Atlanta rapper Young Jeezy’s Thug Motivation 103: Hustlerz Ambition may not have been the best rap album of 2011, but it deserved more praise than it received. Even by rap-world standards, the delays were ridiculous and, arguably, detrimental—set to drop in 2009, it arrived five days before last Christmas. Its sales are nothing to brag about (less than 500,000 copies as of Feb. 26), and the only popular rap mag to place 103 on its year-end list was The Source (No. 13). Jeezy also went loveless a few weeks back when MTV’s so-called “Brain Trust” selected the “10 Hottest MCs In The Game.” (Aside from Philadelphia’s Meek Mill at No. 7, the list was predictable—Ross, Jay, Kanye, Wayne.)
It’s easy to toss Jeezy aside as a one-dimensional rapper. He’s a thug superhero—an invincible trap-rapper who lives and dies by the ratchet. When not boasting about being the king of the streets, he’s bragging about being the king of the strip club. But if you look beyond his bulldog snarl and gangsta ’tude, there’s a wounded soldier underneath. On 103 , more so than any previous album, we see how vulnerable Jeezy is. This vulnerability is what makes him and 103 so compelling.
It begins with stadium-size applause; over a gloomy beat, Jeezy sings the chorus: “You know the world is waiting/ Waiting on 103 / We need some motivation/ So won’t you come motivate me?” As the unimpressive sales and lack of year-end nods prove, not many fans were waiting as eagerly as he predicted. But Jeezy seems to know this: By singing the hook himself, it’s as if he’s the one requesting motivation rather than offering it. Our hero’s weak.
Jeezy’s being used for sex on “Leave You Alone,” but he wants something deeper. She won’t commit because of his pimping past, though he’s changed: “You probably think I’m with a different broad every night /When I think about it, shit man, you probably right/ The more I think about it, shit, you probably wrong/ Cuz what you didn’t think about is that I’m probably grown.” She keeps fucking him, but what he really wants never comes: “Had them other bitches mad when they seen us/ Had the matching Rolexes, baby, team us/ Yeah, the Earth is our turf we can share the world/ Maybe even go half on a baby girl.” It doesn’t happen. She leaves.
Some critics have recently argued in favor of how teary-eyed rappers like Drake are challenging rap music’s hyper-masculinity, thuggishness and anti-emo core. But more intriguing than the rapper who so calculatingly wears his heart on his sleeve is the one whose heart slowly spills through the holes in what was previously thought to be impenetrable armor. Jeezy has become the latter, and whether or not critics and fans have noticed, he’s now a much more sophisticated and rewarding rapper.
Young Jeezy performs Thurs., March 8, 8pm. $30. With Sy Mosquiat. TLA, 334 South St. 215.922.1011. tlaphilly.com
Editor’s Pick: 2Chainz at the TLA