Images Kenneth Cappello

It’s an all-white affair at the Metropolitan Business and Arts District in southwest Atlanta. The industrial loft complex is the locale for XXL’s 13th-anniversary cover shoot with ATL’s own Young Jeezy, and it’s his third anniversary cover in a row. On this sweltering mid-June afternoon, Da Snowman is playing it extra-cool between takes, making sure not to ruffle his all-white attire while chopping it up with old friend and master boardsman Shawty Redd. With Jeezy’s aptly titled Shawty Redd–produced hit single “All White Everything” blaring (on repeat) throughout the large loft space turned photo studio, the moment might seem a little premeditated. But Jeez is hardly putting it on for the cameras today.

With his long-delayed fourth album, Thug Motivation 103, set for release at the end of this summer, 32-year-old Jay Jenkins is focused on a project he considers well worth its long wait. He’s not paying any attention to negative chatter about the LP’s late arrival, yearlong pushback or the tepid response to the Trap or Die Pt. 2 mixtape, which he released this past May. He’s ignoring the whispers that he’s no longer one of the brightest stars in Atlanta’s rap constellation. And he’s on a vegetarian diet—no beef, or talk of beef, with anyone, including his longtime rival and fellow A-Town rap star Gucci Mane (who just happens to be doing his own photo shoot at the same time, about 200 yards away, in the same row of warehouses).

Today, nothing is as important to Jeezy as the great expectations he has for TM103. Where his previous LP, 2008’s The Recession, offered biting social commentary,TM103 has Da Snowman going back to his roots, back to the trap, back to the feel of his first album, 2005’s Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101.

As day turns to night, the scene moves to ATL’s legendary Stankonia Studios, where OutKast have recorded some of the their most revered work. Jeezy wants to celebrate the five-year anniversary of TM101 and the revival feel on the TM103. He’s confident that his brand of trap music has permanently impacted hip-hop and made him one of the last authentic street dudes in rap. While more and more artists are achieving success with fabricated street lives, Jeezy makes his case for why much of it is not believable and explains why he’s not much of a fan of rap these days. More importantly, he’s adamant that TM103, which was reshaped during months of one-on-one sessions at Shawty Redd’s home studio, will quiet all the talk of Jeezy’s demise. Let’s get it.

Thug Motivation 103 has been long delayed. It’s evident that people are becoming very cynical about its release. How do you calm the skeptics and respond to those who say you’ve lost it and you’re not in a good space right now?

You think it wasn’t like that for B.I.G.? You think it wasn’t like that for Jay? ’Pac? Shit, that’s all Jay talks about. Like, “Nigga, y’all gon’ count me out? Okay, watch this. Boom. I do this better.” That’s what it’s about. But, at the end of the day, that’s what keeps me goin’… Nobody’s not gon’ sit here and tell me, “We done with you, ’cause we’re done.” Nigga, that’s y’all. I’m not done with shit. And they gon’ sit up here and tell me, “Aw, well, you ain’t…” I’m doin’ what any nigga would do on his fourth album. I’m gettin’ it together. I’m not just gon’ give you anything, to be hot and relevant. That don’t make sense. That’s like telling a muthafucka anything just to get it done. I’ma be straight up with you, so when you walk away, even if you ain’t satisfied, I kept it real. I kept it 100. And that’s the way I feel. I wouldn’t even call it the top of my game. I’m just really figuring out the music shit. Once I put that old-school blueprint outline together that I used, with this shit that I’ve done now, it’s a wrap on ’em, homie. C’mon, I’m on my fourth album. Think about niggas’ 10-year plans. I done did more in four albums than a lot of niggas gon’ do for the rest of they life.

Is this going to be the album that separates you from the pack? That authenticates your brand even further and stops the comparisons to the other rappers that do what you do?

I don’t think nobody should compare me to anyone, ’cause, at the end of the day, you’ve got a ’Pac, you’ve got Snoop, you got Tip, you got Wayne—there’s only one Jeezy, man. Ain’t nobody walked in these shoes but me. My level of intelligence and know-how, and being able to adapt, and being able to live, and being able to walk, and still be the same person that I was from day one— that shit ain’t somethin’ that’s just given to you, man. So, at the end of the day, I’m not worried by far, because I wouldn’t even be here right now if it wasn’t for me being and thinking the way that I am. So with that being said, you can’t compare nothing to that. ’Cause I’ll say it again:
I done been ’round the world, ’round the block. Two things a nigga can’t tell ya is that I ran off on ’em or I owe ’em anything. It’s been me the whole time, bruh. Fuck the music—let’s take that out of the equation. It’s nothing. Let’s talk about life for a minute. Look where I came from. Look where I’m at. What do you compare to that? You let me know, and then I guess we’ll have a comparison.

Let’s compare Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 to Thug Motivation 103. Do you think, five years later, that 103 can make as significant an impact in today’s musical climate as 101 did?

Yeah, well, they just waiting on me to come back and change the game, that’s all. [Laughs] But, you know, OutKast made great music. I listened to 8Ball & MJG album the other day—it was good music. It was good music, man. That was us! Nowadays, everybody makes beats, everybody’s a rapper. But then those were the ghetto poets that we listened to, because they were the ones that saw the struggle, and they come out and they tell the world about it, and people feel it like that. I guess now music is so saturated and so microwaved. It’s, like, 15 minutes in the microwave and boom, you’ve got something. Nobody’s putting passion or any thought behind it anymore. Or even going in, like, really going in and making shit that’s going to matter in two months. ’Cause, you know, everything sounds good when you’re [in the studio]. And I’m not hating at all—I’m just being real. —Rondell Conway

To read the rest of this cover story, be sure to pick up the 13th anniversary issue of XXL, September 2010, when it hits national newsstands August 10. Let's get it!