If you ask Jeezy about life in Atlanta a decade ago, the rapper lights up before taking a trip down memory lane.
“To take you back 10 years, my city was festive,” he explained over the phone days before his highly anticipated 10-year anniversary concert that took place at Atlanta’s Fox Theater on Saturday, July 25. “It was full of entrepreneurs, hustlers and people determined to make it. None of us really had real jobs—we had real ideas.”
Being a veteran rapper diving in dough wasn’t the motivation, though. With visions of incarceration and in need of a platform for his hood tales, Jeezy hit the booth. “I went so hard because I was under the impression one day that I would be spending 30 [years] to life in prison,” he says. “I did those songs not knowing if I would be out tomorrow to hear them … I was like, ‘Let me put my blood, sweat and tears, and every emotion I got in this music now because in case [prison] happens, at least they can hear from the ghetto, the people and the struggle for what I have to say.”
Still, the grind never ceased for the then 26-year-old, whose coveted hood classic Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 (b.k.a. TM 101), turns 10 this month. Here, the Snowman gets candid about his decade-old LP and the motivation behind it.—Johnathan Cruse
You had a couple of albums out prior to the release of TM101 but do you consider this your debut album?
I consider TM101 my first professional gain and my first professional album because it was the first time I was able to sit in a room and put all of my thoughts into one body of work at a time. Before, I was experimenting, trying to figure sh*t out. This was the first time I said I was going to block everything out and make a f**king album.
How do you feel when people compare TM101 to Nas’ Illmatic or Jay’s Reasonable Doubt?
It’s absolutely humbling because I grew up listening to Jay, Nas and Wayne. I mean I always knew I had what it took to get my point across but the difference between me and those guys was that those guys were really rapping and they were great at being lyricists. I was a hustler that just wanted to be heard. I was like, “I’m tired of this sh*t. Someone has to listen to what we’re going through out here.” It’s like we were being demonized and people saying these guys were no good but it was like nah, we want families and we want security. We want escrow accounts. [Laughs] But we ain’t have access to that sh*t. The only way I knew how to get access to this sh*t was through the music. That was the closest thing to me and l love music—I grew up listening to all these different cats. I was like maybe if I could get them to understand us, then we’ll have a better shot at [music].
“This was the first time I said I was going to block everything out and make a f**king album.”
Did you not see yourself as being a real lyricist 10 years ago?
Nah, because one, I had never really been in the studio and two, I was never around anything musical growing up. I wasn’t in the church choir or spitting music on the steps with the homies. I was getting money. I mean I understood what music was and I knew what real music was from the artists I loved and respected but I don’t even carry myself as a rapper to this day. I carry myself like a grown man with a point of view. I was on some street n***a sh*t and I just wanted to be heard.
Can we at least both say that even though you are a grown man with a POV, you still have a dope flow?
Don’t get it f**ked up, man. I’m nice. [Laughs] I just didn’t know I was nice then. I was Steph Curry and didn’t know it. Steph Curry didn’t know he was the champ until this year. I’ma keep it a thousand with you. I was already a made man so I didn’t want to be the n***a with street cred that everyone knew and then you go in the club and they like, ‘This n***a trying to rap.’ Nobody ever wanted that.
“I don’t even carry myself as a rapper to this day. I carry myself like a grown man with a point of view.”
When they used to play my music in the club, I used to be in the cut. I was still balling. I just wasn’t on Front Street because I didn’t want to be that street n***a that was trying to rap. What changed everything is that I would be out and grown men would walk up on me—I’m talking real-life killers and bangers—and be like ‘Homie, I love your sh*t, man.‘ So it started getting real when people that I respected started coming to me letting me know that they loved my sh*t. Sometimes you need other people to let you know where you at with it so you can get it. I was making music for myself, for my hood and for my city. I didn’t know the world was going to accept it. I mean I knew I was something around the way because I had the money, the cars and the jewelry to support what I had to say but you couldn’t tell me I was going to have fans in Kansas City, Missouri, or Boise, Idaho or Los Angeles, for that matter. It was like when that sh*t started happening, I knew it was f’real. So now I had to make a decision. “Am I a rapper or am I a hustler?” I had to figure it out quick.
Did you foresee TM101 being a commercial success?
Not at all ’cause I never wanted commercial success or strived for it. I always said [early on] I made music for the hood and now the world is my hood because I understand the struggle and everyone in it. I tell everybody you ain’t got to be up to look up.
Take me back to when you signed with Def Jam and your relationship with Shakir Stewart. How big of a role did Stewart play in the concept and inception of TM101?
He was very instrumental because he was the one that was actually going in the building and telling [record label executives] that they have to understand what I was trying to do. They didn’t understand my movement at first because they thought the music was too slow and they were telling me I needed radio songs. But me and Shakir knew better than that.
The birth of the trap sound met the end to crunk. Did you realize you were unintentionally ending the crunk movement to bring forth your own sound?
I wasn’t a crunk dude—I was on some gangsta sh*t and about my money. I had a different perspective and point of view so when I got with Shawty Redd and all these people, I wanted my music to be the opposite of crunk. I wanted my music slowed down and hard so I could get my point across because I really wanted to talk to the people and I wanted them to listen. I knew the only way to get them to listen was to be respected and it was hard but I went for it. It was crazy because when I was in the club and they were playing crunk music then they got to [my music], it was slower it was still crunk in the club. That’s how I knew I was really on to something because people actually felt and recited every word. And I’m watching women and people behind the bar do this sh*t and the club bounce. What really let me know it was real [was] everywhere I went, they was playing the music off the mixtape with the drops on it and that was unreal for a DJ to play a whole mixtape in the club with another DJ talking over it.
You made a perfect re-introduction on Instagram with your post celebrating TM101. What made you put that message out?
I never had the chance to really speak on what my mindframe was and like I told you earlier, I just wanted to be heard and the people that were in the struggle and in the streets, trying to figure it out. I think that sometimes with success, people forget that because it wasn’t like I got into the game for money, fame or anything like that.
They say you have your whole life to make your first album, and they might be right. Some call it poetry, others call it the ghetto gospel, but the industry calls it “trap music.” Go figure. Either way it’s the voice of the streets, and we all know that when the streets talk, we listen. I find it odd when people use a negative connotation like “trap music,” when the message (lyrics) clearly states: make it out of your surroundings and be the best man and provider you can be. We call that being a boss where I’m from — a self made individual that refuses to let his environment dictate his or her outcome in life. This body of work you see before you is just that. Every experience, every up, down and close call. All the nights that you prayed you could make it to see another day. All the sacrifices you made for friends and loved ones you lost to the street life. I can’t help but to think of all the obstacles I had to dodge and the times I was unsure. But I continued to keep my faith and hustle strong. I kept pushing! When I said that the roaches were in the kitchen, I meant that! So now when I tell you the floors look like bowling balls, I mean that too. You can call it rags to riches, but I like to call it a boy becoming a man and believing in his dreams, goals and expectations. I never thought of “fame” or being accepted in this industry; my only thoughts were to represent and speak for every man, woman and child that was in the struggle and just wanted to make a better way of life, without taking no for an answer. With every song, verse and adlib on this body of work, you can hear that determination, that ambition and that drive in every word. If the album touched you in any way, just know that it was all for you. I’d like to thank my fans and anybody that was a part of my journey. Here I am, 10 years later, doing what I love –motivating the people.
So what does this 10-year anniversary mean to you?
Like I tell people, this isn’t a celebration to celebrate the last 10 years—it’s celebrating the next 10 years. I want to bring that feeling back and let people know we all came a long f**king way. We all out here doing what we love and I think that’s what’s so special about Atlanta. They say you can come to America and be anybody. You can come to Atlanta and be anybody. That’s what this album and this celebration is about. It’s about us having this opportunity and taking advantage of it, and making something out of nothing. As I look back 10 years from now, the hustle and the grind is different but the mindstate is the same.