Even cursory Jeezy fans might have assumed we already knew his Autobiography — Jay Wayne Jenkins has never made much of a secret of his past consorting with Atlanta’s drug kingpins, and much of Seen It All is familiar cornerboy-territory. But in a 2013 promotional video, Jeezy announced he was ready to get specific on his fifth album because, he said, “the statute of limitations is over with.” And he is certainly more prone to narrative and retrospection on this album, but more remarkable than that is that he is the sound of a rapper with newly rediscovered juice, the comeback lap of a guy who seemed rudderless for a year or two, to the point of audible depression with Hustlaz Ambition (both the album and the documentary).
Vocally, Jeezy often sounds like he’s gnashing in Hulkish rapture, but dropping the Young might have resurrected him: Opener “1/4 Block” is one of his best tracks in three years, with FKA Snowman mustering all his old fuck-you juice and returning with a Bankhead-sized screwface.
Jeezy’s appeal has never been just about his grizzly, though. As a complicated dude in a genre rife with them, Jeezy works his intricacies to his advantage, his superhero beats (here by Childish Major, Drumma Boy and Don Cannon, among others) are used as immense hideouts for his world of hurt. On “Enough,” his hustler’s life-coach tale transforms into a mournful explication of The Life’s shortcomings, tearing down its facade with the lyrics, “Giorgio money/ still represent struggle/ Giorgio money/ still represent the hustle.”
Some tracks are direct references to his prior discography — the Akon resurrection on “Been Gettin Money” is as perfectly carbon-dated to his national debut as its embedded Nextel chirp, though you wish he’d also found some more Shawty Redd in his 2005 Rolodex — but more so, The Autobiography is a man considering his life. He dispenses salient financial advice on “Win is a Win” (“my n***a say spend it ’cause you can’t take it witchya/ same time poppin’ Cristal, posin’ for pictures/ ole smart ass n***a, half right and half wrong/ only problem, he still here and the money gone”), while also admitting he spent plenty of his most glamorous nights passed out in his ‘Rari. “Me OK” gilds the “Enough” concept with his Phantoms and Lambos and Murcielagos and his pistol, too. His faux-impenetrable exoskeleton is an accoutrement to his cynical realism, one that invites guests like Jay-Z to contribute their own mean mise en scenes: “Prolly bought ya auntie a couple bags,” Hov raps on one of his most nefarious verses in recent memory. “Prolly front ya uncle a couple halves.” But Jeezy’s dopeboy landscape is always nightmarish, paved with gold and baubles and dark deeds. No matter how tantalizing the lily, he never gilds what it took to get it.