It’s never seemed like he was having much fun. Since summer 2005, when his Def Jam debut, Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101, introduced the world at large to what began as a mixtape phenomenon on the Atlanta streets, Young Jeezy has brought joy to millions with his music—the massive hooks, the ad-libs, the swagger. Despite his great success, though, his public persona has remained that of a man on a serious grind—guarded, weary, resigned.

The epitome of the hustler turned rapper with a plan (it was Jeezy, as much as anybody else, who popularized the term “movement”), he came to Def Jam equipped with a company, Corporate Thugz Entertainment, and a group, USDA (United Streets D-boys of America), composed of himself and two of his artists, Blood Raw and Slick Pulla. At the same time, he’s stayed steadfast in his commitment to the streets—a commitment that has had its consequences. USDA’s debut was to have been the follow-up to Let’s Get It, but Blood was arrested, and Slick was shot, so the project was pushed and Jeezy’s second solo album, The Inspiration, dropped in December 2006. Now, four months later, Blood’s been acquitted, and Slick’s back on his feet. So with The Inspiration surpassing a million in sales (and still on the charts—No. 64 on the Billboard 200 as XXL went to press), USDA’s Cold Summer is ready for a May 22 release.

On this April evening, Jeezy chills in a smoked-out penthouse suite at Atlanta’s Intercontinental Hotel. Dressed in jeans from his new clothing line, 8732 (dial U-S-D-A on your phone), and a T-shirt that reads, “More Guns Than Roses,” he listens to Baby and Wayne’s “Leather So Soft” and Lil Boosie’s “My Nigga” over and over while sipping Perrier Jouët Brut. Relaxed, confident, speaking freely, smiling easy, in stark contrast to those earlier reports, Jeezy seems happy. Fo’real.

The word on Jeezy has always been that he’s this quiet, serious, mysterious figure. Gloomy even. Not tonight. Seems like you’re having the time of your life.

Aww, man, like I told my little brother the other day: I got the rest of my life ahead of me. I got a smile on my face. I’m loving it. I’m high off life right now—and about four blunts of Kush, though. [Laughs] And some champagne we sippin’ on.

You said earlier, you really like rap now.

I loved it before, but I love it even more now. It changed my life. You got shit to do every day. It’s productive. Sky’s-the-limit-type productive. For you to feel a certain way and express the way you feel and people to love you—that shit is priceless. It’s a blessing. How you not gonna love that? I get up every day in the morning, and some niggas out there in the world love me and thinkin’, “Fuck that, what would Jeezy do?” Not even that. “What would a real nigga do?”

You seem to be hung up on the idea of not straying from the streets. Even more than most artists.

You know, you feel guilty at times. Not that I do, but it’s like, there’s a lot of shit niggas can say in this world. A lot of niggas get on these tracks—they shot niggas, they killed niggas, they done this, they robbed this nigga, they done that. But I sit back and look at myself sometimes like, “Nigga, how the fuck you feel like you’ve done what you’ve said you done, and niggas know that for real?” Ain’t no nigga ever question that about me. And I understand that, because all I have is the streets. It might sound ignorant to a certain degree, but, really, that’s all I know. And it brought me this far, so how you turn your back to that?… I didn’t never want to do something that was outside of me, ’cause then I would feel uncomfortable.

jeezyusda2.jpgHave you ever done anything that felt “outside of you”?

I do good music. I do good records. So at the end of the day, that’s what I do. If it’s over somebody’s head, it could be, but somebody’s getting it, ’cause the units is moving. When I’m in the booth, I’m giving you me—pain, struggle, the hustle, life—what really happened in my life. And I’m quite sure there’s a lot of people that went through what I went through, in certain degrees.

There’s a lot of people who didn’t make it. A lot of people who’s locked up, fucked up. I think about that all the time. You wonder how you slipped through the cracks. You on now, and niggas who really doing what you did, they love you. So how you gonna bring them up to this point and thug motivate them and give them the inspiration—then all the sudden you went pop? Like, why the fuck would you do that? That’s like a slap in the face.

Even if it brings you more success? Financially?

I love money, but this ain’t for the money… You want to be successful. And I do. But I still wanna be me. I still wanna walk the streets of Atlanta by myself, like I do… Niggas be trippin’ that I be in the hood. My management and friends and family always tell me to kinda stay out the spots I be in. But that’s the only place I feel like me. When I’m there, I’m in my world.

But there are haters out there.

They’ll be all right. The haters will be all right.

But will you be all right? Because people do dumb shit sometimes.

Me too. I do dumb shit, too, though. Don’t even think about it, baby. We cut from the same cloth. We do dumb shit together.

------- Read the rest of our Young Jeezy & USDA feature in XXL’s June 2007 issue (#92)