Internet haters, music fans, and even rival Rick Ross have taken shots about the release delays for Young Jeezy’s Thug Motivation 103, but for one night this past July at New York City’s Highline Ballroom, there wasn’t anything to laugh at. At “TM101: Live!,” Jeezy enlisted a live band and heavyweight guest appearances by the likes of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Bun B and others to celebrate the sixth anniversary of his classic Def Jam debut. Wearing his signature thug uniform of a black tee and black fitted (or black skullcap, depending on the occasion), the Snowman reminded listeners of why they loved him in the first place. While Ross’ lush tunes might embody the lavish living from selling weight, but despite the ice that hangs from Jeezy’s neck, he represents the hustle that it takes to get there. With TM103, Jeezy looks to capture that energy—and, he says, elements of the proceeding two albums, TM102: The Inspiration and The Recession—to continue feeding the streets its fix of motivational speaking. In a candid interview with HipHopDX, Jeezy reminisces on starting the storied Thug Motivation series, and why helping his friend Shawty Redd in a time of need was more important than finishing his new album.
Young Jeezy’s Thug Motivation 101 Revisited
HipHopDX: Flash back to 2005. You’ve got Boyz N Da Hood going on, and Thug Motivation 101 is in its infant stages. What were you looking to do with that album?
Young Jeezy: To be honest with you, Thug Motivation 101, to me, was my testimony. I never looked at it for record sales, money or for a record deal. I was really just trying to be heard, that was my whole goal. I just wanted the world to hear me, hear my story, and hear my peoples’ story, their pain and their triumph. It came across so passionately, because every word I uttered, I believed it – because I saw it, I lived it, I felt it, I touched it. I thought, “As long as I can get this to the people before something bad happens to me, then I reached my goal.” That was my goal, and why I got it done so fast. Every day and night I worked on that album, I thought, “If I can just get it done, and get it out, and they feel me.” I never knew that I would have a second shot, so I just felt like my first shot had to be my best shot. It had to be a head shot. That album was special to me, because it was the soundtrack to my life, and I knew if I didn’t tell the greatest story I ever told, that no one else could step up to the plate and tell that story because they weren’t with me. I thought that if I didn’t do it, that whole era and history of what was going on in my city wouldn’t have ever been heard, and the world wouldn’t have known what we were going through.
DX: You said that’s why you got it done so fast? How long did it take to do?
Young Jeezy: It took a little time, but at the time I had done Streets Is Watching. I went back in and did Trap Or Die, and in the process of doing Trap Or Die, I started recording the album. Before I knew it, I was done with a whole mixtape and an album. It was like, “Okay, the mixtape is done and the streets were fiending for it, but I had the album done.” By the way, I recorded the album with my own money, so most of the album was recorded before I got signed. So I was paying for all the studio time, engineers, mixing and videos myself, so I was real passionate about it because it was my money, time and efforts, so I didn’t waste anything. You know how you got some mothafuckas going to the studio who want to chill, invite the bitches over, and bring the homeboys through? It wasn’t like that for me. Every day and night, I was grinding to try to get it done. Calling niggas in to bring me tracks, calling niggas to make tracks, calling niggas in to sing on shit. It was like clockwork.
DX: Years later, how do you keep that passion there? Now you have major label budgets, huge guest appearances.
Young Jeezy: My whole goal in life was to be legendary. My whole goal in life was to be a fixture of the ghetto, of the slums, of the hood that people can look at and say, “Damn, Jeezy is the Snowman, Mr. 17.5, he is what we are.” I always wanted to be the spokesperson and the mascot of the have-nots. That’s my passion. When people see me in the streets and dap me up and tell me they love what I’m doing, that’s like my fuel. I would do shows for free, because I just want to entertain my people and make them feel like there’s hope. That was always my passion. Even to this day, that drives me. When I’m in the streets, and niggas ain’t feeling what I’m doing, I need to go in, regroup and go harder. When niggas are like, “When’s this coming?” I’m really in the streets, so I really see these people. It ain’t like a mothafucka comes to the studio and says, “Jeezy, you’ve got to go harder, because the streets are trippin’.” I’m out, so I get it the worst way. I’m dealing with the niggas on First 48 and CSI [laughs], these are the mothafuckas that fuck with me. Them niggas ain’t coming on some, “Hey, shit ain’t right.” They’re coming on some “Hey, what’s the fuck?!” That’s my pain, my passion and my pleasure. I love when mothafuckas love me for loving them and representing them, and nothing else feels like that. I can’t describe letting these mothafuckas down, because they believe in me. Not the broads, not the cars, not the jewelry, because I always had that. I motivate them, and they motivate me. It’s a win-win, because they give it back every time. Every time I do something that’s right and they tell me it’s doing well, I just want to do the next thing that’s greater.
DX: Your music is motivational in general, though, not just the streets. You’re able to use the hood as your motif, but how do you make such an individual experience a universal message?
Young Jeezy: Everybody wants to know the way. I feel like a natural born leader, and music is a message and an emotion. I remember talking to Snoop [Dogg], and he said, “I know when you first started this shit, you just wanted to do it to do it. But now, you’re a leader, and they’re looking for you to lead the way.” That’s a big part of it. When you’re a leader, you take some of our great leaders—Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, [Jr.]. It was people that weren’t going through their struggle and our struggle, they just felt their pain, like, “Hey, he’s saying the right things, he means what he says, and I want to support that.” I think with me, it’s universal because I’m speaking it from the heart. When you have a heartfelt conversation, it feels one on one to anybody, especially if you’re being personable. I think that’s what it is. The shit I say, mothafuckas can feel around the world because we all exist in the same place; we don’t have the same problems, but we have the same views and the same goals. If you’re telling someone they can make it…he feels like, “Shit, that can be for me in the morning.” Everybody wakes up in the morning and thinks, “Can I do it another day? Can I get up and go through all this bullshit for this little money I’m making? Or I’m not making any money, and it’s not making any sense.” They just need somebody to come in and say, “Fuck it. If we need to do it, let’s just get it done and move on to the next thing.” I think that’s what my music does. If you’re in the gym, it gives you that extra pump. If you’re in the streets, it gives you that extra couple of hours. If you’re in the corporate world, it gives you that extra focus when your gets on your nerves, when really, you want to be the boss yourself. You’re like, “Shit, Okay. If I just stay down and learn everything, this can be my company one day.” That’s the message that’s in the music. If you think you can do it, you can. Why not? What’s saying you can’t be who you want to be? That’s what this world is about, achieving your goals and going above and beyond. People just need to hear that sometimes. Malcolm X was a criminal, but he changed his ways to change peoples’ lives. Imagine how many lives he’s changed, and how far we’ve gotten with his message. He took a negative and turned it to a positive. That’s what I did: took a negative and turned it into a positive.
Young Jeezy Details How Shawty Redd Brought Him To A Career In Music
DX: You’ve got several albums, but whenever I hear “Jeezy,” I think of Shawty Redd, and what you guys built together. How did you guys first meet up and put together the skeleton for your sound?
Young Jeezy: I’m going to tell you a true story about Shawty Redd. I was the guy that was out with the cars and jewelry, and living the life, and one of my partners named Six Nine introduced me to Shawty. Me and Shawty hit it off, because I was a fan of what he was doing. At the time, he had Drama, which was the dude who had the “Left, Right, Left” song, he had a couple of big songs that were going on in Atlanta. He was just this young guy in the industry who just kind of had it, and everybody respected him for what he was doing because he was young. I used to see him around the in the mall, but I never knew him. When my homeboy introduced me to him, we just sort of hit it off. For the longest time, me and Shawty Redd really just hung out. When I got done doing my thug thing, I used to go sit at the studio with him for hours and hours, and that’s how I learned the studio world. I had been in the studio before and did my thing, but never with anyone who had real music shit going on and real artists coming through. I just sat there, fucked around a little bit. Over time, we grew close. He was recording some shit at the time, so I’d get on a song here and there. I stepped to him, and said, “Yo, I’ve got this record I’m trying to do,” which was called “G8.” I went and put Pastor Troy and somebody else on it. That was a learning experience. Shawty called me one day, like, “Jeezy, I’m going to L.A. to meet with Warner Brothers [Records],” or some shit like that. I had never been to L.A. I went with him, the label paid for it, and we had these big hotel rooms and all this shit. I went with him to meet with the label, and I remember thinking, “Damn, how can I be so close to it and not do it?”
When we came back from L.A., my focus just changed. I told Shawty, “I really want to do this shit.” We just went to his basement, just me and him, and just started making records. The first couple records we made, was this record called “Getting Money Over Here,” I put Bun B on it. It started taking off. I did another record called “Hold Up,” and that started taking off. I did another record called “Trap Or Die,” and it was like, “Oh shit!” Me and him both looked at each other like, “Damn, we may be onto something,” but we kept working. I would go to his house. He stayed far the fuck out, so I’d get pulled over every night. I used to go out there in crazy cars, but he stayed on the outskirts of Atlanta, so police would harass me and shit, but I’d still go. While all my homies were in the club, I’d be at the house with Shawty Redd in his basement, making music. I think the bond we created by kicking it every night came out in the music, because it was so comfortable. He would be making beats in his basement, it was like a bathroom right where we was in. it wasn’t really a studio: it was a mic in the middle of the room, and a board. While he was making the beats, I’d tell him instruments to play, and I’d go in the bathroom and listen to the bass and come up with the hooks. I’d come out of the bathroom like, “All right, let’s do it.” It just became a ritual. He’d play some shit, I’d go in the bathroom, and I’d come out like, “All right, I’m ready.” He’d be like, “Damn.” It just kept getting better and better, and over time, I think people appreciated it because we were a dynamic duo and we got together to make real hood classics. When Thug Motivation came, it was like boom, it was over.
DX: He had some charges last month, but just got acquitted from them. What was it like to go through that with him?
Young Jeezy: I’m glad it’s over, but he’s like my brother. I told Shawty, “You’re not from the streets, so you can’t be fucking with these street niggas like that, because I know them.” Over time, I saw the outcome of that. I don’t really want to speak on the situation, but I knew it wasn’t going to be good. I’m really happy he got out of it, but it was a hard time for my little brother, because he was going through some shit that nobody could help him with.
He called me the first time he got out on bond, and he called me the second day. I drove out to his house and shit, I saw him and we talked. He’s like, “Bruh, I don’t know what to do.” I just saw the frustration in his eyes. A lot of people don’t know that when a lot of people were saying, “Where’s Jeezy at with Thug Motivation 103, he’s bullshitting”…I went to his house one day when he got out, and I never left his house for six months. I stayed with Shawty and talked to him, every day and every night, because his mindstate wasn’t right. I thought, “What’s more important? My little brother, or the music?” I kind of got off my rocker, but for six months, I lived with Shawty Redd in his spare room. I bought a TV, some shit I like to do at the house, DVDs and playing cards, and I lived with Shawty Redd for six months to make sure he was straight. He was going through a lot, nobody could help him, and I was the closest person he knew that was from the street that understood what he was going through. I’ve been through it so much in my life that I felt that I couldn’t just leave him out there by himself. I lived with him, I took him to do shit I knew how to do that my O.G.s taught me how to do, and I just kept his head straight. I told him, “You’ve got to pray, bruh, but it’s going to be all right. Because right now, you wouldn’t even be home.” We just fucked around and little bit and had a little fun. We did a couple records, I think that’s when we made The Last Laugh mixtape, but we were really just having fun. We weren’t even taking the music seriously; I’m just sitting there when he’s playing video games, talking shit.
One thing a lot of people don’t know about Shawty Redd can cook like a mothafucka. Every day, he’d knock on my door and say, “What we going to eat today?” I’ll say, “Let’s go to Mexico,” so he’d make tacos. The next day, he’ll say, “What we eating today?” I’ll say, “Let’s go to Italy.” So he’d make Italian food. It was that type of shit. We’d sit around and talk shit all day, talk about old times. But a lot of people don’t know that for a lot of that gap in between the albums, I was living with him every day. I’d get up, go to the gym and come back. Me and him just talked, kicked it and bullshitted around. He was in a bad place, and I felt that if I left him by himself, something bad would happen. When your life is on the line like that, you never know how people think. After losing Shakir [Stewart, former Vice President of Def Jam Records and friend of Young Jeezy, who died of an alleged suicide in 2008], I told myself that I would never be selfish and let somebody go through something I could help them with. A lot of that down time, I was really helping out my little brother.
Young Jeezy Breaks Down Evolution On TM103
DX: Does he have any records on the new album?
DX: Does it feel like there’s more on the line with his album than your others?
Young Jeezy: I wouldn’t say that. I just had to give them the true hustler’s ambition, and that’s what this is about. It’s about giving them the hustler’s ambition. I think I’ve done that, and that I did a good job. I’m confident, I’m good, I ain’t losing no sleep about it. This is all three albums put in one, that’s how I feel. For whatever that’s worth, I feel like this is Thug Motivation 101, The Inspiration, and The Recession, all in one album.
DX: How is that?
Young Jeezy: That was my mindstate. I thought bigger, I thought a little politically, I addressed some issues, it was all the way around. I got the club bangers, I got the street bangers. When I go back and listen to it, I think, “Damn, I took all the mothafuckas and made a template, and this is what the hustler’s ambition was.” It’s everything I’ve been through in the last couple years, in one album.
DX: As a critique, I’ve heard that even though your music is consistently dope, that you haven’t shown growth through your projects. How do you think you’ve changed since TM101, 102 and Recession till now?
Young Jeezy: I’ve been through a lot, bruh. With any trial and tribulation, you’re going to grow because with every minor setback is a major comeback. You learn things about yourself, your colleagues, you learn things about the music business, you learn things about making records, you learn things about making great records. I think over time, I grew up in the streets, but it was time for me to grow up in this game. The last couple of years, I was preparing for that. It’s my time to boss up, and I’ma boss on up. I ain’t gon’ waste no time, I’ma show ‘em what it’s really like. That’s what this album is about, bossing up. That’s what the hustler’s ambition are all about: stepping to the plate.