Jay Jenkins’ discography is unimpeachable. The rapper who goes by Jeezy has been one of the South’s premier MCs for over two decades, starting as a feisty up-and-comer and evolving into the sage forefather he’s settled into as he approaches retirement.
Jeezy’s an elder statesman of trap music, and engaging with his discography from his debut to his farewell is an excellent outline in the development of the subgenre. His work with Shawty Redd on Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 remains a career highlight, and a staple among trap purists.
But even Jeezy’s less-celebrated works come bearing hits. There’s the spectacle of Pressure, featuring just about every rapper you’d ever want to hear on a Jeezy track. Then there’s his debut, Thuggin’ Under the Influence, an absolutely ecstatic blast from the past, a nostalgia-tinted look at Lil’ J and his buddy Lil Jon, long before the latter became a parody of himself.
Jeezy’s best run came from 2005 to 2011, when he released two albums in his Thug Motivation series and another two LPs — The Inspiration and The Recession — that solidified him as one of rap’s best concept artists. But Jeezy doesn’t limit himself to one specific style within the genre, and that’s why he’s been able to remain relevant over a span in which we’ve seen four men enter the White House. He’s a cultural institution, and while it’s sad (and a little hard to believe) to see him say goodbye to the rap game, many of his songs will remain a part of the culture for the foreseeable future. In that way, there’s not really a scenario in which he can ever retire.
Below, Billboard ranks all 11 of Jeezy’s official albums, from 2001 debut Thuggin’ Under the Influence (T.U.I.) all the way up to last Friday’s (Aug. 23) swan song TM104: The Legend of the Snowman.
11. Seen It All: The Autobiography (2014)
Seen it All is an event, the spectacle of Jeezy adorned in his most flamboyant excesses. Though it’s only 12 tracks long, the album speaks to Jeezy’s power within the rap community. The first five songs find Jenkins handling the beats solo, but on track six, Akon shows up. Seven houses Jay-Z, and nine features The Game and Rick Ross. Boosie and Future round out the guests on 10 and 11, and while the results are generally a little disappointingly hollow — too much flash, not enough substance — there are few rappers who could assemble this kind of tracklist.
10. Church in These Streets (2015)
If we’re judging by ambition alone, Church in These Streets is among Jeezy’s most accomplished albums. A loose concept record at the intersection of the streets and the crucifix, Jeezy finds himself grappling with the demons he’s spent his career trying to shake. But Jeezy has always been his best as a clever humorist, littering his verses with perfect punchlines and quotables. Here, the joy has faded, and the somber outlook of 19 tracks (and only two features) bogs this album down. Jeezy is a hitmaker, and even Church has some moments, but the standouts aren’t enough to elevate the more common lows to Jeezy’s typically high standards.
9. Come Shop Wit Me (2003)
If the title sounds familiar, it’s because Jeezy patterned his second album title after Cam’ron’s Come Home With Me from a year earlier. Jeezy was still a fresh-faced twenty-something when this album came out, and, despite its bloated length, Come Home is an early sign of the rapper’s star power. Lil Jon helms much of the production, and over the course of 26 songs, Jeezy begins to etch the role he’ll play in southern hip-hop over the next two decades. On this album, his voice hasn’t yet grown into his signature rasp — so more than anything, this is a fascinating relic of a bygone era.
8. Trap or Die 3 (2016)
This was the first record that truly snapped Jeezy out of his mid-career funk. It’s a light at the end of the tunnel that wasn’t there on albums like Church and Seen It All. From its earliest moments, we get a new Jeezy: “In the Air” stomps along in a half-time feel, with the emcee sporting a new swagger and near-slurred flow that completely owns the beat he flows over. It’s less a reinvention than a clear revisal of what made Jeezy stand out during his heyday.
7. Pressure (2014)
Trap or Die 3 and Pressure work like a one-two punch of sorts, leading Jeezy to the last album of his career, TM104. Pressure is a concise statement: 13 songs, none of which reaches the five-minute mark. It’s generic Jeezy, but generic Jeezy is still better than 95% of rap music. The horns are blaring, the hi hats are unrelenting in their triplet style texture. There’s nothing revolutionary about Pressure, but it shows that Jeezy is one of the best rappers of the past two decades when he simply leans into the styles and sounds that have accented his best work.
6. TM 104: The Legend of the Snowman (2019)
For a farewell, TM104: The Legend of the Snowman is a bittersweet goodbye. There aren’t any outstanding singles, but it’s a lovely summation of what’s made Jeezy a commercial and critical presence since he started rapping in 2001. “Already Rich” finds Jenkins linking with another legend from the South, Cee-Lo Green, and the results are both nostalgia-inducing and still enjoyable all these years later. It’s an emotional trip from track one to 19, and it makes sense that Jeezy ends the album with the gorgeous, ruminative, John Legend-assisted, “The Real MVP.” He interpolates Kevin Durant’s 2014 MVP speech into a reflection on his own mother and trying to navigate through life while she battles a serious illness. It’s a reminder that Jeezy’s at his best when his heart shines through that gravelly voice.
5. Thuggin’ Under the Influence (T.U.I.) (2001)
Back when he went by Lil’ J, Jeezy put out an album called Thuggin’ Under the Influence (T.U.I.) It sounds like a crystalline version of ‘90s Memphis rap, oddly enough, all sheen and gloss when rappers from Tennessee would opt to drown their beats in molasses. Its placement at No. 5 on this list has as much to do with the music itself as it does the way it set up the stakes for Jeezy’s entire career: The personality is there, as is the raw talent. There are a few moments that are head scratching in retrospect, but for a debut, Lil’ J brought the heat.
4. The Inspiration (2006)
Coming just a year after his most successful album, The Inspiration is Jeezy at his Jeeziest. It features one of his best songs, “I Luv It,” and floats between hood anthems and introspective ruminations on the hustler-turned-hero that would become his calling card. It’s a stellar record, but it’s hard to rank it above TM101 or its spiritual follow-up when those albums so clearly represent everything Jeezy is about.
When all is said and done, Jeezy will be most fondly remembered for his Thug Motivation series, which spans three records and 14 years. TM103 is Jeezy’s clearest attempt at a pop-rap crossover, but it comes across stronger than one would expect for a blatant radio effort. There’s the holy trinity-featuring “I Do” with JAY Z and Andre 3000, laced with an all-time Jeezy hook: “I said I see some ladies in here tonight I might marry.” T.I. comes along for a who’s who of ATL royalty on “F.A.M.E.,” and an ascendant Future lends his voice to “Way Too Gone.” More than anything else, this album is a perfect snapshot of early 2010s Southern rap.
2. The Recession (2008)
From his fifth to his 11th album, it’s safe to say that the rankings between Jeezy’s albums are all somewhat interchangeable: There’s some degree of drop off in that relative brief dry spell from 2014 to 2015, but otherwise, Jeezy has been consistent. It’s this period, from 2005-2011, when he was one of the best rappers on the planet. The Recession is another loose concept album, but its cohesion lies in Jeezy’s relentless approach to songwriting, and an undeniable energy that he brings to each song. It helps that the album is scattered with hits like “My President” and “Put On,” but from beginning to end, The Recession is clearly one of Jeezy’s finest works.
1. Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 (2005)
TM101 is simply one of the best Southern rap albums of the first decade of the 2000s. It’s got everything: swagger, hits, impeccable beats, and crossover appeal. There’s the Akon duet, “Soul Survivor,” the still classic “My Hood,” a “Go Crazy” remix with JAY Z, and the menacing “Gangsta Music.” It showcases the best elements of Jeezy’s personality, from his humor to his one-liners to his gangsta realism. It’s a classic record, and the pinnacle of a career that was unrelenting for two decades. Jeezy had a chokehold on the game whenever he decided to make a record — but his peers should still be sad we won’t get anymore “Yeaaaaaaaah” ad-libs and snowfall in July.