Jeezy stays true to his skills on stellar “Church In These Streets”

By Charles Giordano

(The Come Up Show/Flickr)
(The Come Up Show/Flickr)

On his eighth studio album, “Church in These Streets” Atlanta-born rapper Jay Wayne Jenkins, who performs under the name Jeezy, stays true to his values, as well as his style, producing a finished product any fan will appreciate.

In 19 songs, he features only two artists, neither of whom are rappers. The verses are purely Jenkins’ and he ultimately creates a dynamic piece of art that challenges the boundaries of trap music, a subgenre of hip-hop that he himself helped to establish.

In addition to “Politically Correct,” a five-song EP that he dropped last month, Jenkins has refocused his career, addressing the issues of police brutality and racism in society with his spoken word. In a recent interview with “MTV News,” he said, “Information is the key, but sometimes, as a culture, as a people, we don’t take time to get information, so I think the music connects the dots.”

Jenkins starts the album off strong, delivering “Grind State” and “Lost Souls” one right after the other. Both tracks stay true to his trademark flow, coupled with club beats and high-powered lyrics. He explains this intro tactic on “Grind State” saying he, “left the Rolls (Royce) at the crib pulled up in the Hellcat.” In other words, substance over sentiment is the name of the game.

“Lost Souls” contains several somewhat melancholy themes, which are expressed via vibrant trap music. In it, Jenkins reflects on his long career (he is now nearing 40 years old,) and reminisces of his days on the block in his hometown of Atlanta. He does so beautifully, pairing an upbeat, club-bumping tune with prayers for friends he’s lost to the thug lifestyle, ultimately creating a more celebratory message than one might at first expect.

The bulk of the album lends itself to a more modern trap feel, with somewhat simpler prose, something Jenkins has essentially mastered by this point. He manages to liken himself to a religious figure for the streets, though as expressed on “Holy Water,” the self-proclaimed Ghetto Prophet is merely a “street politician talking street politics.” Jenkins manages, somehow, to balance “popping” bottles of Armand de Brignac (Jay-Z’s brand of champagne) with confessions of spending “a mil” on his hood. Often overlooked in the discussion of rap’s greatest, he proves that consistency and desire are what separates fashionable rappers from the hardnosed emcees whose material stands the test of time.

On “GOD,” Jeezy pays homage to Kanye West’s infamous track, “I Am a God.” Jenkins relates to the Chicago rapper, proclaiming his own status as a “God in the hood.” Arrogant as this may seem, he is earnestly reflecting on actual treatment he receives from those in Atlanta and communities like it nationwide.

To his audience he says, “Call me Pastor Young, I came to spread the word.” It’s a “Church in These Streets” for those associated with Jeezy, and what he is trying to preach is peace, justice and an end to the violence that has followed him for his whole career.

“Sweet Life” features Janelle Monae and is one of the album’s highlights. In it, Jenkins addresses his ongoing personal exploration and development, saying, “It’s like the old me deceased, I’m kinda glad that I died,” adding, “If I wasn’t a ghetto prophet, I’d still be movin’ the weight.”

Jenkins, father to a 19-year-old son, has traveled a long way from dealing crack cocaine in Atlanta and is grateful for his good fortune, asking his listeners “Count your chances and blessings cause they’re all God-given.” The song itself is a triumph, as Monae’s voice glistens on the hook, Jenkins delivers three awe-inspiring verses, each one with more depth than the last.

On “I Feel Ya,” he addresses young black males growing up in similar circumstances to his. Jenkins relates to the role many young men feel they must fill, which is “gangbang, sell dope or rob, welcome to the African American mob,” as he says on “Just Win.” He challenges the youth to rise above the social inequities they have been served, imploring them to “prove ‘em all wrong in the end, just win.”

Jenkins finishes the album with “Forgive Me,” a track meant more for his own purposes than the listener’s. In a marvelously graceful manner, he admits “I been thuggin’ my whole life, one look at my baby girl I had to get it right.”

Jeezy may be a trap star, in many ways the original, but he takes responsibility for his actions at this point in his life, and acknowledges his need to be there for his son, as well as Atlanta and poor, predominantly black communities like it.

“Church In These Streets,” released Nov. 13, is a fantastic album. The music is at first difficult to interact with on a personal level, and for many will be difficult to relate to. Having said that, Jeezy’s love for life is infectious, and his verses carry real weight. I enjoyed nearly every song, and especially enjoyed the progression of ideas and sentimental verses.

 

Charles Giordano can be reached at [email protected]