Though the first two installments in the Trap Or Die series were free mixtapes, Trap Or Die 3 is being marketed as a proper album, the followup to last year’s Church In These Streets and 2014’s Seen It All: The Autobiography (which officially marked the dropping of “Young” from the artist’s name). The initial entry, released in 2005, was crucial for branding purposes, as it showcased the rapper formerly known as Lil J embracing his new identity with assistance from veteran host DJ Drama (the two had collaborated one year prior on Tha Streets Iz Watchin, but their chemistry was awkward and the tape suffered for lack of direction). Trap Or Die 2: By Any Means Necessary arrived in 2010 during another period of transition, right before Young Jeezy evolved from the strictly Southern influences of his comeup and began recruiting diverse characters to the CTE roster like YG and Freddie Gibbs.
Now in 2016, having suffered the fallout from Gibbs’s acrimonious departure and negative media exposure for gun charges and domestic violence, Jeezy has been rebuilding his empire, brick by brick (perhaps literally; on “Let Em Know,” he raps “Im’a need five bricks for the show, dawg”). His two previous albums have found audiences, with singles generating radio play, and Trap Or Die 3 is a polished, modern-sounding album that checks many of the right boxes and feels like his most serious effort in years.
“It Is What It Is” has the potential to become a popular song on satellite radio; the heavily distorted strings in the background create a sinister effect, while the clanging bells underscore Jeezy’s menacing threats and pompous boasts. This beat is among several from long-time affiliate D. Rich, who carries much of the album’s production in a Lex Luger/Southside vein. I was hoping to see some new beats from The Real Is Back and The Real Is Back 2 beatsmith Lil Lody, but given his recent sexual battery charges, it’s for the best that he left no fingerprints on this record.
“Where It At” is another standout track, succinctly employing the repetitive hook structure that made “Me OK” an enduring hit. Jeezy raps about going platinum off a Boost Mobile, continuing that he could “run a Fortune 500 from a pre-paid.” The beat, from producers Kenoe (whose biggest hit came with “Beez in the Trap“) and PD (a Google search turned up nothing), is another trap banger, fitting in alongside “All There” and “Going Crazy” as notably streetworthy offerings. The former’s posthumous Bankroll Fresh guest spot does little to pay tribute to the fallen Atlanta star, but hearing his voice again is always welcome.
I also am fond of the Plies feature on late-game anthem “Sexe,” the most virulently venereal song on the album. Plies is a goofball and hard to be taken seriously as he orbits the rap game periphery, sneaking up for memorable verses on “Welcome To My Hood” and earning a surprise hit with “Ran Off On Da Plug Twice” (formerly titled “Ritz Carlton”). His Twitter is more entertaining than most of his mixtapes, but I delight in the occasional guest verse from him. It seems the most tolerable dose of Plies is roughly forty seconds.
The biggest names here, Chris Brown and Lil Wayne, provide much needed variation in the album’s texture, while French Montana and Yo Gotti don’t detract as much from the listening experience as one might expect. At just under an hour in length, Trap Or Die 3 is relatively free of filler and mostly feels focused. This is one that Jeezy fans will certainly appreciate, and the deliberate decision to distance the record from 2016’s new growth rappers is a good one (there’s no room here for Playboi Carti or Burberry Perry), even if it means that this album will likely not appear on many younger listener’s radars. Closing track “Never Settle” sums up the themes of Trap Or Die 3: “The more you niggas doubt the more ambitious I get / I’m going out like Tony, I’m busting, talking my shit.”