Jeezy, ‘Church in These Streets’ [ALBUM REVIEW]
It's been a little over 10 years since Jeezy dropped his classic, highly influential album, Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101. A few years prior, the Atlanta rapper had been in the independent scene, but TM101 was what launched him into super-stardom. The album had incredible influence, helping launch the genre of trap rap -- one of hip-hop's most popular subgenres.
Aside from an LP like that, Jeezy's respect came from his work as one of the most prolific mixtape rappers of the mid-00s. The Atlanta native was one of the biggest names in DJ Drama's Gangsta Grillz mixtape series. He and fellow ATLien T.I. became torchbearers for a new era of Southern hip-hop. Thank Jeezy for helping make the great Atlanta hip-hop scene get to where it is today.
In those 10 years since, Jeezy has matured greatly as he transitions into his new role as a veteran in the hip-hop world. That's not just because he dropped the "Young" from his moniker. He recognizes his influence in the genre and views himself as a leader. Though he was a pioneer of trap rap, the subgenre has evolved far beyond Jeezy's style. He might not be going platinum like he was with Thug Motivation 101 or The Inspiration, but he doesn't need that validation anymore. He probably never needed that. Jeezy is a hustler through and through; the success that came from his grind is just icing on the cake.
Watch Jeezy's "Church in These Streets" Video
Church in These Streets is the latest in Jeezy's evolution. There's no denying that he's the same rapper he was when he first blew up. His subject matter is still focused on his hustle and grind, there's plenty of references to drugs and violence, and Jeezy's ad-libs are as prominent as they ever were. Where this project differs from what came before is that he's never before embraced his status as a leader and his ability to carry a track as much as he has here.
Jeezy has always proclaimed his greatness, but Church in These Streets puts it into full focus. That fact is most evident on the two lead singles from the album. "God," the first single from the effort, finds Jeezy proclaiming himself the "God of these streets" and embracing how he's come on top by his own hustle, never once compromising who he is. The second single, "Church in These Streets," has a similar purpose. "Call me Pastor Young, I came to spread the word/Spread the word like my partner spray them birds," Jeezy proclaims.
That motif of Jeezy as a pastor preaching to his congregation is used all over Church in These Streets. You don't need to look past the songs' titles to see some of the religious references: "Lost Souls," "Holy Water," "Forgive Me." Jeezy refers to himself as a prophet. There is a testimony from "Sister Good Game's Testimony" halfway through the album, where he speaks of praying to god and damning murder and violence in the black community. "Eternal Reflection Interlude" is a spiritual effort in the form of a poem that plays a similar role. This album is the closest thing the rhymer has ever gotten to creating a "concept album," and the repeated messages throughout the album's 60 minutes showcases his focus.
Watch Jeezy's "Gold Bottles" Video
The man born Jay Jenkins spends time on the album focusing on religion, society's ills, police brutality and hood crime, but it wouldn't be a Jeezy album without the bangers that made himself a star. With producers like London on da Track, Zaytoven and Southside in his corner, the beats still provide perfect backdrops for his loud rapping (or perhaps more appropriately for this album, "preaching"). The horns on the album's second track "Lost Souls" blare through the speakers and remind listeners of that era when Jeezy and T.I. were on the absolute top of the mountain. The booming bass of "New Clothes" is perfect for the car.
If Church in These Streets is Jeezy's sermon to the congregation of his listeners, then it's appropriate that he doesn't have any other rappers preach on the album. It's his first LP without prominent features from other rappers, which fits well with its theme. The only times an artist other than Jeezy is featured come during those interludes, or when Janelle Monae and Monica show up to sing. Monae's turn on "Sweet Life" in particular is great, and her smooth vocals complement Jeezy's aggressive delivery well.
Church in These Streets isn't on the same level as Jeezy's string of albums from the mid-00s. It won't be as influential as Thug Motivation 101. With the forward-thinking sounds of Future, Young Thug, Migos and more in the Atlanta hip-hop scene, some of the album even sounds dated in its own way. Southern hip-hop has come a long way in just these past 10 years. Yet while the album might not have that influence or even that same level of quality, Jeezy is still maturing as a rapper and remains vital to the scene. His role has shifted from an innovator to that of an elder statesman. Church in These Streets is a celebration of that role and a showcase of a more mature, focused Jeezy.
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