The storied Atlanta strip club Magic City became a battleground last Thursday as trap progenitors Jeezy and Gucci Mane rekindled, then seemingly squashed, their 15-year-long beef in front of nearly 2 million people on Verzuz, the wildly popular music-battle livestream started by Timbaland and Swizz Beats. With no one sure what to expect from the pairing, the episode won the show’s biggest audience to date.
The Gucci and Jeezy beef is layered. (Check out this timeline for more on that.) It started with the 2005 breakout collaboration “So Icy,” which led to the two rappers feuding over whose song it was. Ironically, it was that same song that solidified the new detente on the livestream, with the two rappers performing it together to conclude their set and lift the tension that had dominated almost the entire night.
From the start, Jeezy (who dropped the “Young” from his name circa 2010) intended to move forward from the clash, wanting to inspire the new generation of rappers. “I didn’t want to do it unless it was with him, because nothing else really makes sense,” he says. “Not even for myself but for the culture. We can get in the same room as men, at least to start there and see where we could go.”
The night ended up being an amazing marketing opportunity for Jeezy’s new album The Recession 2 as well, with the album (the sequel to 2008’s The Recession) dropping just hours after the stream ended. Jeezy also has a talk show on Fox, and he’s re-signed with his label Def Jam, where he’s also been named a senior advisor to the chairman, a role he relishes as Def Jam and the rest of the music business continue their efforts to address long-standing inequalities for black musicians and industry workers.
He spoke with Rolling Stone about squashing old beef, making albums in a political landscape, and his hope for change in a Biden-led America. The one subject he wouldn’t address: the Verzuz after-party at Compound, where Gucci Mane encouraged anyone in the Atlanta area to come join them despite the pandemic.
There was a lot of tension for most of the evening, and Gucci came out swinging right away, immediately starting off with a diss track. Did you expect it get so tense so quickly?
He didn’t even give me time to take off my black llama [coat]. It’s Verzuz. I didn’t expect him to come in otherwise. He did what he does. My approach was more about my legacy and the classics that I have. Those same classics were played at Magic City at the beginning of my career, that’s the space I was in. I was playing for the people who love what I do. I didn’t have to go and play like Gucci was back and forth.
You’d also brought up Magic City being an important spot for your career on the stream. Were you involved in getting the club as the venue for the event?
I called Magic [Michael “Magic” Barney, the club’s owner] himself and told him I’m doing this Verzuz battle and wanted to do it at Magic City. I have a history there; my career was started there by Magic and DJ Nando, who was one of my great friends who was murdered. Fernando was the one who broke my records and was the one who told me to slow down and get off the streets before I was murdered. His presence was there, he would have told me to do that show exactly the way I did. And Magic being there too made me more comfortable with what was taking place, like we were amongst family.
Did it take a lot of convincing to Apple Music to let this stream be aired from one of the more well-known strip clubs in this country?
No, it was all done from what I said. And I explained that to them. I was like, “You’d never ask Tupac to do this anywhere other than somewhere in Oakland, if he were still alive.” If we’re going to do this, I have to do it at Magic, because that’s where I want to celebrate my legacy.
You extended the olive branch in spite of Gucci playing “Truth,” where he raps about killing your friend and fellow rapper Pookie Loc. How and why do you keep such a level head?
I’m confident of who I am as a man, and I know what I’ve achieved and what I have to lose. I wasn’t going to let my ego lead. In that moment, unselfishly, as much as I would have loved to make it about me and him, it was bigger than us. It was more so about the culture and the younger generation behind us, out here killing themselves and killing each other as we speak. That was for King Von and Mo3, Pop Smoke, Nipsey Hussle. Me being who I am, I’m never going to change my integrity to prove a point.
It’s a bit ironic, though, to be going on Verzuz to squash this long-standing beef with Gucci, but also to release “Therapy for my Soul,” calling out 50 Cent and Freddie Gibbs. Does what you did with Gucci make you think about taking similar actions for them?
I wouldn’t say it was [a diss track], I just wrote a song about having therapy and clearing some closets in my mind on some things that were addressed that I’d never spoken on. Those were just my opinions, my thoughts and my words. I’m grown enough to do it. It was therapeutic for me. If you go to a therapist, you go in for your session and you go back to the real world. That’s what I did, I wrote my thoughts on a pen and pad and let the world be my therapist. Now I’m just going on living my life. I’m grown.
You’d gotten some criticism that same night after you went to a very crowded Compound nightclub while coronavirus case counts in the U.S. continue to rise again. Can you address any of those concerns?
I wouldn’t want to waste my first real Rolling Stone on that, especially when I have an album out, definitely not.
Recession 2 is political, and you waste no time calling out Trump right away on “Oh Lord.” Since you recorded it, Trump lost, thanks in no small part to Atlanta and Georgia. Does that make you look at this album differently?
I don’t even think this is about Trump. It’s about my people. It’s the simple fact that we mobilized and when everybody was saying, “My vote don’t count, my vote don’t count, why should I vote? You are not going to change anything.” They actually got a chance to see if they got here and participated and did what they are supposed to do, that we can make some progress. And we’re not saying Biden is the end-all, be-all, but for the first time in a long time, we’ve seen progress.
What’s the difference between recording an album as a veteran versus back in the early 2000s when you were first starting to develop your career?
The first Recession came out after President Obama had been elected, and it was more of a celebration, there was about to be a change. Fast forward to now, I don’t think people realize that three months ago, we were fighting for our lives and our freedom. What happened to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, as the election approached, everything Trump was doing was to distract us from that. When the election happened and Biden and Kamala won, it went back to normal. Social media moves so fast that I don’t think people realized what happened. I wanted to capture that time in a capsule and say all that happened to us.
I still don’t think people realize that we’re actually in a recession now. Interest rates might be low, but we’re really in this recession, and if you’re sitting around waiting for a stimulus check, you should know what it is. I wanted to capture that, the difference between the celebration and now we’re in a revolution.
When you released a celebratory album with the original Recession, did you think you’d need to make the opposite album one presidency later?
I did not. I saw with my own eyes, I got out and watched myself. I sat down with Biden and Kamala myself. For me, I’m just moving for my people. I didn’t think it’d be like this, but I watched it happen and that’s what I put into the music. It was a timing thing. It was me having the life experience I’d never forget and just immediately wanting to write a book about it. I didn’t know where else to get but in my head and put it into my music and hope people will understand that listening to this, it’s the soundtrack of what’s going on. It’s crazy to think that back in the ‘70s it was this bad. That music takes us back to that place, when Curtis Mayfield and Bobby Womack were making all these songs, the world was that bad.
Those albums feel as true now as they did almost 50 years ago. How long do you think we are from a time where that changes?
We’ve got a lot of work to do, and this is a long fight. We were making music like this in the ‘70s, and we’re here in 2020 and we’re in the same place. It’s going to be a while before that happens. It’s only gotten worse because now we have social media and the whole world can see it. We couldn’t see that before. People are joining in the fight because they understand at some point we were the targets and we still are to a certain extent. If the same people who are here to protect and serve and we have to be concerned about them, that’s the issue. Who do we call? Breonna Taylor was killed in her home, how does that compute? George Floyd was killed in real time and a camera phone caught that. We’re seeing things exposed that wouldn’t have been before that shows we have a long way to go.
Seeing Demi Lovato as a featured artist on a Jeezy album surprised me. Tell me about getting her on.
She’s a real one. What? I rock with Demi, she’s real. She hit me up to do a record for her, which is crazy, and I just love the approach. And when I came up with this record, I was like, “Yo, you would be dope on it.” She knocked it out and sent it back, it was crazy. It’s different for her fanbase, my fanbase, it’s a way for all of us to meet each other.