Four years ago, the Boston Globe ran a story that exposed the darker side of hitting the lottery jackpot. As expected, most achieved instant popularity as they spent winnings on expensive cars and lavish vacations. But many also shared an overwhelming sense of isolation as distant relatives came out of the woodwork seeking financial gain.
Psychologists call it sudden-wealth syndrome. Hip-hop refers to it as the Biggie Smalls theory: Mo' money, mo' problems.
"When I come home," Atlanta rapper Young Jeezy states via phone, "I have to deal with my family and friends. These are people I've been knowing that are going through real hard times. You can't save everybody; It's just real, especially when you come from [equally hard times]."
And you thought he was all about clubbin' with Usher.
It's not your fault, though. Cats like Jeezy have built careers spitting hot 16s about cool cars and buying out bars. No other genre of music has created a wider gap between the fantasy it depicts and the reality lived by its fan base. Mainstream rappers have painted such lavish images of themselves that it's hard to distinguish the truth.
But the man born Jay Jenkins still feels the pull of the streets, in more ways than one. And according to him, titling his third solo album The Recession (Def Jam) is more than just a slick way to capitalize on the recent economic downturn crippling everyday people.
"When people greet me," Jeezy says, "it's almost like [they're saying], 'That's my man. That's my homie.' It's almost like they feel like I'm them. I'm like the people's champ."
Of course, it's harder to pledge allegiance to the streets once your tax bracket increases. The people's champ got called out recently after seemingly aligning himself with the Republican party.
"No disrespect to Barack, but I fuck with John McCain," read Jeezy's quote in the August cover story of Vibe magazine. It occurred shortly after the two met briefly on the set of "Saturday Night Live" where Jeezy was performing "Love in this Club" with Usher while McCain hosted the show.
Family, fans and FM dials across the country didn't know what to make of the betrayal. Clearly, Young Jeezy didn't either.
"It kinda lets me know the power of words, homie," says Jeezy, who defended himself by posting a YouTube video that served as part album promotion/part damage control in which he stated that Vibe "misconstrued" his words.
"No disrespect to McCain but my man is Barack; they just worded it wrong," Jeezy says, sticking to his revised story. "Just that one sentence sparked up this whole 'What? What are you talking about?!' Anybody who knows me knows that I've been down with the Democratic Party anyway. It ain't because Barack's black and all that shit that everybody's caught up in. But when I hear dude speak, he's closest to my problems than any other candidate."
There's always plenty going on in Jeezy's world – from a recent DUI arrest to BMF cocaine-conspiracy allegations. But right now, he says the most pressing thing on his mind is his family's financial well-being. "I've always been a provider," explains the 30-year-old Macon native. "So it's never a problem for me to look out for anybody that's family. You might not have to do much, until somebody loses their job or they're in danger of losing they home. It just makes you think, homie."
And obviously, it made Jenkins want to record. The newly released The Recession is essentially Young snatching the microphone from the Anderson Coopers of the world and broadcasting live from deep in the 'hood – even though he no longer gets his mail there.
Tracks such as "Circulate" and "Vacation" vibrate with Jeezy's trademark hard bounce as he spews a lot of honesty. On one of the CD's standout cuts, "Crazy World," Jeezy raps, "I want a new Bentley/my auntie need a kidney/and if I let her pass/her children never will forgive me." The neck-spraining "Word Play," while far less serious, still finds Jeezy straddling that line between industry-saving rapper and dough-counting trapper.
Still it's hard to believe increased gas prices and a mortgage crisis can affect a multiplatinum pop star like Jeezy.
"It affects me because it affects the people around me," he says. "It definitely affects some of the things I used to do. Just the number of shows [has decreased]. When everything was plentiful, promoters would pay whatever. That was a good thing. Even though they're like that now, all the people don't get out to see you as much. The love is there, but there are effects."
Of course, it hasn't been all love for Young Jeezy. From the former dope dealer's smash Def Jam debut Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101 in '05, to the Kanye West-backed hit "I Put On" this summer, the central beef critics have had with Young Jeezy – besides his omnipresent Yeeeeeaaaaah! ad-libs – is that he's too one-dimensional. If the topic is cocaine, he flows like Lil Wayne; get him on any other subject and he's more like Lil Zane.
Jeezy hears the criticism. But he also feels his hustle-minded flows have the ability to motivate the masses, including 14-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps, who fed himself a steady iPod diet of Young Jeezy to stay pumped up before swimming competitions in Beijing.
"If I can motivate one person and, at the same time, motivate millions, I don't see what I'm doing wrong," he says. "I think when the Jeezy critics stop talking, that's when I should be worried. Until then, I'ma keep doing what I do. Let 'em talk."
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