On a recent afternoon, the rapper Young Jeezy sits in an alcove above a marble hotel lobby in New York City, his shoulders larger than expected, wearing a tri-colored 8732 varsity jacket emblazoned with words on caps-lock: "STREET DREAMS," "FIGHT" and "SURVIVAL." Appropriate messages in uncertain times: his latest album, TM103 – the third in a series – is acting as the soundtrack to his comeback story. After several release dates cried wolf, the album will finally hit shelves right before Christmas, with weeks of documentary screenings and promotional parties having built steam in advance. Jeezy's putting in footwork; where he once was absent – forgotten, really – he's now an inescapable presence. (For better or worse, much of his recent press has focused on his Sam-and-Diane quasi-beef with Rick Ross.) His standing remains unsteady, but his story and sound stay the same. And so, he's nothing but confident. Even behind sunglasses, his eyes have a strong handshake.
Just wondering: what does one need to do to squash a beef with Young Jeezy?
Beef to me is a word. It's a cow. (Laughs) You know, whatever. Anybody that's got a problem with me is probably envious or wants to be me, and that's how I've always looked at it. My whole type of thing is, if an individual's got a problem with me, it's either because he wants to be me or because he can't figure it out; or he wants my jacket. I walk around with my pride and my dignity, because I earned it in the streets and in this game, so, that's how I look at it. I feel like Barack sometimes – I'm out here trying to make the world a better place, so what the fuck? (Laughs)
It's been a long road to TM103.
I think the strongest records on this album are "Smoke & Fuck" . . .
That's my guy!
. . . and "OJ," but I think it's most exciting when you step out of your box and do records like "I Do" or the one with Ne-Yo. What's the difference between being known for a signature sound, and being a one-note artist?
I think everybody knows my sound because I'm me, you know? But, on your fourth album, I think you've definitely gotta show growth because I definitely don't plan on being one of those cats that fade off. It's always about growing with me; I grew up over the years. The chicks, the ladies like me – so I had to make some records that I felt pertained to the situation, because I do live like that. I do got corporate women that (laughs) all we do is smoke and fuck. It just made sense to me. With Ne-Yo, he's a dope songwriter, and when I went to him with the idea, and told him the concept, he nailed it. I just did the Jizzle on it. I can always make trap music until it's over with, but I've also gotta show them what's outside of the trap, so when they get to that point, they know what to do.
You've long been known as Mr. 17.5...
Yeah, it's definitely not that anymore. (Laughs) You might as well call me Mr. Thirty. Thirty-point-five.
Even in this economy? My, uh, friend wants to know.
Aw, man, this Rolling Stone, so I don't wanna start screaming out numbers, but it's definitely not 17.5 anymore! I don't even wanna walk around saying that, because I might upset a few people.
You've always seemed a little suspicious of the press – how did you prepare for a documentary [A Hustlaz Ambition] that would focus entirely on you? Cameras and all that?
I was a little paranoid when I first got into the game, because a lot of things about my mystique and about me, I was doing to protect myself – the statute of limitations and all that there. Over time, though, I really wanted my story to be heard because I felt the music wasn't just enough. When I put out [2005 mixtape] Trap or Die, I was riding around in a $300,000 car without a record deal and wildin' the fuck out. Tellin' people, "Hey, look, this is what I do every day." But, I think, people thought that was it – they never knew all the shit I went through to get to that point, and all the shit I had to get through to get to this point. I felt like putting it into documentary form was the same as Trap or Die. It's just a bigger version. Instead of DJ Drama narrating it, I got Samuel L. Jackson. It makes sense! If you tell somebody something, they might listen. If you show somebody something, they're almost guaranteed to follow. It was time: a lot of motherfuckers had forgot what I meant to the culture and to the people. I don't do this music just to get money. I do shit because I love it and I live it. I'm excited about the album, but moreso about the documentary because I get to show you, "This is what I've been telling you about for four albums. Here you go." So, let's move on to the next phase.
In the documentary, DJ Drama and others basically give you credit for coming up with the idea of "making it rain."
Yeah, I'll take that.
I've never invented anything – can you take me through the process? What was going through your head?
I'ma be real, man, this might sound like the craziest thing to you. I, and others like me – trap stars – we always considered ourselves Robin Hoods: we go out and get the money. Just think, if you was in the village and you a hunter, you take pride in going out to hunt the prey and bring it back for the village to eat. In our situation, we took pride in getting money so that the hood could eat. A part of the hood was the strip club, so – in our minds – we looking at it like we putting kids through school, we buying school clothes, we paying tuition, we paying car notes. We felt like we was the providers. And that's what we are! When you a ghetto star, when you a hood star, you gonna take care of your grandmother, your mother. When you on that next level, you gotta take care of the city, the streets. All of that consists of going to the strip clubs and throwing up money; like, I'ma have fun doing it, but I'ma give back. And, like, in doing so, they don't gotta take the risks that we did. The women shouldn't have to go out and kill the goddamn elk.
That's an incredible analogy.
That's what we do. And we took pride in that! The industry sorta came around and blew it up when they saw it as fun, like this is a way to show off my money. To us, it was a way to give back – that's the God's honest truth. We felt like we was the kings of the castle, and we came in like, "Oh, they out getting money, and they bout to give it back to us." Everybody lives better because we brought the money back.
You have a line on your song with Plies ("Lose My Mind") where you say, "House stupid dumb big, my rooms got rooms." Hannibal Buress, who has a Comedy Central special coming up, has a joke where he says, "Those are just closets, Jeezy."
He said that about me? Nah, his crib probably ain't as big as mine, that's all. Tell him to upgrade his crib, that's all. Then his rooms won't be closets and shit! Cabinets and so-forth!
A little while before your first album was due to come out, you heard it was being played in the club. It had leaked. So, you immediately grab the AK to go out and find the intern that leaked it.
(Laughs) You know what that is, right?
An AK? I'm white! I listen to rap! Yes. Really, what ever happened to that intern? How would you react if this one leaked?
Oh, I'm gonna grab another AK, two of them this time. I worked on it for too long! This music shit is like espionage. Got these little kids in Germany hacking all this shit. I just feel like, if you're a true fan, you'll wait. Like, I waited for every Tupac album – I purchased and I bought it. I read every album cover, back-to-back, I wanted to know who produced it; every person he wanted to thank. The intern that did that – most of the legal things are over – but he got what he deserved. He won't leak shit else, I tell you that. That's one guy you won't have to worry about. He will not leak nobody else's album. (Laughs)