They call it Sprawl City, and with good reason. As big as it is and with as much land as it consumes in its ever-outward push—it’s the ninth-largest metropolitan area in the country, though its official city limits hold fewer than half a million residents—Atlanta is always one step away from the rural. Even in places like Bankhead, Midtown and East Point, side streets are green and houses nestle in among trunks and under boughs. Don’t let the backwoods feel fool you, though, because Atlanta is a hustler’s town. All kinds of hustlers. Until recently, the Black Mafia Family proclaimed their presence from the famous billboard on I-85. A certain Reverend King hustled the ultimate dream here. Sheeeit, even Coca-Cola, the biggest hustler of them all—who else could convince African children that they need to drink sugar water?—makes its home here.
So it’s in the town’s DNA, deep as the blues. And sometimes it crops up where you’re not even looking for it. Riding in the Range down Peachtree, for instance. Young Jeezy’s manager and consigliere, Coach K, is driving, with Cool and Dre in the backseat (they’re in town to mix down a track they produced for Jeezy’s upcoming album). It’s a Saturday night in the middle of So So Def Weekend. A couple of nights ago, Jeezy co-sponsored a $200,000 “strip-off” at an area club. Dre heard about the jump-off all the way out in the Midwest. “My nigga in St. Louis told me them niggas threw like a hundred thousand dollars cash in the air,” he tells Coach K. “They tryin’ to bring it back to the old guys that was doin’ it every Saturday night out here!”
“Yeah,” Coach K says, “them boys did it three times a week.”
“And it was over a hundred every time?”
“Maaaaan, they gon’ spend fifty at the bar.”
“Jesus Christ,” Dre says with a laugh.
And when the Range pulls onto one of those backwoods-looking side streets and then into the parking lot of Patchwerk Recording Studios, it’s no surprise to find Jeezy inside, dressed for the hustle. Black fitted, black tee, black shorts, black Chucks—pretty much how you would’ve found him back in the hand-to-hand days. He huddles with Cool and Dre, and snippets of conversation float out over the thumping sounds of the track. “To me,” says the familiar rasp, “a regular song ain’t good enough. These niggas comin’ up—it ain’t hard to get your music on these days. I’m gonna create my own lane.”
No time for parties tonight, Jeezy. You’re 80 tracks deep into The Inspiration. Focus, maaaan. Gotta be that way for your sophomore album. Especially when your freshman outing went plat-and-a-half in an age of barely gold, when your self-proclaimed movement sent shockwaves not only through the A, but through every trap in America—when the whole damn world is waiting to see what Da Snowman does next. You’re not a rapper, but you’re working harder than damn near any rapper out there. Hustle is as hustle does.
TWO MILLION RECORDS SOLD, AND I’M STILL TALKIN’ WHITE SHIT…—“HUSTLIN’ (REMIX)”
The thing about Jeezy is this: As corny as it sounds, he’s carved out a little corner of the game and made it synonymous with his name. It’s a rag-to-riches story worthy of a movie (full theatrical release, too—none of this straight-to-DVD nonsense). Young boy from outside Macon, Ga., becomes a young hustler around the A-Town. Gets his money up, loses some friends along the way, has an epiphany that goes a li’l something like this.
“I woke up one morning and went cold turkey, for real. I turned my back on everything I knew, literally. Because I had to pursue [music]. Oh, man. I was ridin’ down [Interstate] 20 one day and flipped. I wasn’t even depressed. Like, Oh shit, nigga, you gonna fuck around and go to jail or you gon’ be dead. You know what’s gon’ happen.”
The young d-boy grinds heavy, forms a crew (United Street D-Boys of America) and a label (Corporate Thugz Entertainment), pens a double album (Come Shop Wit Me), and finds a local champion in an up-and-coming mixtape maker called DJ Drama. Two mixtapes—Tha Streetz Iz Watchin and Trap or Die—straight flatten the hood. “It was like a phenomenon,” says Drama. “It was unbelievable! From when the first tape came out, it started to get back to me, and it just grew incredibly.” Major-label bidding war ensues, Def Jam wins, and in 2005, Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 furthers what, by now, even President Hov is calling a movement. Fueled by big, martial beats and brassy synth lines, along with a lethal combo of dope-boy koans and laconic ad-libs, the album sells some 1.67 million copies. Snowman T-shirts become a national fad and then, even better, a national controversy. (Oh, and while Jeezy’s solo stature renders it barely worth mentioning, we shouldn’t forget his inclusion in Bad Boy South’s prefab supergroup, Boyz N Da Hood, whose debut album dropped just weeks before Let’s Get It.)
Fast-forward to the present, a year and a half later, and zoom in on Jeezy. He’s in a quiet room off the main studio at Patchwerk—just some white walls, hardwood floors, and Jeezy fidgeting in an Aeron chair. Outside in the world, hip-hop is all but snowed in, and it would be foolish to say Jeezy didn’t have a lot to do with it. He knows it, too, and it’s wearing on him. “I didn’t want it to be a fad, homie,” he says, noting the current rash of coke rappers. “And to me, that’s what’s happenin’. I started somethin’, so now I gotta fix it.”
That’s not even the main problem. People will always jump on whatever style or theme or topic gets hot. You can’t stop that. A cat like Jeezy takes issue more with the man behind the message than with the message itself. “You can do this,” he says, “and then you get to a point where it’s about the money. And you can tell when it’s about the money, ’cause a nigga change up his whole shit.”
It’s always tempting to wonder whom Jeezy’s referring to, but he’s not often one to name names. “Man, you can see it!” he says. “I ain’t gotta say! It ain’t spreadin’ the word. It ain’t about testin’ the hearts of men no more. It’s about a paycheck. And you can tell in the music. It’s like, I liked you when you was you, nigga. What the fuck is this?”
The idea of change hangs around Jeezy these days, as close as his CTE chain. He’s not just a trend-spotting rapper switching up his style, either. Not even close. He’s much more attuned to changes within himself, changes in people around him.
Changes in himself he can handle. It’s the other folks that worry him. “This rap shit kinda opened my eyes to a lot of shit,” he says. “Muthafuckas you thought was down with you, that ain’t what it is. I’m livin’ my life, and to anybody else it’s perfect. You’re the shit. You’re the man. The streets love you. You got everybody fuckin’ witcha. You can’t do no wrong. But it’s like, What if one of y’all niggas flip out and kill me, man?”
Read the rest of our story on Young Jeezy in XXL’s January/February 2007 issue (#88)