Back when CDs were pressed and MP3 folders were uploaded, Jeezy was your favorite mixtape rapper. Everyone else was going for glitz and glamor, while Jeezy only played their game halfway. He wasn’t the best lyricist, nor was he particularly musically innovative, but he was undisputedly the realest. Then came his label pivot.

“Two record deals/ radio still won’t play me.” In the last decade, little has changed for Jeezy - not even when it has. Those lines off of Trap or Die have become gospel, (even if radio plays are a dead metric for popularity) and remaining an outsider was a point of pride for the Atlanta rapper. Despite his prior reputation, Jeezy has since inched toward the mainstream (often followed by quick backpedals). Though it may not have been deliberate arc, he’s no longer exclusively for the streets.

The radios still aren’t playing Jeezy, but now he’s on Stephen Colbert getting Nielsen views and Youtube streams. If you need Pressure contextualized, take a snapshot of last week’s performance, where sentimental Jeezy was on display alongside Canada’s rising star Tory Lanez. The song “Like Them” is a high point on Jeezy’s new album; Tory Lanez lays the hook with his underutilized Caribbean croon, adding to a rich production by instrumental phenom Frank Dukes, among others. It also features Rick Ross, another rapper to break out of the mid-2000s glam-rap scene. Ross hasn’t sounded this at-home over a melody since “Aston Martin Music”.

“Like Them” is preceded by another laid back track, the eponymous “Pressure.” D. Rich lays some slow, burned-out synths, while Jeezy, YG, and Kodak Black describe the unique pressures of black hood-lord stardom. “They say he talkin’ I’m around, he never speakin’ though,” raps YG, as Jeezy reiterates the album’s primary theme throughout the chorus: “That pressure fuck around and make your partner switch”. Lyrically, the title track is a high point; each rapper’s bars are warped and amplified by paranoia, while the shadow of violence looms over their celebrity.

When his features are at their best, Jeezy is content to fade pleasantly into the background. He recently told us that he doesn’t consider his collaborations to be features in the traditional sense. He readily admits that other rappers perform better at times, setting his ego aside for the sake of a superior album. In some ways, the features are what elevates Pressure above some of Jeezy’s previous albums. Those moments of assistance serve to modernize a voice that’s caught between moving on and staying real to his day-one fans, but still, it feels as if Jeezy is hindered by his own self-created paradox.

It’s unfair to hold artists to their past works as a standard, but Jeezy demands it. This album rolls us all the way back to proto-bombastic, mid 2000s rap in a clear move to recapture an era. It’s something Jeezy does whenever he has an artistic identity crisis, and each time it’s less convincing. “American Dream”, the album’s best track, simultaneously highlights this dilemma and undermines Jeezy’s entire mission. Working with Kendrick Lamar and J.Cole, rap’s big thinkers, Jeezy evaluates how the individual and their choices magnify into the whole; an un-Jeezy like theme delivered through his standard methods of stuntin’ and hood toughness. Against expectations, it works pretty well— largely thanks to  J.Cole’s verse. Nevertheless, this song shows that Jeezy as a director and curator might yield a more fruitful career than Jeezy the undecided.