Like nearly all rappers, Jeezy is the axis of any room; he’s the most magnetic person around. During an off day from the Under the Influence of Music Tour, he appears flustered only when the 1980s new wave record “I Melt With You” blasts through the restaurant’s speakers. (“Nah, I wasn’t with that,” he’d say later.) Jeezy responds by mouthing the lyrics to a song that is definitely not “I Melt With You,” most likely something from his fifth solo album Seen It All.
During our near 90-minute conversation, Jeezy opened up on a range of issues, from his new album and decade in the music business to his relationship with Def Jam Recordings. Jeezy shared gems that unfortunately didn’t make it into our interview in this week’s issue of Billboard — such good gems that we couldn’t help but share them below.
When you entered the rap industry, you were also really getting out of something else. Was it more difficult than you thought?
Absolutely, I couldn’t even explain to you what my nights were like. I didn’t sleep a lot. I had a lot of nightmares. I really went through a lot because I really wanted to do this and I felt like all this was going to be taken from me because of all the bad stuff that I had done before I got here. I think it was right around [2008’s] The Recession when I was like, ‘You know what? I think I’m going to be alright. I think I’m going to be here.’ I felt like if it ain’t happen yet, it ain’t gonna happen. It was just all the stress. I didn’t get a chance to live the superstar part of it because I was in so deep.
That sounds like some of the things you talked about on “Bury Me A G,” which is my favorite Jeezy record by the way.
It’s crazy you said that because if you listen to “Bury Me A G” that’s those nightmares I was having. At that point in time I was like, ‘These ni–as are either gonna kill me or I’m going to kill them.’ That’s how I was living cause I would go places like, if you listen to those lyrics I’m talking about me being out in a club and me running into somebody who maybe it might not go right and them shooting me in my white tee. That’s what I was thinking about when I was going out: This could be the night so fuck it, let’s just go.
Well, thankfully, you’re still here, and now on your fifth album. Your A&R Carbon 15 calls Seen It All your transition record. What does he mean by that? ?
That’s what they be saying. [Laughs] I think this record is my record. If you have respect for Jeezy before you really have respect for Jeezy because there is no way any individual artist that will give you something so concentrated with so much emotion, so much passion, so much adversity, all this in songs because these aren’t songs you’re playing, these are songs you actually feel.
What reaction were you going for when you called out Def Jam on “Me Ok?” ?
I wasn’t going for any reaction. That was just the truth. I was basically saying I got options and putting it into the stratosphere that I am really a boss. Even for my fans and peers, I’m not going to be the person just all blacked out in hood atmosphere. I can go into these buildings and move things around too. I been in that game. I been at Atlantic over there head of A&R. I A&R my own records at Def Jam. It was like, look, here’s where I am with it, I can do either or—know that though.
Are you guys straight now??
September 2. [Laughs] It’s cool man. Sometimes you got to flex your muscle a little bit and you have to let people know where you stand. They think you just a rapper, it’s like, nah man.
Like, dead all that “dumb rapper” shit. br>I’m not going to be like, ‘Know what I’m saying, know what I’m saying, know what I’m saying.’ I’ll go there tomorrow and talk to Craig Kallman. I’m talking to bosses. I go sit down with the higher ups and have those conversations.
You helped usher in the “Trap Rap” sound. How do you feel now that the sound is so mainstream??
I think it’s my duty and obligation with this record to carve out another space for that. With these young cats coming in right now, it’s like they are not going to be able to keep putting out the same records with the same substance and have a career. For me it’s like carving out that new space for trap, if you will. It’s like what do you do when you really trap? You get into this music game and you adapt. You still building and still striving? Who are you at that point? I talked to 50 Cent on the phone [years ago] and he said, “If I was still in the streets I’d be an enforcer.” He said, “If Jay-Z was in the streets, he’d still be a boss. What would you be?” Before I can answer he said, “Nah don’t answer, what would you be?” I’m a true hustler. I’m a true leader, that’s who I am. With what I do I don’t think cats can get in my lane because it’s almost too authentic and too real. That’s what this Seen It All is about, it’s like carving out a new lane for trap. It’s like where they gonna go three, four albums in. You have to talk about some real life shit. I’m carving out that whole lane. Not to knock it, but if you’re on the outside looking in you might look at our music as ignorant. I wanted to be the dude to straighten it out because it’s not ignorant. Its like okay you talk about drugs, give us something else to sell.
You think people look at trap music as ignorant?
?Yeah, because they don’t understand our culture. Our culture is about, if you really listen to the music, it’s about uplifting. It might sound crazy. It’s uplifting for these young cats in the hood because that’s their big dream. Their big dream is to go their favorite club with their best chain and their car and be that guy. I been that guy. I understand. I’m with you all the way. I want you to be that guy for the rest of your life, let me show you how to do that. There’s going to be a time when you’re not even going to need that and you’re still going to get the same respect because they are going to respect your mind and that’s my journey with this to make us respect our mind because I feel like I opened that door for trap rap. That’s how I got out of my situation. All I had was what I was going through and people identified with it.
And now you are this elder statesman in rap. What were your thoughts upon hearing the Kendrick Lamar album where him and his boys were riding around listening to your first album?
It just shows you the impact. That made me feel appreciated because that is all the way out there in Compton. It just showed me that they were young and really listening to what I was saying and what I say has to count and that’s why I can’t just say anything. At least I was instrumental in leading him to respect music and respect what I was doing enough for him to put it in when he had his shot. That’s real. He could’ve been listening to anything. When I heard it, I smiled. I was like, that’s what’s up. I like Kendrick a lot.
How have you adapted to the industry during this ten year run?
Just watching the world and observing everything. I treat the world like it’s my block where I used to just rap for my neighborhood. I had to realize that touring being on the road, going to different places, there are hoods everywhere and there are people that understand the struggle. Now I speak wider than just talking about certain things that certain people understand. Nah, I want to listen to all y’all.
How have you improved as a rapper during that time?
Just finding my own style, my own tempo, my own pocket, my own lane. It don’t sound like nobody. If you listen to my records, they’re different but they’re the same. They stay in that Jeezy pocket in that Jeezy world. That’s why when you put things out and it ain’t to people’s liking, it wasn’t in that pocket. I pride myself on stepping back and figuring that out. I want my hooks to be this way. I want to sound that way. I want them to be anthems and not chants.
There is a different between anthems and chants?
“Seen It All” is an anthem, the beat, the bounce, the delivery, what the hook is, it’s not a club chant. It’s a real song. Anthems are why I’ll be here forever.
What’s a club chant??
A club chant would be “Bottom of the Map,” “Put On For my City.” “Seen It All” while you think that’s a song, there is someone in the kitchen right now going hard to it like I’m about to get this money. It’s motivational music. You take “Beautiful,” its motivational music. Those are things we dreamed of when you were coming up and going through your changes and you want things and your parents can’t afford them because there are twenty of y’all to a house. That is what we fantasize about. Not saying they are going to make you happy but these are the things you want –- the big crib, beautiful women. I just want to put you in the mind frame. It makes you want to sit up. It makes you want to boss up.
How important is to set goals?
I think that’s a part of life. You have to set bigger goals. It’s not always easy but what I learned about life is that if you’re determined and focused, there is no way you can lose.
And what are your goals?
?I would love to share them with you but they are my goals.