Everyone. Workers. Patrons. The older lady with the braids. The coed snowflakes with ponytails. The guy from the kitchen with blood on his shirt. The lightly frosted fitted caps at the bar. They know him here. In this semirustic “world famous” sports bar in Southside Atlanta that even the African cab driver notes has “the best seafood.” They’re not surprised to see him. Even after he’s sold over a million records. Emerged as the year’s new hip-hop artist of note. Created the biggest T-shirt craze since Bart Simpson. They talk to him. One after the other. Casually. Touch him. Familiar.
He’s one of them. Cracking steamed crab legs. Lynyrd Skynyrd, big wheels carryin’ ’em home, on the house pipes. He smiles sometimes. Chuckles here, there. Half-laughs even. He’s part Zen, part fatalist, all hood.
He’s Jay Jenkins. Formerly Lil’ J, now Young Jeezy, Da Snowman. Trapper of the year–turned– thug motivator. He’s real meaning real. Genuine. Not studio. Not cartoon. Not larger-than-life. Passionate. On a mission. Last of a dying breed. Living karma. Martyr syndrome. Self-fulfilling prophecy. Let’s get to it.
I don’t consider yourself a rapper. Why not?
Growing up, I always thought a rapper was somebody who was very passionate about rapping. But, with my shit, it’s more of a message than rap. It’s almost like ghetto gospel. I don’t rap to rap. You can tell with my choice of words. A lot of rappers are lyrical. You think rappers, you think cats that are just real lyrical. You think Kool G Rap, you think Method Man, you think Redman, you think 8Ball & MJG, ’cause they make songs. But if you listen to my music, it’s more about a movement. It’s just in song form.
So when did you first get into rapping, or “putting words together” as you call it?
I never “got into it.” I think it was more so that I didn’t want to be a statistic. The life I came from to here, I lost a lot of people. A lot of friends, a lot of peers, a lot of loved ones. Things I can’t get back, a lot of sleep. I’m shell-shocked. My nerves still fucked up right now. I don’t think I ever really got into it; it was almost like I was forced. It was either this, getting killed or going to jail. And it was getting so close, it was hitting so close to home. And at the time, the things that people were rapping about, I was doing. I just felt that I had enough swag to get it off if I wanted to.
You say that your nerves are shot?
Yeah. I would never lie about that. My nerves bad as a muthafucka. It’s so much shit going on around me. I still kick it with the niggas I been kicking it with for years, and them niggas still do what they do. Half the niggas I love and respect are either in the casket or in the Feds. Your nerves would be bad, too. It’s like going to war, you come back—five, six muthafuckas get killed you know—that shit’s gonna fuck with you for the rest of your life. You can leave the Army and Marines and go get a regular job, but you still gonna get them cold sweats. I done seen niggas leave, do real time and go back and come back. I done seen so many niggas get caught up in a gang of shit, and to be honest with you, you can’t do nothing about it. Ain’t no amount of money gonna get you out of a fucked-up predicament like that. And you gotta really ask yourself is the money you makin’ worth that? To some people, it is. You gotta ask yourself. Me, personally, I’d rather be dead than broke. So, to me, the answer’s “yes.”
Why is money so important?
Money’s nothing. Money just gets you shit you need to survive, but it’s nothing. It’s more about how you make yourself feel when you able to go out and purchase certain things. When you able to provide for your kids or when you able to do things that you want to do in life. It’s about positioning yourself to be able to afford those types of stuff. If it was about the money and you wanted a goddamned Modena Ferrari to ride though the hood in—which really don’t make sense, anyway—you would keep the money for the car and not get the car. You’d just be happy for the fact that you got the money, if it was about the money. But it’s about valuables, so other people can see you with it, so you can get that feelin’, that adrenaline rush that you get when muthafuckas go, Ahh man, you see what the fuck this nigga just came down the block in? You ain’t gotta drive that muthafucka but one or two times and the feeling’s gone. Then you gotta move on to something else that’s gonna make you feel the same way.
So you’re saying your measure of success, your sense of happiness and fulfillment, comes from other people?
It comes from other people. No watch, no chain, no car I bought made me feel this way. I wouldn’t trade this shit for the world. When I show up at them shows, it ain’t about the money, man. I’m more excited to see the people. I’ma give them all I got, and I want them to give me the same thing. I’d go there for free. Just the fact that people love me is enough for me. You can’t buy this shit. You give a nigga billions of dollars, man, he can’t buy what I got right now. You can’t purchase it—it’s priceless.
Do you think it’s possible to give that feeling to yourself?
I could never be happy. I been through too much, done lost too much. So, to me, this is what I get back. I make other people happy, and I get that back. I couldn’t be happy. I get too many calls from the pen: “You good? Just shoot a nigga some bread.” I get too many calls from the hood [talking about] such and such got killed. Them my niggas, they supposed to be out in the street with me helping me celebrate this shit. But it’ll never be like that. It’s hard, but it’s fair. It would never be all good, and I don’t go in thinking that. Don’t nothing make me happy like that no more. I go to the club, fuck off a lil’ paper and do me, but that’s what I’m accustomed to doing. When I go to these cities, I go to the clubs, I go to the streets, because them the only people out there I feel safe around. I feel good in that type of environment, ’cause I know these people going through the same shit I’m really going through. They ain’t happy either, but I can reach out to make them feel better.
In the beginning of the album, you say, “There’s a message in my words, you gotta decode it.” What is the message?
The message is thug motivation. It’s be all you can be, sky’s the limit. Do what you do, don’t let no haters get in your way, and definitely don’t worry about the bullshit. Life is too short, man. Can’t sit back and wait on the bus, you gotta go run and jump on that muthafucka.