The biggest new MC in the game doesn't even call himself a rapper. He's a trapper, he'll tell you, just one with a way with words. Complicated, controversial and committed to the cold, hard truth, Young Jeezy, a.k.a. Da Snowman, says he's trying to bring hope to the streets. But has he got any left for himself?

Words Kris Ex
Images Jerome Albertini

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 semi-rustic “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.

You 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.

What do you think you’re selling to people?
I’m giving them hope. It’s almost like one of those tapes [they advertise on TV] when you damned-near sleep, that come on 5, 6 in the morning. Them get-rich-quick schemes. I’m just giving them hope. I wanna be the one that come up and throw the lifeline down to pull people up. My music is designed—if you down, it’s gonna pick you up. And if you at the top of your game, it’s gonna make you high. It ain’t no shit that I’m telling a muthafucka, Shoot a nigga, kill a nigga. I’m the same nigga out here stressing, telling the Bloods and the Crips, “Man, look, red and blue make green, my nigga. Let’s get money. Fuck beefing and killing each other. If y’all niggas grew up on the same side of town, and it woulda been different circumstances, y’all woulda been best friends.” And even from a child’s perspective, a 16, 17-year-old kid listening to my music—he might like that watch, that car, the shoes—he could determine right then and there whether he wanna deal with all that shit for real, for the rest of his life. Once you cross that line, you can never go back. And somebody that’s in the streets or doing what they doing, whether they in college, wherever, could know that, Okay, if I’ma do this shit, I gotta be the best at it, because why I’ma sit here and waste my time?

Do you think you do enough to show the pitfalls, the downsides and the trials and tribulations of the game?
Definitely. And I think on my next album, I’m really gonna get into that. I just didn’t want to come out preaching. I gave them my heart, and they give me their ears. They listening to me now, so I could talk about deeper situations. I gave you enough on the first album just to know. Now I can really talk to them and let ’em know, Look, okay, this what come wit’ that.

Do you think it’s a contradiction to promote Da Snowman and say...
But this the thing, I never said Da Snowman was anything, so I don’t see what the contradiction is. I feel like them muthafuckas need to worry about Saddam—they got all these wars going on—than some shit that the hood will like.

But if you’re saying brothers gotta stop shooting each other and gangbanging because that’s tearing apart the community, and you call yourself Da Snowman, regardless of whether you said it was this or you didn’t, you know what people are taking that Snowman to mean. Da Snowman represents a hustler.
But anybody hustles. Niggas sell DVDs, CDs, satellite dishes, whatever. Da Snowman is the ultimate hustler. It’s not about what he touched or how he touched it—it’s about how far he’s come. It represents the nigga that wasn’t scared to do it, no matter what it was—whether it was selling socks or cars or cutting niggas’ hair or whatever. Da Snowman, Rubber Band Man, all that shit—it represents something. Niggas wore rubber bands when Tip was talking that shit ’cause niggas felt like they was rubber band men. They was wrapping them stacks up. Nigga ain’t gotta sell nothing illegal to get no stacks.

Show me anywhere on that shirt that says anything about narcotics, anything on that shirt that says anything about violence, anything on that shirt that says anything about racketeering, rape, prostitution, armed robberies, so and so forth—you got me? [Laughs] “Da Snowman” represents “do what you love and love what you do.” But just grind hard at it, be the best. That’s what Da Snowman is about. Why in the fuck they fuckin’ with me about some shit that they act like they can’t stop? Come on, man. This is America. They can stop anything they want to stop—unless they makin’ money off of it. If they can stop terrorists from getting in this muthafucka, they can stop a lot of shit that’s going on in our neighborhoods. But they don’t care, ’cause they don’t gotta live there. If people weren’t doing no crimes, or doing wrong, or doing something to survive, the police wouldn’t get paid, the jailhouses wouldn’t get paid, the taxpayers’ money would be going somewhere else.

This is a place where you can kill for your country, but you can’t hustle to make a living. I can go there and kill anybody I want in Iraq—for them. But you let a nigga catch me on the block with something in my pocket trying to feed my son, lock me up and throw away the muthafuckin’ key. I can go kill for them. I could do that. But I can’t feed my family. How am I supposed to respect that?

If your story could end at any time, in any way, how would it end and when?
My story—ain’t no happy endings. One of two things gon’ happen to me, dawg. We all know what those one or two things are, so I ain’t tripping. I’ma accept it and respect it. Can’t dodge no car wreck, man. Put your seat belt on, hope your air bags come up. That’s all you can do. If it’s gon’ happen, it’s gon’ happen. No running from that. Until then, I’m helping muthafuckas out here in these streets. It’s this or nothing. I’ma ride ’til the wheels fall off.

Why don’t you think it’s possible that the story has a happy ending?
Niggas like me don’t make it. At all. It’s a proven fact. Nobody I ever grew up with, nobody that walked the same path I walked or took the same road I took makes it. It doesn’t happen. It doesn’t. I ain’t fucked up about it. I understand. It is what it is.

Do you think it’s possible to get out of that state of mind?
Nah. This is who I am. How can I change? Who I’m gon’ be?

What’s the point of having a mind if you can’t change it?
’Cause that’s the mind I have. What I could do with my mind is be the best person I could be without stepping outside of my body. If I can get somebody else’s mind frame, who would I be? How would I be able to spread the message? Like you couldn’t tell Dr. King to switch up what he was doing, because he felt he was right. Same thing. I feel as though what I’m doing is right.

If you look at Malcolm X, though, he came from being a pimp…
And if you look at me, I was in the streets and I became a rapper. It’s almost like—and it’s definitely no disrespect—it’s almost like Jesus. He took them nails for the people. I’ll take that for the people. If that’s what it gotta be, me sitting in a box, that’s what it gotta be. But I went standing up. I wasn’t scared to say what was on my mind. I ain’t bite my tongue. I wasn’t sacred to tell people the truth. Why I’ma be scared to tell the people the truth, and the government don’t tell us the truth about what’s going on overseas and why they fighting and what they doing. At least I got enough nuts to stand up and tell you. I ain’t scared to tell you what went on around me, what went on in my environment. I’m not ashamed of that.

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