Jeezy, the non-stop hustler, delivers more of the same on "Church In These Streets."
Rap was born in New York, but it’s been splitting time in a few cities lately. It has a condo in Chicago, a house in the Los Angeles area. Rap probably has a couch to crash on in Houston and goes to Toronto a couple times a year as well. Most recently it has spent a boatload of time in Atlanta.
Rap’s been getting all sorts of ratchet in the ATL with Migos, 2 Chainz, Young Thug, and the list goes on. There’s tons of producers, and young talent seems to rise up every other week; why wouldn’t rap hang out around there? Historically, the scene can be traced back to the legendary duo Outkast, along with established heavyweights like T.I. and Ludacris. There’s also the likes of Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy, who made the ‘trap’ music thing pop off years ago.
Jeezy has been able to make a 10+ year career out of the same concepts: drug-dealing, hustling, the street life, etc. You’re rarely going to get any sort of unique socio-political insight from his raps, and you’re not going to get any serious emotion. Jeezy makes music for the streets, for the hustlers, and for those who may want an American Gangster-like insight to a world they’ll never actually be a part of. It’s probably safe to say the the majority of customers who bought his platinum (Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation & The Inspiration) and gold (The Recession & TM: 103 Hustlerz Ambiton) selling albums are members of the latter classification.
What’s so alluring about Jeezy’s music is the story around it. He was profiled early on by XXL, who said he described his childhood as “empty.” His older cousins were hustling heavily in the mid-80s, spoiling and influencing Jeezy. When they were locked up, Jeezy became unruly in pursuit of that lifestyle. By the time he was 12, he was apparently selling drugs with no connection to his family. He avoided the law for long enough to land a record deal and eventually put out generational classics like “Put On,” “Go Getta,” and “My President Is Black.” Everyone loves a rag to riches story, but on Church in These Streets you get Jeezy’s for the umpteenth time.
For better or for worse, it’s more of the same. It’s pretty good trap music that doesn’t challenge the listener too much, and that’s alright, if that’s what you want. There are a couple moments that are unlike any other Jeezy album, but for the most part, he’s chosen to stick to the script. With the first couple singles, “God” and “Church in These Streets,” Jeezy employed producers of the moment, like Southside, TM88 and Zaytoven. They weren’t breathtaking, but saw Jeezy taking advantage of modern sounds while introducing a slightly new theme in his words that can be summarized with the nickname “Pastor Young.” That’s the type of inspiration he provides people on the streets with, because if he can make it, then they can too. It’s a totally positive message, but do the words convey that message in the best way possible? That’s unlikely.
“Scared of the Dark” features Jeezy speaking his streetwise braggadocio as we’ve heard it a hundred times before. “Every nigga in my section like family nigga / Rolex’ like Grammys nigga / Raise ya bottles lets make a toast / To them pussy niggas that you hate the most,” is hardly stimulating. The fact that it's paired with an obnoxious hook makes this one totally skippable. He’s up to more of the same on “No Other Way,” yellin’, “You pussy niggas plotting on my downfall / Pussy niggas know how I get down dog / Cause there ain't no other way / Won't lose rather die won't quit rather try roll something / Cause there ain't no other way”…three times. Yes, three times Jeezy yells these lines, from the chorus, towards the singer. Sure, it may help to motivate you to overcome your foes, but at age 38, how many people are really plotting on Jeezy’s downfall? It’s probably more likely that anyone who was ever praying on his downfall has just forgotten he exists.
With “New Clothes,” Jeezy brags about making bail on his latest arrest, about a year ago while on tour with Wiz Khalifa. “This fresh it should be a crime read his Mirandas and book 'em / A million dollars for bail, tell the judge go to hell / As you see beat the case then I got back to my mail.” He annotated the lyric himself on Genius, saying, “The judge charged me and my whole crew, a million dollars a piece. That’s six million dollars for bail. I got everybody out and when I stepped out of that motherfucker I was two stepping. They can’t hold us; they can’t stop us. They only made us bigger, smarter and stronger. This is my favorite line.”
Despite most of the content being regurgitated from earlier albums, there is a little bit of interesting material as well. On “Sweet Life” with Janelle Monae, Jeezy takes a wavy C4 and Supah Mario beat for a ride, and, in the context of Church in These Streets, it plays out like a breathe of fresh air. The “Eternal Reflection Interlude” is a total curveball that makes you think Jeezy has it in him to produce an album with some real artistry behind it.
While Jeezy may have contributed to the thriving Atlanta rap scene, his rhymes no longer have the potency they did on his early Def Jam releases. MCs often have a difficult time growing old with the mic, mostly because the story of being 38 with two children isn’t all that interesting, and the hunger they had when broke is no longer driving them to push great music. If Jeezy never made another song, he’d still be set for life. He said “I don't give a fuck how much money you got my nigga, I don't give a fuck how rich you is nigga, You still gotta hustle. It's a holiday everyday nigga,” on “Hustlaz Holiday,” and the hustle is respected. It really is. It just isn’t as good as it once was.