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When conversations take place about who the Kings of hip-hop are—particularly of those starting in the 21st century—Jeezy rarely gets his full props, more so regarded as a footnote. As one of the leading emcees that defined southern hip-hop and trap music as we know it today, Jay Wayne Jenkins—who used to have a “Young” modifier at the beginning of his rap name—continued his hustla statement, providing the game his third studio album, The Recession, on September 2, 2008.
By that point, rap below the Mason Dixon line dominated the mainstream, with Lil’ Wayne’s Tha Carter III, Plies’ Definition of Real, and singles from the likes T.I. and Webbie controlling the Billboard charts. At the same time, America was experiencing an economic decline on the cusp of electing its first black President. Out of all his Southern brethren, Jeezy proved to be the most adept to commentate on these matters, despite initial critical resistance to his style of music. With straightforward bravado, the recording artist not only showed those naysayers out, but laid a foundation, enacting the role of a professor from the hood.
The Recession starts with an “Intro” of news clips documenting the financial hardships the nation faced, before a woman being interviewed pleads “we need somebody to come and help us!” The moment finally arrives where Jeezy starts to talk his shit about his own struggles, informing in the chorus “it’s a recession: er’rybody broke.” It’s that motivation to hustle hard for his hometowns of Columbia, South Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia that drives the record. He immediately matches the energy of his first two LPs, 2005’s Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation and 2006’s The Inspiration—the former reaching No. 2 on the Billboard 200 albums chart and the latter hitting No. 1.
Jeezy started off 2008 as an emerging Kingpin of the R&B and hip-hop collab, his feature on Usher’s “Love In This Club” topping the Billboard Hot 100. However, the attitude on The Recession aligns with DJ Khaled’s previously released “Out Here Grindin’,” an all-Southern affair featuring Jeezy, Rick Ross, Lil Boosie, Trick Daddy, Ace Hood and Plies, with Akon singing the hook written by T-Pain. Out of that entire pack of rappers, Jeezy had actually been the most commercially successful, starting off his Recession era with “Put On,” an anthem about representing his city to the fullest. Debuting on June 3, the song eventually peaked at the No. 12 spot on the all encompassing chart, setting a tone for the rest of the album rollout.
On the Recession tracklist, “Put On” ended up being 14 songs away from the second, “Welcome Back.” That song sees Jeezy getting comfortable in his traditional style of hard-knocking bass on a repeated loop, the kind that insights rowdy mosh pits at trap concerts today. Through his cockiness (a trait that he’ll later delve into the reasoning for having), Jeezy finds the hilarity in hustling and those that don't comprehend it, with his signature “ah ha-ha” laughing adlibs and long drawn out “jeyahh’s” cosigning his proclamations. He starts the track by saying “I told you niggas,” a line that might have been picked up by Lil Boosie’s daughter in a viral clip years later after her father’s release from jail. Lil Boosie does appear on “Everything,” a song discussing putting it all on the line for the sake of family and the money.
In “Welcome Back,” Jeezy acknowledges his position in trap rap while simultaneously calling out “faking ass trap niggas.” What’s always been intriguing by the middle origins of trap—those coming after the forefathers UGK (notably with 1992’s “Pocket Full of Stones”) and Three 6 Mafia (1995’s “Tear Da Club Up”)—is how live instrumentation shined brighter on these often repetitive records. Similar to cuts from T.I. (like 2004’s “ASAP”), Jeezy had a knack for showcasing the grandiose flare of marching band horns and drums, as exhibited on the third track “By The Way.” This sound exudes triumphant coming from a trap superhero out to save the hood by any means necessary.
Throughout The Recession, Jeezy is not only confident in his boss moves but also in explaining what mindset it takes to accomplish them. He gloats “I talk like I did it 'cause I live it by the way” in the hook of “Welcome Back,” a hustla’s motto translating to “fake it to make it,” in order to prognosticate a reality that’s not so far in the distant future. He lists his accomplishments and entrepreneurial skills, flipping his old trade of drug dealing into his 8732 clothing line and a Boost Mobile sponsorship. The Recession places a lot of emphasis on hustlenomics, as detailed in “By The Way,” as a means to get by. He also embraces the criticisms from his foes (most likely Gucci Mane), noting “They say I'm bipolar so indecisive,” as if it's a supertrait. Now doesn’t that sound familiar to one of his collaborators?
In order to embody the frantic urgency behind trapping and grinding to the max, the production of The Recession plays a key role. For the stretch of songs running from the album’s fourth track (“Crazy World”) up until the ninth (“Don’t You Know”), Jeezy enlists the help of Midnight Black, Shawty Redd, and Drumma Boy—three Atlanteans known for delivering the marching band energized production for Jeezy in his previous discography. The Snowman even mentions his debut album in “What They Know,” reminding listeners of how all four artists cemented their own legacies in the modern approach to trap music.
When he reaches “Circulate,” the album takes more of a soulful turn, this track featuring Billy Paul singing about late bill payments and money being the means of making the world going ‘round. “Word Play” continues that vibe, but this time Jeezy hints at critics being against his sound, but the streets embracing it, knowing what’s up. Anthony Hamilton and Trey Songz have featured singing parts on “Everything” and “Takin’ It There,” respectively. A woman even cries “Jeezy don't do it… Don't you let 'em down, Young Jeezy,” over the hook as he promises to never fail his hood and to stay true to his character.
With trap music, there comes the constant censure of those participating in the scene being dense and feebleminded. The self-proclaimed Snowman combats that in the aptly-titled “Wordplay,” by spitting “I'm way too intelligent / To play with my intelligence / What you tryna tell me / What I'm saying is not irrelevant / Still represent / 'Cause I'ma represent.” Obviously he proves his point, as he predicts Obama being elected in “Crazy World,” and of course the celebratory anthem “My President Is Black.” Jeezy shows his awareness a bit prematurely for real time, ultimately getting the last word after Obama’s victory and releasing “My President Is Black” as a single that November.
Musically, on “Put On,” Jeezy gives a platform to the new direction Kanye would enter with 808s & Heartbreak. Ironically enough the rapper would be featured on that album’s “Amazing,” a vulnerable, God-like spin to The Recession cut “Amazin’.” These anthems both indicate that Jeezy’s style of trap would eventually become the new pop, being light years ahead of our nation’s current musical trend. He visually executes his position on the landscape with the album cover, draped in a black and grayscaled American flag.
The Recession ended up debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. In 2009, with a black man now sworn into the Oval Office, it only felt right that the album’s final single would call “Who Dat” before responding “we dat!” It’s that brash, hoarse confidence that would make his later features on Ciara’s “Never Ever,” Akon’s “I’m So Paid,” and Rihanna’s “Hard” all standouts for R&B. Jeezy’s flavor of stadium-music-meets-the-trap brought cohesion to his third victorious major label chapter and its aftermath—one fit for a champion, realist, and a hustlenomics educator of the streets.
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