Earlier this year, I gave Young Jeezy’s Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 a less-than-favorable review, but in hindsight, I think may have unfairly evaluated the album. For me it has and always will be about the lyrics. That’s not Jeezy’s strong suit: The Atlanta former trap-star — perhaps like no other artist — is able to push his personality and swagger to the people. Move over, Paul Wall.
A media event last year showcasing his debut was by far the biggest hip-hop spectacle I’ve ever been apart of. There was a mob of people representing every facet of hip-hop: groupies, industry folks, artists, deejays and fans hoping to a catch stray note before the album dropped. His sophomore offering, The Inspiration: Thug Motivation 102, due December 12, should come with no less fanfare. Regardless of whether or not he’s worth the hype, here’s a fair warning: Jeezy may just turn you into a believer.
Prefixmag: Your sophomore album is due to drop December 12, but you’ve been in the rap game since ’95. What’s your early history? How did it all start for you?
Young Jeezy: It was more like I was doing the whole CEO thing. I had artists — to make a long story short, a lot of my artists caught murder cases, and … I was stuck with an office and a studio. It was me and my man Keke B, but we didn’t have any artists. I used to go in from time to time to fuck around, and it was like we had a lot of down time. I just started going in and recording, and it pretty much went from there. Niggas comin’ through the studio and saying, “Man, that shit is crazy.” And I’m like, “Nah, that’s just me, man.” What’s crazy about that is niggas used to come by the studio askin’ to get copies before they go to the club so they can listen to the shit, you know what I mean?
From there, one of my homies was like, “Put a mixtape out.” And shit! That’s what I did. And it didn’t stop from there. The first mixtape I did like four to five hundred thousand. And then next one damn near six, seem like, and it just kept on going from there.
Last year, I went to a listening session for Thug Motivation 101, and there were so many people there: mixtape deejays, wannabe rappers, producers, groupies. I’ve never seen so many different types of people gathered in one place. Why does such a diverse group of people wanna hear Jeezy?
Young Jeezy: I really can’t say. Some people understand me, some people don’t. For the most part, it was a big phenomenon because it was a dude that was like, “Fuck the world.” I’m gonna say whatever I’m gonna say, and I ain’t gonna bite my tongue about it. To hear somebody say some shit like that and you ain’t heard that in such a long time, it’s like a breath of fresh air, ’cause everyone was so concerned with making radio hits and radio singles and then you got a nigga like me. Nigga, I’m going for the street. And one thing you gotta know is once the streets get started about something, everybody that pays attention to the streets pretty much lies with that.
I’ve heard many times that you consider yourself a motivator and not a rapper. Why do you make this distinction?
Young Jeezy: I think a rapper would be somebody that does something for money. Like that’s his occupation and he’s cool with that. He ain’t really stuck on one movement; he’s just trying to make music, hits, what have you. A motivational speaker is a type of person who goes out of the way to cater to people that listen to him, like people that actually live the shit he’s sayin’ and been through the shit that he’s been through — if you were to go to some fucking entrepreneur seminar like it’s only for entrepreneurs, you know what I’m sayin’? It’s only for people who wanna get money and live life off their knowledge.
And it’s the same thing with my music. I do it for cats that’s in street, cats that came from the street, cats that understand the street, whether they in college or they in prison. They understand what I’m sayin.’ It’s like a secret society, cult, like we know what we’re talkin’ bout and you might not know if you ain’t cut from the same cloth. Someone gotta translate it for you.
I never consider myself a rapper because I don’t do rap things; I don’t handle myself like a rapper does. A rapper considers himself a star; he acts a certain way. To me, it’s just about living life and about being free, being here to be heard. The whole thing is this is how I feel: If you fuck with me, you fuck with this. Look into my words and see how my words might help you in any shape, form or fashion. My job is not to rap about it but to talk to you about it.
About six months ago, I talked with people in Chamillionaire’s camp about different Southern artists, and they said that when you rap, it’s like you’re talking to the listener personally. They said the best emcees had that ability. What do you think it is about your style that people find personal?
Young Jeezy: I don’t think it’s the artist in me; I think it’s more that somebody has confidence in the swagger, the lyrical reality. A lot of people just play with the words in a way that we would be like, “Damn.” But when someone sitting there talking, it’s like going to church. Sitting in the back of the church and listening to the preacher, sound like he talking to your ass. He’s trying to encourage you to be a better person, and that’s how I feel about my music. If you down, I’m gonna pick you up. And if you up, then I’m gonna keep you at the top of your game. It’s like a good movie; when you walk away, you feel replenished, you feel almost like a hero, like, “Damn, if it was me I would have went out just like that.” That’s why people recite my adlibs. When I say them “yeah” and all them shits, like they feel like that. They be like, “Hell yeah you heard what the fuck that nigga just said?” The average motherfucker couldn’t get that. Make dude feel special because he like, “I’m for them, I’m for the people, I’m for the cats that’s going through the streets, for the cats that’s trying to get off the block, no matter what’s set out for them and they’re cool wit that.” I ain’t trying to force myself on an audience. I’m not trying to force myself on a fan. The people that’s gonna ride wit me ride wit me because they understand what I’m saying. The average motherfucker would be like, “He can’t really rap,” which is cool. It’s just that you don’t know what the hell’s going on because you ain’t been in the streets.
When your first album came out, Jay-Z took you under his wing. Are you excited about having him back in the game?
Young Jeezy: I’m definitely excited, because for a while there had been a lot of bullshit coming out. And being a street nigga myself, I grew up listening to Jay-Z. I definitely wanna hear what he has to say and what’s on his mind. Jay and L.A. Reid pretty much lemme do me. They wouldn’t be over me like that. I don’t know how it works with everyone else, but I know they gave me the option of doing my music. And then, when I come to bring it to them, we all kinda sit down and politic and powwow about it, but it’s pretty much what I say because they understand I have my own movement and they try not to fuck with that. When they came down to Atlanta for my mixtape release party — not even my album release party, my mixtape release party — and they really saw what I was trying to get them to see. Like, “Damn, you don’t get this many people in the club just by accident. You don’t get people buying mix CDs by accident.”
You got a lot of media coverage about the banning of your Snowman T-shirts, but you did a lot of work for people who died or lost their houses during Katrina. Do you find that frustrating?
Young Jeezy: You know what I learned, man? You can’t beat ’em, dog. And at the end of the day, they only going to single you out for the bad shit, and everything you do good, that ain’t nothing anyway. I just felt like they didn’t want it to spread because it was going to middle America and middle-class America. When it was a ‘hood thing it was cool, but then when kids was wearing it to school, let’s stop it now before it gets any bigger. When is the last time you seen someone walk around with a George Bush shirt on? You feel what I’m saying? They feel me. Someone who walk around with a Snowman shirt ain’t walking around with the president’s face on there. Like, I can see why they mad; wouldn’t you stop that too? I would stop that because it could turn into something big.
The new album’s called the Inspiration. You talk a lot about talking to the streets to attract them so you can then bring them to another place.
Young Jeezy: Yeah, yeah. It’s like I can preach a li’l bit. And I say that because I’m not ignorant by a long shot. I am one of the smartest niggas walkin’ this planet. My nigga. Everything that I know and love is in jail and I am still here. I ain’t doin’ no snitchin’ or no telling no bullshit. I just played the game. I know I’m not brighter than a lot of cats, but I feel that in order to impress somebody you have to make ’em feel a certain way.
The thing about this is, it is my first time coming. I really had to give it to them raw and uncut: This is who I am, this is where I came from, this is what it is. You can love me or leave me alone but at the end of the day, I really couldn’t sit down and talk with them, talk to them about having dreams or pursuing goals. Like, they would have been like, “Who the fuck is this nigga?” You gotta ride wit a nigga first. Like when you listen to Pac and B.I.G., you feel like you knew dem niggas, and that’s what made them different. And you felt like Pac was your homie and it felt like Big was your partna. That’s because they got you into their world and they explained all the things that are going wrong around you but that you don’t acknowledge ’cause you feel like, “Damn, all this shit is happening to me.” If you think about the average shit a black man goes through by the time he’s twenty-five, you fuckin’ traumatized, man. He don’t know it ’cause he fucked up. He just livin’ his life, but then when you hear other people saying that shit you be like, “Damn, Big went through that shit too.” It makes you feel like them niggas is your partnas, and that’s what I’m on.
It seems like you have a good relationship and get respect from other artists, particularly in the South. You don’t normally see that especially off just one album. What do you attribute this to?
Young Jezzy: I try to be real diplomatic about a lot of shit ’cause, coming from the street, I don’t do the rap-beef shit. In the situations I know that had to do with beef, niggas would end up being killed — some crazy shit. If there is a problem then there is a problem, ’cause at the end of the day I am a real nigga. Niggas fuck with me ’cause at the end of the day I am real nigga. I be where niggas be. It’s different when you hear niggas talk all that shit but you don’t see them out where you be or y’all never cross paths. When you see these niggas in the club or in the streets, they be like, “Damn. ‘Ah, okay, cool.'” Niggas can sit up there and chop it up with you. I ain’t no arrogant nigga; I am down to earth, my nigga. I am going to respect everything until I ain’t respected no more. I’m gonna sit there and smoke with you, drink with you, and that’s just how it is.
I rather be cool with a nigga in the industry knowing that later down the line we might do a record together or we might do a tour. You want to keep the shit professional. You don’t want to get into a position of power and be on some ignorant divide-and-conquer shit. ‘Cause you might divide, but you may not conquer. How I am going to preach thug motivation and I got a problem with half the niggas in the industry? When niggas thought me and Luda had problem I was the first person to say hell no, ’cause this Atlanta, Georgia and we gonna ride together.
What can we expect from the Inspiration?
Young Jeezy: I really think it’s going to better than the first album for the simple fact that I got better music now and I am feeling really confident overall. If nothing else, I have been extremely consistent and relevant. Jeezy fans is going to ride with me; haters gonna hate. And I’m cool on that.