TWO YEARS is a good chunk of time by any measure, but in rap, it's an eternity. In the days since Young Jeezy first conceived Thug Motivation 103, hiphop has changed in ways both predictable and unexpectedly exhilarating. Even as it seems to slip inextricably further into a labyrinth of slick soullessness, smart alecks like Das Racist, and misanthropes like Tyler, the Creator have forced us to reexamine our complex relationship with the genre. With TM103 finally slated for a September 20 release, the question arises: Will rap's new guard make room for the king of the coke anthem?
Young Jeezy's (Jay Jenkins) chest-beating death merchant shtick began to wear thin by 2006's The Inspiration. His incessant drug speak, his tired reliance on the same strained ad-libs—it was like a real-life rap version of Dr. Rockzo, the rock 'n' roll clown from Metalocalypse. But shame on you if you slept on The Recession, the emcee's shockingly prophetic assessment of the faltering economy. It was a reinvention; it seemed that Jeezy was on the verge of profundity.
Like words lost from the tip of the tongue, presumed TM103 singles offer little in the way of depth. Insipid Yo Gotti collab "All White Everything" is as colorless as its title suggests, and despite a pleasantly unhinged performance from the very shout-y Plies, "Lose My Mind" is essentially inert. (That track also appeared on Jeezy's May 2010 mixtape Trap or Die 2, whose existence, along with several others, begs another question: How much of TM103's delay is the fault of notorious impeder Def Jam?)
Still, Jeezy has shown an ability to unearth the existential in some surprising places. Inspiration's showstopper "Hypnotize," with its bleak lyrical train and impossibly guttural low end, is a key example of the soul-razing power the man is capable of wielding when he so chooses. Like Nietzsche or Larry David, Jeezy's best work is human chaos barely contained. His is a gleefully vicious soundtrack to the dark corners of the spirit, ever aware that truth lies not in the heart but in the subwoofer.