as Jeezy’s second classic, an album that tells the story of 2008 in ways that are equal parts timely and timeless.
By Yoh, aka Yohcession, aka @Yoh31
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