"The Inspiration: Thug Motiviation 102" (Def Jam)
* * 1/2
His rapping is one-note, his topics repetitive and his music monotonous. Yet Atlanta's Young Jeezy, known for his groaning ad-libs and stark corner journaling, possesses a swaggering sense of certitude that elevates otherwise pedestrian tales into impressively aureate anthems.
The self-described "Snowman" crams the kind of imperial ambition normally reserved for underworld kingpins and corporate raiders into the figure of a solitary hustler trying to rule the block. As "The Inspiration's" first song, "Hypnotize," suggests, there's a mesmerizing claustrophobia to Jeezy's recycling mantra -- "I command you ... to make money" -- and the music only accentuates that narrow peripheral vision.
Especially for the first third of "The Inspiration," beats by Shawty Redd, Midnite Black, DJ Toomp and others are a pressure cooker of brooding synth vamps, horn choruses and bass pounds, but it's all swell, no ebb.
The sound manages to be noisily rousing yet sonically confining, a tightly coiled complement to Jeezy's icy, deliberate flow. It's only when the album reaches "3 A.M." that it shakes things loose for a moment with a delightfully frenetic track made mostly of producer Timbaland beat-boxing the percussion section.
Most of all, Jeezy himself is the irresistible gravity that anchors this sophomore effort. With his rumbling, slurring baritone and unyielding force of will, he rhymes with a preacher's power, only he's proselytizing from the corner, not the pulpit.
If Jeezy is mostly about buildup, then Ghostface Killah is all release. He's possessed with an explosive energy and loopy charm that jump-starts songs such as the fast rap-era "Ghost Is Back" or heady crime thriller, "Outta Town [Expletive]." Unfortunately, though "More Fish" follows March's "Fishscale," this new album is more of a glorified mix-CD designed to promote the Theodore Unit (Trife Da God, Shawn Wigs, Sun God), but none possess his charisma or verbal alacrity.
Though "More Fish" lacks any real coherency, amid the flotsam is a marvelously random set of songs, from Shawn Wigs' ode to Texas hold 'em ("Pokerface") to a cautionary tale about heroin-shattered lives ("Josephine"). All this is scored to a frenetically funky collection of beats by Beat Rock, MF Doom, RZA and Ghost himself. Apart from the horrid (and ironically titled) "Good" and a remix of this spring's "Back Like That," there's little else that remotely resembles a calculated, contrived radio or club track. Instead, like any good mix-CD, Ghost and company tumble together a collection that may lack in consistency but rarely in eclecticism.
-- Oliver Wang
Albums are rated on a scale of four stars (excellent), three stars (good), two stars (fair) and one star (poor). Albums reviewed have been released, except as indicated.