In 2005, Young Jeezy dropped his debut album, Thug Motivation 101, made trap music en vogue, and gave us a startlingly maximalist take on it. He was gritty but still wildly anthemic. It was theme music for fights outside of the strip club, but it wasn’t crunk. Jeezy resembled a grizzly bear; he pounded his chest, roared, and was impenetrable. But he also inspired awe with lyrics like “I used to hit the kitchen lights, cockroaches er’where/ Now I hit the kitchen lights, there’s marble floors er’where.”
It makes sense that Jeezy has a feature on I Never Felt Nun, the new album from Louisville slugger EST Gee – who Atlanta superstar Lil Baby has called “The New Young Jeezy.” Another way to see it: Gee is hip-hop’s Ray Lewis. Outside the fact that he was a football player himself, Gee is an intense man of lofty proportions. He is adept at rapping about his demons without oversharing.
The first lines on opening track “Have Mercy” show BandGang Lonnie Bands that it is possible to be crassly emotional without trauma bonding: “I had to tell her watch her mouth, she says it’s demons on me/ Nah that’s my people who died before me, don’t tryna leave me lonely.” There’s more where that came from. Even when he is very detailed, the writing is rooted in maturity. “Voices In My Head” is his version of a Boosie track. His apology. “Have you ever dreamed you couldn’t see but voices visit you/ And tell you you’ll be rich by 26 if you survive that boom.” Gee won’t let you forget that even though he is here, it doesn’t mean that he feels guilty for it. At one point, he stands proudly and says: “For sure the last man standing always gets to tell the story.”
Man Gee can rap. Just listen to him throughout this album. He’s a man who knows how to dismiss his enemies in a burly fashion. See “Come Home,” with his voice overriding a beat that sounds like montage music from the Academy Awards. Gee is absurd but might be dead serious: “No way you love me with the same heart you love a rat/ And never checked a nigga talking bout me behind my back/ Know I’m a villain in my city not ’cause how I rap/ Because how I pay a hunnid racks to get a nigga whacked.”
It’s rare to find a rapper now that is street without being comedic. Some of the talented men in Detroit rap so they can make jokes. Gee rarely finds something humorous to say. He packs a number of intimidating details into an earnest delivery. “I Can’t Feel A Thing” is unapologetic and contradictory, like the virtues and the sins inside him are fighting for his soul. “Thankful that I am blessed with pain, at least I get to feel something/ 99.5 percent of the time shit I don’t feel nothing/ You just did a lil thuggin, I don’t think you killed nothin.” Just when you think he is all threats, he raises the stakes. Gee wasn’t shot because he was playing with a toy gun. Like Houston’s Maxo Kream, violence in his family is a way of life: “Misery love company so my lil brother with me teeth gritting” is what he says on “Bow And Say Grace.” To see Gee is to see a soldier now become a leader.
The Jeezy comparisons make sense. Their voices are both ghostly; Gee raps like marbles are in his mouth, or like he is trying to beat the lisp that ails his speech. But Jeezy’s drawl is much more classically Southern. Gee is a product of everywhere but coastal elitist cities. He’s also much less interested in drugs. He’s more into violence; the way it affects him and his family is the core of his artistry. And he’s becoming as good as an album crafter. Despite the fact that Jack Harlow collaborations don’t work (go figure), Gee is a solidified brusque technician whose tracklists hit you like combination punches. He’s even controversially trying his hand at melodies, and they work decently well. He sounds best coldly threatening you but his audition for a Future impersonator contest sounds good too. “Hell” sounds like Mr. Codeine himself, a man whose head can’t stop pounding from his demons.
Gee is deeply sensitive and menacing. This is the next generation of what Jeezy and Gucci did in the 2000s – brawny threats and gravelly voices but with the legato and complexities of Lil Baby and Chicago drill rappers like King Von. The streets need not worry. The music will always live. No matter how hungry the hip-hop police may be for Black men to be locked in a four by four, men like Gee will be there to represent the streets until the end of time.