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FEATURE: Young Jeezy, For Life

Photography Matthew Salacuse
Photography Matthew Salacuse

Jeezy doesn’t Twitter. You would think a self-made entrepreneur who just landed on Forbes magazine’s annual Hip-Hop Cash Kings list, having earned $6 million in the last year, would embrace such a cutting-edge technology. What better way to plug the new artists on his label, Corporate Thugz Entertainment, or his clothing line, 8732? Or keep fans updated about new endorsement deals to add to a portfolio that already includes Adidas, Belvedere Vodka and Boost Mobile? Or maybe give updates during the summer tour with Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy and Drake?

You would be wrong. “I’m definitely not going to be the nigga up there Twittering,” says the 31-year-old Jay “Young Jeezy” Jenkins. “Like, ‘I’m walking in the club. I’m getting in my car.’ You know what I’m saying?”

It’s a warm afternoon in July. Jeezy is giving his dissenting take on Twitter during a discussion on viral promotion with his Def Jam publicist, Gabriel Tesoriero, in the lounge of Soapbox Studios, in the Buckhead area of Atlanta. “I’m a street nigga,” he says. “And beyond that, I just find it a little weird for anybody to know everything you’re doing. I was in the club the other night, and my homeboy hit me like, ‘You in the club? Somebody in there Twittering that shit.’ I’m looking around like, Who? It’s so crazy, ’cause you could be talking to somebody and say something, and them muthafuckas be tweeting, twitting, whatever y’all call that shit. To me, that sounds a lot like snitching, and that’s probably why I ain’t with the shit.”

As you can see, Jeezy takes the code of the streets very seriously. Since 2005, when Da Snowman flurried onto the national landscape—first as a member of the Bad Boy South supergroup Boyz N Da Hood, then, and more so, with his nearly two-million-selling solo debut album, Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101—he’s maintained a steady devotion to rapping about the Southern drug game (a.k.a. the trap) from the perspective of a hardworking participant.

This despite a past year that might have had some wondering if his motto was still “trap or die.” Released last July, Jeezy’s third album, The Recession, was a sophisticated conceptual opus that shut up any critic pegging him as a simpleminded gangsta rapper. It captured the apprehension and inner turmoil of a generation staring down the worst economic crisis the country has faced in 75 years and spawned the political-rap anthem of the year, in “My President,” a passionate endorsement for the then-still-hopeful Barack Obama. Stretching his musical boundaries along with his topical ones, Jeezy became an unexpected go-to guy for R&B features, popping up on Usher’s “Love in This Club,” Ciara’s “Never Ever” and Akon’s “I’m So Paid.” He even threw on a Dolce & Gabbana suit for the “Circulate” video.

Now, like Avon Barksdale, he wants his corners back. In May, he released Trappin’ Aint Dead, a rugged mixtape strung through with the defiant drop, “Trappin’ ain’t dead, these niggas just scared!” It’s a fitting appetizer for his fourth album, Thug Motivation 103, which he has been working on since January. Set for a fourth-quarter release, the third installment of the Thug Motivation series finds Jeezy getting back to the basics of inspiring those trying to get money in the streets—even during this drought of epidemic proportions.

After making such a well-received, thoughtful album like The Recession, what would you say to critics who might feel like you’re taking a step back by focusing so heavily on trapping again?

Niggas seen me doing all this shit now, so, quite naturally, it looks as if I’m evolving. Which I probably am, mentally, but I’m trappin’. I brought that shit in the game and stood on it. I ain’t gonna give that shit up just to sell more records or become more commercially accessible. Thug Motivation 103 is surviving the recession and moving on past it. What are we gonna do at this point? Despite what they think, I’m making niggas better. People ain’t know what the word recession meant. Now everybody is well-aware, but if they would have just heard it on CNN [it might not have related to them]. But since they heard it from “Mr. CNN” [Laughs], myself, it was taken a little better, and people reassessed the situation. Before I put The Recession out, you never heard the word recession on the news. Two months later, bam! Two months after that, we had a Black president. You can call me a prophet when you ready. [Laughs]

How deep into the album are you so far?

I’m probably at about 75 percent. I took my time on this because I want this to be a real album. I don’t wanna be 50 years old and I said some dumb shit back in the day that don’t amount to nothing. When I get older, I want to have a cat walk up to me like, “Man, you got me through thick and thin.” You see how people bugging out about Michael Jackson right now? I need that shit. Because he really got people through some tough times. And it might have just been singing and dancing—I don’t sing and dance, I motivate the thugs—but it’s the same shit.—Toshitaka Kondon

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