Young Jeezy made a number of good decisions in crafting The Recession
, but the best was to disregard rap’s stupider commercial requisites. So: only one slow jam, barely any guest verses, no stilted attempts to broaden his audience, and — deep breath — no auto-tune. Neither, however, will you hear any ill-advised formal experiments or state-of-hip-hop laments. Remember, Jeezy disdains rappers, just like the teen movie anti-hero who decries the phoniness of movie stars. He offers the thrilling fantasy of transcending the banal rules to which he is subject and which he has internalized and mastered. “Word Play” outlines his persona as quickly and dirtily as any sweeping establishing shot from Thug Motivation 101
(“You niggaz want word play but I’m ’bout bird play”), but “By the Way” is the emphatic forward leap: looped atop a ridiculously huge beat built from ridiculously lo-fi Midi synths, those three indifferent words become a rap in-joke to end all rap in-jokes. Elsewhere we get lots of the usual earthquake bass and keening synth arpeggios and staccato horns, and, of course, Jeezy’s hypnotically commanding flow, all of it amounting to one of the hardest mainstream rap albums in years.