For 12 years, Jeezy has deftly etched together a formidable resume that has him standing shoulder to shoulder with some of rap’s biggest titans. Throughout his illustrious career, Jeezy — born Jay Jenkins — has always managed to change the hip-hop forecast with his blistering trap anthems and thunderous ad-libs. His 2005 opus, Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101, serves as the ultimate guide for aspiring MCs who marvel at the rugged soundscapes of trap music.
Though he lacks the dexterity of a JAY-Z or André 3000, Jeezy’s candor and adventurous war tales turn his albums into unmissable journeys. Last year, the Atlanta veteran pedaled his way into the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 with his seventh album, Trap or Die 3, marking his third No. 1 release, and his first chart-topper since 2008’s The Recession. With a fistful of accolades under his resume — all seven of his LPs debuted in the top four — an unblemished street cred and the self-proclaimed title of being hip-hop’s “Big Homie,” the Atlanta veteran has yet to run out of steam.
While serving as a mentor to Tee Grizzley, Lil Durk and Kodak Black, Jeezy’s voracity remains lion-esque. His grizzly mentality in conjunction with his business savvy has helped him acquire partnerships with Defiance Water, Avion Tequila and Atlanta’s American Cut Steakhouse.
With a slew of business endeavors in tow, Jeezy went back to basics and surprised fans with two new records last month. First, he enlisted Puff Daddy for his club-heavy record “Bottles Up,” and then, he linked up with burgeoning MC, Tee Grizzley for “Cold Summer,” signifying the launch of Snow Season, his forthcoming eighth album for Def Jam.
Jeezy stopped by the Billboard offices in New York City on a balmy Friday afternoon to speak on his legacy, being a mentor to Kodak, his acceptance in New York, becoming well-rounded as a businessman and why he wants to be known as the “World’s Biggest Hustler.”
Billboard: You just dropped “Bottles Up” with Puff Daddy and “Cold Summer” with Tee Grizzley. Why did you decide to drop those records now?
Jeezy: I just feel like, for me, I always focus on balling in the summer, grinding in the winter and I wanted to try something different. I wanted to keep everything going throughout the winter time and give ’em that motivational music by dropping two records. You drop one record, it’s cool, but you drop two, it’s like shooting two shots in the air. You’ve been out in the hood and you heard one shot, you’re like, “Alright, I’m cool.” You hear two, you better duck, nah mean? [Laughs]
I just wanted to let them know that I ain’t playing, man. I’m in a good space right now. I’m overconfident. I’m just taking the big homie role. I’ve watched the game and I’ve seen what everybody do and that’s cool, I get it. But when it comes to what I do, can’t nobody do that better than me. So, this time around, I’m going to make that clear. Me and Hov used to have those talks where people be like, “Okay. Do it again, do it again.”
You know, we’re eight albums in, 12 years in the game, but I’m all all about living the dream and living life right now, so you’re going to hear that in the music. It’s lifestyle. I’m going to speak my truth. I’m going to let you know [on] this album: I really live it. If you aspire to be like me, I’m going to show you how to get that going. It ain’t about how I used to live, what I used to do; it’s real time right now. So when you hear “Bottles Up,” I did that last night by the way [in the club]. [Laughs] You hear “Cold Summer,” that’s how the fuck I feel, man. Had it snowing in the city. I had to change the weather. They ride waves and I’m going to change the tide, baby, you feel me?
It’s funny you mention taking the big homie role, because 12 years ago you were the new dude coming in and looking at JAY-Z for inspiration and now you’re at the winner’s table with Hov. Who are some artists that you’ve been trying to give that big homie advice to — like a Tee Grizzley — and what are you telling them?
I was just with him and Durk the other day and I just kept it real: There’s a lot of things going on in the streets and if you wanna be here 10 years later, it has a lot to do with mind state. Whether they’re looking for you to be like, “Yo, let’s go smoke some weed or go fuck some bitches,” I’m like, “Nah, n—a. Look, y’all got some good things going on. I like the fact that y’all staying out of these cities right now until you’re able to go and get back, but you gotta really be serious about that because you’re one of us now.”
I talk to Kodak Black every other day and that’s my advice to him; any advice he needs, because this is the streets. The music industry is the streets nowadays. So when getting out the streets and you get into the music industry, you gotta understand how that goes, too, because you can still suffer the same consequences. Now you’re a public person. People have the right to have an opinion, or they get the right to look at your past and say, “Yeah, he is a criminal.”
Behind every fortune there’s a crime, but at the end of the day, we’ve all cleaned up our acts. I just saw Kodak Black give his momma a car — that’s what it’s all about. I been there, I’ve done that. But you want to continue to get a car, continue to get a house and make sure your family is straight. In order to do that, you have to be smart, because they’re giving you all this money, but it’s like being in the NFL and having the wrong fucking accountant where they’ll just let you blow all your bread and you look up 10 years later and you’re broke as shit and don’t nobody give a fuck.
So instead of telling them go do some dumb shit, it’s like, “Nah n—a, this shit is real out here. It’s fun, but when you get in a jam, ain’t nobody going to run to your rescue.” So it’s on you. You’re the boss now. When you’re in a rut, you’re going to have to dig yourself out of a hole and everybody turn their back on you. I’ve had that happen many times. But, as you see, we bounce back.
While you’re busy passing down wisdom, you’re also learning more for yourself day by day. With you just turning 40 last September, what are you hoping to gain wisdom-wise as not only a man, but also as an artist and businessman?
Just to be well-rounded. To be happy and to have the people around me happy, healthy and to really enjoy the fruits of my labor without having to be concerned with that’s going on with the voice of the market. I’m into other things like real estate, marketing, branding. I have my own water, Defiance Fuel; I have my own alcohol with Avion Tequila; I have restaurants in Atlanta and I have orphanages in Mexico.
So, for me, it’s just about making sure that the people around me understand my vision and which way I’m trying to take the train, because I want everybody around me to be a millionaire. All this shit is achievable. I don’t want people to feel like they gotta work for a company or factory.
When I came up, that’s what I came from. My auntie, my uncle, everybody worked for the same little factory and made the same little money. But now, I wanna provide for everybody so that the doors are open and the sky’s the limit. We can do whatever we want to do and that’s what I’m working towards. So when I’m around the Hov’s, the Diddy’s, the [Dr.] Dre‘s, the Jimmy Iovine‘s, that’s what I’m picking. Because I’m going to bring that back to my team, like, “Shit, we good, but this n—a just made a billion. Another one. We gonna do that.”
Let’s speak it out. It’s cool to make rap songs — we gonna do that shit forever. But I wanna run the fucking world.
You mention how the Dre’s, the Hov’s, the Iovine’s instill knowledge in you. But what tactics did you take the from the streets that you still try to incorporate into the boardroom?
All of them, because that’s my edge. I deal with things in real time. You can have all the book sense in the world and not have common sense, and that goes back to what I was telling you about the Kodak Black’s, the Tee Grizzley’s, the Lil Durk’s and all the people I deal with. Y’all got common sense — use that. That’s going to get you farther than anything. I know people that went to college and got Master’s and all these degrees — you could put us in the same situation and they’ll fold every time.
I came from a situation where it was do or die. When you put people in certain situation and they fold, that just tells you who they are. “Oh I can’t stand this. The depression is too great” — fuck outta here, man. You know how many people are sitting in the penitentiary trying to figure that shit out? We free, man. Bottom line, we ain’t going to sleep until we figure it out. That’s it.
That’s the tactics that I have and I think that’s more of a talent than my music is. My music is my soundtrack, but the way I’m able to maneuver and stand up to adversity is what makes me who I am. If you look at the people that I came up with in the streets and that I used to gangbang with, my mind state is different, because they’re not taking care of themselves how they should. That’s half of the game. The way I go about my integrity is another thing. I know there’s things that they’ll do that I won’t do because now I’m a man of honor.
I remember when “My President Is Black” came out in 2009 and there was so much hope and optimism with Obama being in office. Fast forward to the present day and it feels like that hope has dwindled.
Nah, I don’t think so. The fact that you see Obama moving around and commenting on things when it happens just lets you know how good of a leader he was, and still is. The difference that I see between the two [Obama and Trump] is that Obama is always about bringing people together and being the big homie, ironing things out. The other guy is more about separating things, being petty and sending tweets.
That’s like your favorite rapper: I don’t wanna listen to a motherfucker on Twitter. Fix some problems and we’ll figure it out. Show me that you’re great. But I’ve always said — people will see how great Obama really was once he’s out of the office. I doubt that Donnie — or whatever they call him — gets two terms. And if he does, then something is really wrong with us.
I was playing back Trap or Die 3 and you had a line where you said, “Six albums in and two classics, I still have an underdog mentality.” Even with all these accolades, how do you still maintain that hunger?
You can’t stop pushing yourself. The minute you become comfortable and feel like you’ve accomplished your goals is the minute it’s over. I’ve had that dog with a fire burning in my stomach when I was living in a trailer that wasn’t no bigger than this room. Every day I’m going to set bigger and better goals for myself. I get it all the time: “Such and such is better [than you].” That’s cool, but he’s not me.
I never came in and said that I was the best rapper. I said I finna come in and get this money, n—a. That was the whole goal. So when I look at my plaques, they’re good. But now, it’s not about who’s the strongest, it’s about who can last the longest. I’ve seen JAY-Z last all this time, I’ve seen Diddy stay in the game and stay relevant enough to do what he does. I seen that, but if you’re worried about who got a hot record and who runs the club? N—a, I’m trying to run the world, y’all figure that shit out. [Laughs]
Let’s be clear — and I’m quite sure Tip would tell you this as well — when he was rapping about trappin’, I was trappin’ for real. And everybody knows that. So if that’s the approach he wants to take, that’s fine, but I don’t give a fuck about that, man. That ain’t what I wanna be known for. I wanna be great. I wanna be a great human being. I wanna do something righteous out here. I wanna change the world. I wanna change the way people look at us. I wanna walk into a room and people look at me and say, “Damn, he made it that far? How did he do that?”
I could respect his stance on it, but that’s all I had to talk about [back then]. I ain’t a mechanic; I couldn’t talk about fixing cars. When I came into the game, I could only talk about what I knew and be was who I was. When you saw me with those chains on, those [were] the trophies that I bought from the streets. When you saw me in the cars, those were the cars that I was really driving.
If anything, I think I took a bigger risk than anybody, because I was part of an era [where] it was really going down and I really couldn’t sleep some nights. I really had real street shit going on, like wars, shootouts and everything, where I was trying to do the right thing and everybody wasn’t really cool with that. At the end of the day, I feel like I took more losses than anybody else. But I don’t wanna be known as the World’s Greatest Trapper. I wanna be known as the World’s Greatest Hustler. They can be the best rapper, they can be trap this or trap that. Don’t put Jeezy in that box, man. Put me over there with the greats, baby.
Speaking of T.I., I remember you guys teased a joint project, Dope Boy Academy, back in 2014. How’s it looking?
I think at the time that we were really on it. I think he got busy and I went on tour. You know, Tip’s my brother, and he’s always going to be. The one thing that I’m going to say about Tip is that he’s always going to have great ideas. So me and him threw a couple of things back and forth. He talked about an album, I talked about a movie, and we’ve just been back and forth about it ever since. He wants to do an album and I want to do a movie. So if we can do a movie with a soundtrack, I think we’re good. [Laughs]
If you could pick your favorite Hov verse from all his collaborations with you, which one would you say and why?
Man, there’s so many. I laugh with him all the time; I think me and Hov got more records than him and B.I.G. got together. But I think [my] favorite one was “Go Crazy,” because at the time, he was the president of Def Jam, so he wasn’t doing a lot of verses. I played him the record and he loved it. For me, to just have him on a record for my first album, I think that was legendary in itself. Because people gotta feel you out and say if you’re gonna be around long enough to even fuck with you like that.
One thing I can say about him that I respect is that when we kick it, we kick it as men. We pick each other’s brains, kind of like what hustlers would do. So whether we were in music or not, or if we were two guys on Wall Street, I think we’d be the same way. We’d just be rocking, we’d be genuine.
For me to sit down with a cat from Brooklyn and for him to sit down with a cat from Georgia and to be on the same page and be respectful, that means a lot. I think that’s bigger than the records. Even when I was going through my ordeals at the top of my career, a lot of my friends got indicted. A lot of people got 20 years to life sentences and everything.
A lot of people at the label turned their back on me at a bad time, because I actually thought I was going to prison. The only person that called me from the label was Jay. He said, “Yo man, if you need to talk, just come by my office and we’ll talk.” I came to his office, we talked and he let me know that he had my back and anything I needed as far as the label, I was straight.
[At the time,] I couldn’t sleep. I was losing weight. I was losing my mind at the time, because I’m almost on and all this shit was happening. Nobody was answering my calls from the label. I [didn’t] know about the music business, I was just trying to get a deal. We just got real cool after that, because I thought that was a solid gesture. Class act.
You were readily accepted by New York when you first came out, despite being from the South. Obviously, you had the relationship with Jay, but you also had done tracks with Fabolous, like “Do the Damn Thing” and “Diamonds.” Why do you think New York embraced you so easily?
I think it was the hustling mentality. The “Do the Damn Thing” record was one of my first real features. But I just think [Fabolous and I] had the same mentality. If you deal with somebody who’s about their business and about their money and about their hustle, that shit is universal, especially with New York being such a tough city. Everybody grinds here, everybody got a mission.They don’t even speak to you when you walk down the street; that shit is real. I think that’s what it was. I just think when people saw that the movement was real, they respected it, because they’re so used to people not doing what they say on their records.
For me, I was in tune with all the real guys in the streets and they knew what my movement was really about, because half of them was in and out of Atlanta. I was the same guy who was nervous to let people know I was rapping, ’cause I was already cool. [Laughs] I didn’t wanna be no corny n—a, like, “Hey I got an album coming out.” I think they respected the hustle and the fact that I wasn’t scared to really move around and really go to the Heights, go to Harlem, or pull up in Brooklyn.