Rap is often hard, but it's rarely heavy. That's because hardness is attitudinal, and shows up in all sorts of ostensibly soft music, whereas heaviness is an aesthetic trait—something you can only understand with your ears, and/or your gut.
The pantheon of heaviness in hip-hop goes something like this: There's Method Man's Tical, wherein the RZA pioneered the art of rap beats meant to terrify your dog. There's Kool Keith's Dr. Octagonecologyst, the '90s version of King Crimson's indulgent and labyrinthine In the Court of the Crimson King, loaded with whirring turntablism and a lot of rambling about how Keith was born on Jupiter. There's rapper/producer El-P, most recently of gleefully nefarious super-duo Run the Jewels, whose large and nightmarish body of work generally sounds like whatever goes through your brain as you're experiencing an exceptionally violent and painful death. And lest we forget, there's Waka Flocka's Flockaveli, which perfectly fused hardness and heaviness, impacting hip-hop as severely as Slayer's Reign in Blood did metal.
But at the very top of the heavy-rap heap is Jeezy (neé Young), the rare rapper whose entire worldview reflects the aggression and nihilism of the pitch-blackest metal bands. Just as Varg Vikernes didn't love burning down Norwegian stave churches just to smell the charred wood, Jeezy endlessly brags about getting money in a booming, triumphant, inimitable rasp not because he likes buying shit, but because he just fucking loves getting money, to the point where there's a psychosexual bent to his wealth accumulation. This strange proclivity shows up not once but twice on his new album, Seen It All: The Autobiography (Def Jam), first on "Me OK" ("Got a fetish for dough)," and then on "Beez Like" ("I'm from the hood / Got a gettin'-money fetish").
Bundle these with that "Still get a hard-on when I count this cash" line from his 2005 Def Jam debut, Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101, and a mental image starts to cohere, Jeezy kneeling over a Scrooge McDuck-ian pile of nonconsecutive $100 bills, taking his self-appointed nickname "Jizzle" far too literally. It's a disturbing reminder that the guy does not actually savor the trappings of trapping (money, power, excess), but instead valorizes their mere pursuit. He is a Buddhist monk, meditating for weeks on end; he is Sting, boasting of his tantric-sexual prowess. He is an entire Kiwanis club picking up trash on the side of the highway—he doesn't give a shit about the trash itself, he just likes feeling righteous about picking it up.
This attitude—that the process is more reward than any actual reward—is what separates Jeezy from the rap game's mere hedonists, what separates the Vargs from the Euronymouses (Euronymi?). It also has a lot to do with why he's the absolute heaviest rapper alive. He's not the best rapper, but he doesn't have to be. He's a guy for whom the individual parts of a record—lyrics, hooks, beats, adlibs—are inconsequential when assessed separately, but combine to form an overwhelming monolith. To critique him for lacking nuance is to critique a bald man for not having hair.
His albums do not lend themselves to close readings, but instead function as mood pieces meant to communicate sheer, unadulterated triumph. He conveys weight, and not just in a "moving bricks of cocaine" sense. Though his best songs feature beats ponderous enough to collapse a moose—see 2011's "What I Do (Just Like That)"—Jeezy's mere presence on a track sends it plunging into the depths of heaviness; even when he's rapping over the Ibiza-worthy full-body massage of "No Tears," he raps like he's trying to lift a car off someone. This is music made to damage your ears, whether you're drinking to it in a tiny apartment filled with sweaty dudes or manically dancing around in your swivel chair alone at work. This is music so hard it's best not to think too hard about it.
Lyrically, Jeezy may be a literalist, yes, but he follows through on the horse-fucking obviousness of lines like "Think you on top of the world / But the world on top of you" by selling them with a voice so powerful it takes on a sort of astrological mysticism, like he's on some straight-up Carl Sagan shit. There's no other way of explaining it. His voice is one of the most powerful instruments in all of music, bludgeoning you like one of those comically large giant Q-tips from a Japanese game show. His rasp seems to span five octaves at once, attacking from every angle via the majesty of his ad-libs, which casually revolutionized hip-hop one "HAAAAA," "YAYAAHHH," "THAT'S RIIIIIIGHT," "CHYEAH," and "HAHAAAAAAHHHHHH" at a time. His ad-libs are up there with Tommy Iommi guitar riffs and Skrillex bass drops in terms of iconic effectiveness.
A few days before Seen it All leaked, Jeezy was arrested for possession of an assault rifle allegedly used to shoot a man five times during a recent joint tour with Wiz Khalifa. It's one of those extra-musical things that can't help but frame the way you listen to an album like this: It's cynical to suggest the arrest was kayfabe, but it's worth noting that two other high-profile rappers (2 Chainz and Wiz Khalifa himself) were also arrested shortly before putting out new product, both for drug-related offenses. It's free PR, and in Jeezy's case, it bolsters the public perception that he's the real deal, and not just some chump who's seen Scarface too many times. The public perception is that he slings coke and gets arrested for casually having murder weapons laying around; the truth feeds into the myth, and the myth feeds into the truth.
Seen It All is far from a perfect album—if you're looking for perfection from this guy, head back to Thug Motivation: 101, when he was a Younger Jeeezy, and the world was his coke-white oyster—but that doesn't mean it's not perfect. Sure, it drags whenever the artier My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy-type beats kick in (how are producers still ripping off that limp-ass "HEY!" sample?), and you'll never confuse him from a lyrically lyrical dude who could mop the floor at Scribble Jam. But then again, the guy is all jagged edges, barks, and snarls, so when the album shows its cracks, they only work in his favor, only serve to emphasize all that mythic weight. He's legendary not for the content of his content, but for the heaviness of his character.
Lead photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty.
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