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Who’s got skills? Who cares? With the South officially dominating hip-hop, it’s all about the larynx. Critics can grouse all they want about the vapid thug-chatter perpetually bubbling up from below the Mason-Dixon, but they’re missing out on rap’s hottest new star: the human voice. No longer measured by the savvy of their storytelling or the punch of their punch lines, rappers are honing their instruments like never before. Need proof? Turn on the radio and check out the seductive musicality of T.I.’s slow drawl, Lil’ Wayne’s clipped sneer, or Rick Ross’ baritone hiss. And then there’s Young Jeezy. So riveting is this man’s guttural roar, it wouldn’t matter if the Georgia rapper were reading lines out of his notebook, King Lear, or the Atlanta Yellow Pages—it’s a rush just to hear the syllables erupt from his throat. Surrounded by the pummeling kicks and lofty synth lines that overpopulate his sophomore disc, The Inspiration, Jeezy’s growl still manages to crash through the speakers like the Kool-Aid Man through so much drywall. The disc is a continuation of his celebrated 2005 debut, Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101, only this time with bigger beats to better match his lumbering language. The best tracks are sweeping and cinematic, including “3 a.m.,” a dark slice of Timbaland production where Jeezy outlines his technique: “A ad lib here and a ad lib there/ Fuck it—ad libs errywhere!” So why would a man who clearly knows his strengths nevertheless take a tepid step into the dangerous waters of concept? On “Bury Me a G,” Jeezy contemplates his own death in the most superficial of terms: “Four shots in the chest/Why niggas get at me?/They done fucked around and fucked up my new white tee.” Later he claims, “I’m a legend like John/We ordinary people/You only get one life/There’s no sequel.” And then tops it off with this asinine couplet: “So you can’t take nothin’ for granted/And don’t take granted for nothin’.” Jeezy might not be forgiven for such lame rhymes at the pearly gates, but he still has a set of juggernaut pipes here in the earthly realm. He flexes them to fantastic effect on “Hypnotize (Intro)”—a song where he dismisses detractors with…his watch: “They say I’m shallow, but I think so deep/How deep? Deep as the abyss/So when you get a minute take a look at my wrist.” Even when Jeezy has nothing to say, we’re hanging on his every word.