ow that the South's dominance of commercial hip-hop is a fact of life rather than an interesting news angle, Thug Motivation has the opportunity to legitimize Young Jeezy not just as a market force, but as something more than a combination of nebulous and unassailable constructs such as "swagger" and "personality." And while Jeezy claims to have recorded over a hundred tracks for The Inspiration, the woodshedding has resulted in nary an iota of progression in form or content. His flow is still one-size-fits-all. Relating to his motivational tactics require wide and potentially embarrassing allegorical leaps. His verses are larded with blunt similes, tired metaphors ("I'm heartless, I need to see the wizard"), hustler bravado with no internal compass, and few compelling images or ear-turning stories. His much-lauded ad-libbing has the range of a novelty talking keychain and, more often than not, it projects the sort of undeserved pride in his rhymes that one most often acquires from staring at their own shit.
Despite his claims to the throne of "realest," most of Jeezy's appeal comes down to his acting ability. This is not to say that he's lying about his past, but rather, that his strengths are that of a thespian: inflection, projection, and timing. Too bad he’s working with a cynical and formulaic script: "Jeezy like to drink / Jeezy like to smoke / Jeezy like to mix Arm and Hammer with his coke / Jeezy love the trap / Jeezy 'bout the grind / Jeezy 'bout his paper / Cause Jeezy like to shine"; the hook to "J.E.E.Z.Y." isn't just an Olympic feat of cliché sustenance. It's his entire sales pitch: the balance of The Inspiration happens between these lines—just like last time.
The subject matter isn't bad in itself, but Jeezy lacks the ability to find ways to make these old hats look new. Like Dave Kingman or Rob Deer, Jeezy's a slugger, offering up home runs, strikeouts, and little else. "Bury Me a G" starts out with Jeezy falling in a hail of gunfire with slick humor intact ("they fucked around and fucked up my new white T"), but soon devolves into 'Pac/Scarface-aping platitudes ("I should've kissed my mother…told her I loved her"). The most stunning entry on The Inspiration is "Dreamin'," a harrowing reminiscence of his complicity in his mother's drug addiction ("I almost put my hands on her when I caught her in my stash"). But it only makes you wonder why Jeezy chooses to waste his time with assembly line bullshit like "I Luv It," "Keep It Gangsta," and a pointless rehash of the Gucci Mane beef that he should be above ("what kind of a rapper names himself after a fag?") by now.
The strange thing about The Inspiration is how it's posited as an alternative to the much-bullied "conscious rap," and yet, it's among the least fun albums released this year. The presence of Mannie Fresh is sorely missed here: R. Kelly’s the only one around to provide levity to Jeezy's leaden bellowing. What makes it worse is the fact that you've heard nearly all of these beats before; think of Thug Motivation reimagined for post-"What You Know"/"Hustlin'" southern hip-hop, and you're there. In other words, the proceedings are even slower this time around (a Chopped and Screwed The Inspiration could very well be able to stop time completely). The standout (and sore thumb) is "3 AM" from the increasingly hip-hop-phobic Timbaland. Ironically, it could've just as easily fit on FutureSex/LoveSounds; it’s everything that Jeezy isn't, namely, lithe, graceful, and forward-looking.
If the timing couldn't have been better for Thug Motivation to capitalize on the ascendance of Atlanta as hip-hop's epicenter, it couldn't be worse for The Inspiration from an artistic standpoint. The Game and Clipse recently used their sophomore studio albums to make bold and justifiable claims to the post-Jay-Z elite. Appreciating Thug Motivation requires doing things that I'm incapable of—going down the slippery slope of "he speaks to the hood" or determining whether liking 400 Degreez as an 18-year old makes me a hypocrite. But unless you're willing to flip the script completely and ignore years upon years of conditioning that lyrics, beats, and substance matter, The Inspiration proves you're better off saving your excuses for Cam'ron.