When you are the trap, it’s always hot in these streets, even when they’re the manicured asphalt of Manhattan. So Jay Jenkins is still pumping that weight—just in the gym of the plush London Hotel. See, it’s all part of the upkeep for Young Jeezy™, Household Name. He’s got a Wayne/Drake tour to stay in shape for and a new album (Thug Motivation 103) to promote. In other words, time for another assault from rap’s most counterintuitively creative man. Seriously. Admit it: You don’t think Jeezy is lyrical, or even artistic. Yet, he sold a milli (twice) in an age when gold makes moguls, and even Kanye has requested a personal consult. Is the man a thug motivator or a deceptively savvy songwriter? Why choose one? After all, there’s a reason we paired him with graf god ESPO: both know that it takes both qualities—vision and skill—to get over. Everyone seems to downplay your creative process as a songwriter. So walk us through developing a song.
Young Jeezy: I don’t go in the studio like, “I’ma make a smash today”—that ain’t my whole method. My music is feeling. If I just left the club or somethin’, I’ll probably go and cut a club record. If I’m going through something, then instead of it being bright in the studio, it might be a little dark, a little mellow in there, and it might be a feeling song.
What are the images that come to your mind when you’re doing a club song?
Young Jeezy: When I go out, I kinda just take my mind off everything that’s going on and have fun like a regular dude. Every other song that come on, you [go] “Ohhh!” That’s the feeling. It’s like triumph. You work so hard, you should play even harder.
What happens when niggas become niggas in the muthafuckin’ club?
Young Jeezy: That’s what we there for. [Laughs.] You know what I mean? We gonna hold our own. We do this every city, every state, whether it’s hood or dress-up shit, whatever. I’ma be there.
Obviously you have success now, you’re in a secluded gym—
Young Jeezy: Only because—
It’s all good! Because you deserve it! It’s all good!
Young Jeezy: Only because I got a show in an hour! That’s it! [Laughs.]
So how do you connect with the blues? It’s not like before.
Young Jeezy: You know how you get on and you mad talented and that’s all that fucking matters? You might be the weirdest muthafucka in the world, but you got talent? I’m vice-versa. A lot of people question how talented I am. But I’m a real dude and I know real things and I’ve seen real people get their head blown off. I really came from that, so I’m gonna have to always be able to adapt to it. I eat where everybody eat; it ain’t no secluded shit. I ride around in my car by myself all the time. Niggas don’t bumrush me, niggas come gab me up: “Just keep doing what you’re doing.” Once you lose that, then how can I make music? Who am I making music for? Not the people staying here. [Laughs.] They ain’t gonna relate to me, shit!
So when you’re writing rhymes, and shit’s starting to connect, how do you feel?
Young Jeezy: Oh man, I get this shit in my stomach, it’s almost like butterflies.
People probably understimate your level as an artist.
Young Jeezy: Yeah, but you know, it’s always that fourth album. It’s like, niggas question Jay, niggas question Tip, niggas question Wayne, you know what I mean? It’s that fourth album: “Can you do it again?” Like I did it the first time. Came back, The Inspiration, done it again. The Recession, done it again. TM103, we’re doing it again! And it ain’t about a fan base—these are not fans. I look at this shit like family, like when you talk to your cousin: “Get your money.” But it ain’t what you got, it’s what you keep.
What does it take to be a songwriter?
Young Jeezy: You gotta explain yourself, and know who you’re talkin’ to, to be a songwriter. Take R&B music— and I ain’t no in-love-ass nigga, so I can’t really relate—but when I just see how it make other people feel, I’m like, Damn! You know what I’m saying? My mom, she didn’t have nothing to occupy her time, so that’s how she lived through the music. Sat around, drank a few beers, do what she do, and listen to music all night.
Anyone in your family have musical talent?
Young Jeezy: Nobody really, man, it’s crazy. We always hustlers, we just know how to hustle.
Your whole family?
Young Jeezy: My grandmother ran numbers! You know what I’m saying? Pretty much my whole childhood, she was the number lady, so she always had a pocketful. Bought the boys Pumas every now and then, you know what I mean?
You just said: “I’m not an in-love- ass nigga.” What do you mean by that statement?
Young Jeezy: I ain’t never been—I’ve been a hustler my whole life, so I was pretty much infatuated with money and success and just staying focused and down, so I ain’t never been the type of nigga that just admires my girlfriend.
But you got romance in your life.
Young Jeezy: Yeah, but they ask me what my love life is like, I tell them simple: I love life. [Laughs.] You know what I’m saying? That’s it. I’ma do me, but I ain’t never been the type of person out at the movies and holding hands and riding around listening to R. Kelly, you know what I’m saying?
And that shit’ll never happen for you.
Young Jeezy: l mean, I can’t say that—but shit, not right now! Gotta keep my eyes on the prize!
Why is that?
Young Jeezy: ’Cause I’m still focused. Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t gonna sit here and act like I ain’t got some things going on, but that ain’t never been my get-up. Anybody that I ever dealt with knows that I’m a very focused individual, and when it comes to my work and what I do, you might have to play the back burner to that.
Does your situation with DJ Drama—
Young Jeezy: Man, I would never talk about that in my Complex Magazine interview, are you crazy? [Laughs.] No more light. Fight is over.
No more light.
Young Jeezy: Grown, baby, we moving on. I ain’t really no nigga to search for attention or do shit to get attention. I never mentioned niggas’ names, or said anything about anything throughout my career to get no cool points—I just mind my business. But at the same time, I’m a man first. If I feel offended, I’ma speak on it. Like you, you’re not gonna be walking along and a motherfucker just say something crazy to you in the middle of Manhattan and you gonna just keep it moving? You’re gonna say your piece or what? [Laughs.]
I’ma send you! The real Jenkins, to handle my shit.
Young Jeezy: [Laughs.] Nah, I’m not—
I’m not General Jenkins like you, I’ma send a real thorough cat. What about writing for other people in the industry?
Young Jeezy: Done it all the time.
Young Jeezy: Name it! Anybody. [Laughs.] I wrote a couple things for Kanye—
What’s it like writing for Kanye?
Young Jeezy: First of all, Kanye fucking flew in the ’copter to Hawaii, so I was all on it anyway. When I got there, I saw dolphins in the swimming pool, so I’m like, “What the fuck.” He would play songs and be like, “So what you think?” And I’d be like, “Well, shit, you might wanna change this,” because I’m looking at it from a street nigga’s perspective, you know what I’m saying? I kinda just came in and gave my input and made sure all the dots connected. You gotta go in with the mindset that you know who you’re dealing with or who you’re writing for. ’Cause I done gave niggas some jewels and niggas like, “Yo, this shit is crazy.”
So is it like acting in a way?
Young Jeezy: I wouldn’t even say acting, it’s more like me being somebody that probably listens to some of their music and knows what I wanna hear from them.
From that kind of music.
Young Jeezy: Yeah, because at the same time, it’s friendly competition. That’s why all my features always been G like that. I knew what “Put On” was to me. I was like, “You know what? If I put Kanye on this motherfucker...he ain’t never been on no shit like this.” And when he heard it—he tells me all the time—he said, “That’s one of the best verses I ever done.” And I knew he was gonna do that when I gave it. When he sent me the verse back and I heard it, I was like, “Yup.” But I heard him on it. You know what I’m saying? And it took the song to a whole ’nother level.
You’re a good listener. ’Cause you listen to all kinds of music.
Young Jeezy: Yeah, and I wasn’t scared to push the envelope with certain things. To call my last album The Recession was taking a chance. Because—now I’ma keep it 100, I’ma keep it 103—I even had to catch myself explaining why I did “My President is Black.” Niggas called me from the pen like, “Yo!”
Like, “Why are you on some positive shit?”
Like, “Damn Jeezy, why would you even go that route?” People are used to my music being only in a certain genre—you throw that Jeezy on and you just feel a certain way. But Jeezy feel like this right now! Man, I gotta make this bigger for us, because if I don’t, we gon’ be stuck in the same place! I can’t keep talking about the same shit for five years! We gon’ all be sitting here, and you’re gonna be interviewing me again, like, “So yeah, so, uh, you still trappin’?” [Laughs.]