Monday, October 26, 2009

#26 Song of the Decade- "Soul Survivor"

#26 Song of the Decade- Young Jeezy feat. Akon- "Soul Survivor"

In any metal retrospective you'll ever see, each interviewed party rhapsodizes over Black Sabbath. You'll have to wait an entire commercial break before any other musician is mentioned, and there's never enough hyperbole to go around. "It was like I had never heard music before blah blah blah," some bald guy with creative facial hair gushes. There were a lot of hard rock bands who seemed dark but were really mama's boys, but Black Sabbath was clearly something different from the rest of the dirge-like English rockers in the way they fully embodied their own witchy mystique. They were a lone dissenting voice with a sound more discordant and uncompromising than anyone else. We could be talking the same way about Young Jeezy's verisimilitude, if only he stood out as much. He's just as much of a master of reality, but that reality is so unrelentingly dark that he's become the mainstream. His Machiavellian solipsism is not a shock to the system, it's representative of it. Black Sabbath changed the world; the world changed Young Jeezy.

If he and Akon hooked up on a song today, it would be an event; but in 2005, neither was particularly well-known. The unique tone of Akon's tongue-depressant warble is what first got the song on the radio, but it will be remembered as our entree into the hopeless outlook of Jeezy. Rarely has a rapper condensed his entire ethos into one verse the way the man born Jay Jenkins does here, particularly in one couplet:

"A hundred grand on my wrist, yeah life sucks
Fuck the club, dog, I'd rather count a million bucks"

At the time, musicians were first feeling the squeeze of the record industry's collapse and doing whatever they could to branch out and become more palatable to the mainstream, whether that was starring in Budweiser commericals or making entire albums for the ladies. Here, Jeezy at once glorifies the hustle and casts it as meaningless. He's not interested in anything else like, you know, socializing with people in public, but his only pastime of money chasing is just as hollow, just as much of a reminder that life sucks. In his debut single, Young Jeezy seems to be saying that even ambition itself is hopeless. And the really disturbing thing? In one of his patented ad-libs, he even laughs at the notion.

That's the black cherry on top of the rest of Jeezy's performance, in which he prays against/for his own inequity, conflates dreams with nightmares, and threatens an anonymous spoken-to with clenched teeth. Akon's weary spritualizing and foreboding beat, matching claustrophobic string stabs with wandering twinkles, do their best to match Jeezy's hoarse futility, and in neither the music nor the lyrics is there any celebration to rival the dread and paranoia.

Here's the real significance of the song though: it sounds as if I'm exaggerating. Rather than reading those lyrics for their inhumane cynicism, the majority of critics heard this track and found it not irredeemable, but rather typical. We are immune to the landscape Jeezy's describing and the persona he's reporting from. As far as hip-hop gloom goes, he's not the minority. He became a star, and the song became an anthem for the faceless grind because we live in a society that he blends into when he isn't holding a mirror. He's bellowing that "we're livin' in hell," and we "just keep on movin' now."

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