For those there to witness it firsthand, the long-gone mixtape era was—for lack of a more extended, sappy manifesto—special. During this period, rapper Jeezy, still going by Young Jeezy, connected with DJ Drama to drop a handful of classic mixtapes before they began beefing in 2009, the most notable of which was 2005’s Trap Or Die, which launched the famed Gangsta Grillz series into a new dimension.

11 studio albums later, Jeezy and the Hip Hop world is in a much different place. And that’s what makes his latest effort, Snofall (a reunion with DJ Drama), so special and nostalgic in its execution.

While Jeezy’s past few releases showed signs of cruise control, his latest effort embraces his creative ceiling. It’s a grand return to form, where Jeezy sounds refreshed and hungry.

For most of the record, Jeezy finds ways to celebrate his longevity and status in the game while staying in his snowman character. A great example is the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Don Cannon & FNZ produced “MJ Jeezy.” Here, he revels in his status as one of hip-hop’s most legendary trappers: “Before Thug Motivation, he’s the number one thug, icon shit, heard he whip with one glove.” Drama then loudly proclaims them to be Michael Jackson Jeezy and Quincy Drama Jones (even comparing their early tapes to Michael Jackson’s first three solo LPs).

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When he does break character, though, we get some of the shiniest gems. “Street Cred” sees him addressing no longer holding the street credentials he has long worn, like an Olympic gold medal. However, he quickly points out that a resume on the street can’t afford you the generational wealth he’s built with his multiple business dealings.

That’s the balancing act Jeezy has seemingly perfected over his career: remaining a voice for the streets while understanding the only way to transcend is to stay out of them.

It’s hard to argue this perspective after hearing “King’s Crown,” a somber dedication to a bevy of lost loved ones. Most potently, he describes the murder of his friend Westside Chris’ little brother: “I just wish I told your brother not to gang bang,” he raps, before adding how much he wanted to live the life Jeezy did. Even more depressing, he adds, “Dyin’ wishes in his hearse, play Trap or Die.”

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That bar draws an unintended parallel to the younger artists that Hip Hop seems to be losing at an accelerated rate, many of which seemingly have little interest in separating their personal lives from the themes they rap about.

Production-wise, the project sparkles; primarily handled by J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, with longtime collaborators D. Rich, Don Cannon—and a handful of others—the project sounds cohesive, even before Drama stitches things together with his trademark special sauce.

Being authentic to something you’re so far removed from is a dicey prospect; from JAY-Z to Pusha T, we’ve seen plenty of “street legends” balance late-career runs, often straining to remain relatable. Jeezy has seen and done it all, and dropped enough motivational trapper-to-entrepreneur tropes to fill a hundred self-help books. With so many business ventures and lanes outside of rapping, it would be hard to fault him for getting a little stale—again, a criticism he’s faced.

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However, it’s hard not to feel emotional when driving around bumping “Grammy” at full blast, lost in memories of what seems like a lifetime ago. Drama and Jeezy have managed to pack enough throwback vibes and myspace-era mixtape aesthetics into Snofall to bring a toothy grin to the face of any day-one Snowman fan.

A 10-year retrospective of Trap or Die by Complex cleverly described Jeezy as an artist able to embody “getting money” as opposed to “got money” (something they compared to gym music vs. club music). Two decades later, he still finds a way to capture that feeling.

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