Young Jeezy - "Don't You Know" (mp3)
On The Recession, Young Jeezy constantly pays lip service to the idea that his music isn't "commercial," that he'll "never cross over," and that he doesn't get his proper respect from critics or the Grammys. He's right on the last point -- all the awards he's ever gotten are from BET and Ozone, and that's likely all he'll ever get. But the other gripes come off as somewhat ludicrous, considering that he's been more consistently well reviewed than most of his peers, and is so popular that even Usher will throw him on a single to make it more radio-friendly. And yet I'll concede that he's not just a crossover artist, because The Recession is possibly one of the most uncompromising albums an A-list rapper has released in recent memory: there are no singles or guests for the first 11 tracks, and when those songs do finally arrive in the album's final third, they're all fairly dark. And those first dozen songs are just insane, one anthemic banger after another. Many of the producers are unknown, and those that are well known (Drumma Boy, DJ Toomp, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Shawty Redd, Don Cannon) largely rose to fame working on previous Jeezy albums; every track sounds like it was meant for his voice.
Even though he's noone's idea of a capital-A artist, even compared to his closest contemporaries, T.I. and Lil Wayne, he's done something that none of his peers have done: made a regular-ass album without bending over backwards to chase the trends. It helps that one of the biggest trends in rap these days, between the likes of Shawty Lo and Rocko, is to imitate Jeezy, so all he really has to do to get on the radio is be himself. But the same can be said of Wayne, who, whether his R&B jones is a fully artistic endeavor or not, loaded his album up with T-Pain and other singers that made Tha Carter III more radio-friendly, regardless of the fact that he could've made no concessions to radio and still had a blockbuster album. That's what makes The Recession interesting and admirable, but what makes it an actually really good album is that it's stuffed full of great Jeezy songs.
And I say this as not the biggest Jeezy fan. I always felt like his first album coasted on the strength of a lot of mixtape and guest verse stuff that came before and wasn't on it, and The Inspiration was one of the most loathsomely lazy albums I've ever heard; he literally stopped even rhyming for about a year there. I always kinda laugh at people who get heated about Tom's reviews of rap albums on Pitchfork, but I was pretty genuinely outraged when he gave it an 8.1. That album was bullshit, and The Recession is damn near a masterpiece even though Jeezy only made a few small aesthetic adjustments, added a resonant theme, and put a little more effort into his words. Really, this is the album we should've had all summer to ride out to, not that uneven Wayne shit.