Trap or Die II: By Any Means Necessary Mixtape
By Colin McGowan | 22 May 2010
The revelation seeps out from under the predictably reverberant 808 ticks and tsunami synth splashes like a carbon monoxide leak: Young Jeezy is one of the most essential rappers of his generation. He’s certainly not one of the best—his raps are C-grade Jigga with splashes of drowsy Dipset; his flow vacillates between a whine, a croak, and a low howl; The Recession (2008) felt like a wonderful mistake in the vein of Purple Haze (2004) and Da Drought 3 (2007)—but in a world where rappers promise greatness eight months before being dropped from Interscope, Jeezy is different. With no aspirations to etch himself into rap’s Rushmore, he just wants to cultivate his brand of anthemic street rap and count money. In both endeavors, he has thrived: his albums and mixtapes are obsessed exclusively with hustling, shit-talking, and possessions—they have nary a girl track between them—and all of his major label releases have gone platinum. He makes it seem easy to be Jeezy.
Of course, the same can be said for Nickelback, who just closed out a decade of selling some 26 million records while never straying from their formula of being a terrible fucking band. So why should we care about Jeezy? I’ve spent the better part of two years grappling with that conundrum. Jeezy tracks are the Mexican food of rap, variations of the same smallish repertoire of ingredients: hooks big like cartoon villain egos; punchlines too-long winks and harsh sneers. When his flow occasionally hiccups or his rhyme scheme shifts or he picks a beat with a soul sample, it feels seismic, because it upsets a stasis he has spent the better part of a decade establishing.
This stasis is one of steady heat, though. And while some rappers settle into mid or late-career grooves, Jeezy started in one. From his first mixtape after being signed to Def Jam, the first Trap or Die (2006), he established he was content, like Scarface or Bun B, to crank out burners. Triumphs like “I Luv It” or Put On” felt like karmic accidents—the fruits of an admirable grind. Trap or Die II is more of that. Jeezy goes in on the short intro and “Trap or Die Reloaded” before alternating between grinding club tracks and grimy street raps. One can glean from this approach that Jeezy’s evaluative process of tracks likely amounts to listening to the final masters, nodding along adamantly, chuckling here and there, and giving the green light: “shit is fire.” This characterization isn’t meant as a slight: Jeezy’s projects fail or succeed based not on the adroitness of the lyricism or the social commentary contained in the verses, but on blistering trap-hop production and shout-along hooks. No one more thoroughly understands his own appeal than the Snowman.
So, here’s your buoyant shit-talker (“Greatest Trapper Alive”), your rowdy banger (“Insane”), your sparse trap anthem (“Trap or Die 2”); here’s your new Jeezy tape. It sounds great at loud volumes and there are a few duds and the Plies verse on “Lose My Mind” is the most awful, reprehensible shit I’ve heard all year. When Jeezy is paired with truly talented lyricists on “Ill’in,” they don’t expose his deficiencies—because you’re already well aware of Jeezy’s deficiencies. His verse is effective, Pusha and Mal’s are mesmerizing. Oh, and here’s to hoping “Camaro” is a full track on upcoming Thug Motivation 103.
So, again, why is Jeezy important? Because while Nas hasn’t been following through on his overblown theses and Jay has been somewhat clumsily chasing trends, Jeezy, along with Beanie Sigel (who is an entirely different artist in terms of sound, but one who has knowledge of self and a vision that mirrors Jeezy’s) and a small contingent of others, has been churning out consistently good to great street shit that gets more time in the whiskey-soaked living rooms of rap nerds than one might assume. Trap or Die II, like all Jeezy projects, is the realization of a singular vision that smirks at the tropes of oversized ambition. Jeezy realizes those drums are already towering, those synths are already overstuffed—we need anthems just as we require intellectual stimulation. So, maybe he’s playing to the bombastic asshole in all of us—who we are on those days in which we ache to feel more significant. So: fine; after Die Hard we can watch Wild Strawberries. On “Trap or Die Reloaded,” he imparts the only variety of wisdom he can: “If you believe, you shall achieve / That street money’ll buy you some shit you wouldn’t believe.” It reads stupid and sounds downright inspirational, and therein lies the crux of his simmering discography.