The title of Jeezy’s 2005 major label debut, Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101, succinctly sums up what he was about and what he’s been about since then—converting stories about his struggles on and off the streets into potently inspiring music. Lots of rappers drop knowledge on their records, but few lace their rhymes with so much motivational wisdom.
Jeezy’s guru-like status in hip-hop is half the reason he’s been able to keep his career going strong for over a decade. The other half is that he keeps putting out amazing records. Last year he released one of his biggest singles, the club-friendly, DJ Mustard-produced “R.I.P.” Back in September he released Seen It All: The Autobiography, which abandons crossover ambition to focus solely on the kind of unforgivingly hard music most rappers keep confined to their mixtapes. The kind of stuff he specializes in.
His latest single, “Holy Ghost,” an emotionally raw meditation on loyalty and betrayal set in the back seat of a Rolls-Royce, is one of the most powerful songs he’s ever recorded. Just listening to it can make you feel bulletproof. It may not have budged the mainstream’s needle, but it’s huge on the streets, which is where it was aiming for in the first place.
While Jeezy was in New York City for a show, EW had the chance to sit down with him and find out why he thinks his music’s so motivating—and what motivates him.
EW: You music is my go-to when I need to motivate myself. Recently I’ve had “Holy Ghost” pretty much on a loop. It seems like motivating people’s been a theme in your music from the start.
JEEZY: I feel like that was my calling. A lot of people talk a good game, a lot of people got a good game, but that was always my calling, telling others what they can do to better themselves. So when it came to the music it was more about experience. “Holy Ghost” is about a personal experience I went through that was devastating for me. I just felt like I had to write a record about it just to make it make sense to me. “Holy Ghost” was a record I wrote sitting in the back of my car, just thinking about me and a couple of my partners who went through a lot of changes. I thought maybe it was because of the fame, because of the stardom. But I went back and forth and it really wasn’t that. It’s just the type of thing that happens in life when you’re loyal to people and they aren’t loyal to you. Sometimes your stuck holding the bag. I feel like, sh–, everybody’s had a best friend or somebody they used to really rock with that did ’em wrong, so I just put it in song form to hope it could teach somebody who’s going through that. I didn’t have a lot to listen to to relate to that so I felt like I had to write that record.
Do you feel like writing that record worked those emotions out for you?
Yeah, with the tour just doing the record and seeing the response, it’s real. Because it’s not a club song, it’s not a concert song. It’s a real song. This album…you know I write hits with my eyes closed. I just know what the formula for a hit record is, and actually that’s easier than for me to be personal on a record. This album, I took the approach of being personal, like this is what’s going on with me and I’ma tell you how I got through it or how I dealt with it, and then if you take it and you feel like you can make it work for you, that’s what the record’s for.
On the new album there’s not an “R.I.P.”…
I wrote that song in five minutes, just so you know. Those type of records, I can do that, but the personal records you really have to sit down and take your time and make sure they’re right. You don’t want, ten years from now, for it to not have truth to it.
When you make stuff are you usually thinking about 10 years from now?
Absolutely. I never wanna be the dude who’s corny 10 years from now because I made some sh– because it was cool then. I always try to stay ten steps ahead and just do my thing. If I do sh– I try to make it timeless. When this song comes on ten years from now it’ll touch people the same way.
I went back to some of your older albums and comparing them to the new one it feels like you had your flow right from the start and you’ve just been spending all this time refining it.
It’s like a conversation. I never went at it as being an MC. A lot of people are into that, you know, “I’m gonna change my flow up, somebody’s gonna bite this or bite that. That’s cool, but if I’ma have a conversation with you now and I’ma have a conversation with you 10 years from now it’s gonna be the same conversation, I’m just gonna be a little more intelligent. You gotta stick to your guns. You can’t be changing up just because there’s a different flow out there right now. When I first came out, motherf—ers was crunk. That was the thing, and I was like, I ain’t crunk. I was right from Atlanta and I wasn’t crunk. My life was for real, so I wasn’t even thinking about sh– like that. I stuck to what I knew. That’s what made me Jeezy.
It seems like you’ve never been too concerned with appealing to a general audience.
I feel like I’ve done that. My first record sold two million copies. I’m being me and I don’t want to chase it. That sh– can be like heroin, man. Once you get a dose of it you chase it, and you chase it right off the map. I’ve seen it happen so many times. You gotta stay true to yourself. With me, I stay true to how I feel, and if it goes top 10, it goes top 10. I could give a f— if I was hot or not. Whether I’m hot or not, I’m still Jeezy.
What do you listen to when you need to be inspired?
It’s weird with me, man. Right now I’m just chilling so I’m listening to Kendrick [Lamar]. I might ride around and listen to Tupac for a month straight. I listen to a lot of old Cash Money sh–, a lot of Boosie. Then you got another side of me that likes to kick back and listen to some Sade or something cool. Depends on how I’m feeling.
Since you first came on hip-hop’s changed a lot. There are a lot more different sounds and different approaches happening right now, and people coming up through the Internet. What do you think of how hip-hop’s developed over the past decade?
The Internet is king. Before Boosie went into jail, he and I used to talk all the time. I remember when he got out we were just talking about phones and I was like, “Yeah, lemme call someone on FaceTime” and he lost his f–ing mind, like you can look at somebody while you’re talking to them on the phone? Every time he talks now he’s on FaceTime. And that was only three or four years. It goes to show you how fast sh– evolves, and if you aren’t on it you don’t know. What I think these kids have done is they’re using the Internet as a tool and it’s less like you need the label’s money to get across. These kids are independent. What Odd Future do is dope. The kid Logic, that’s dope to me. He pushed 70 thousand units and nobody really even knew who he was. Bobby Shmurda, he’s from the streets, but at the same time for the kid to have enough knowledge to work that Internet and make it become something, it just shows you how the game’s evolved.
Do you wish SoundCloud had been around when you started out?
I’ll tell you what, I’m glad [Instagram] wasn’t around back in the day because I’d have been f—ed up. The sh– we was doing, that wasn’t gonna fly on IG. Back then you couldn’t even come into our section in the club with a camera.
I feel like you’re the type of person who always has a game plan. What do you have planned for the next 10 years?
I’m really on my businessman tip right now. I’ve really been dibbing and dabbing in politics. I really love politics. That’s where my head is at right now. I’m trying to get all my stuff straight so I can go out and represent these people. I’m really building up my portfolio. I’m heavy into real estate. With business, you know, there comes politics, and that’s something I’m very passionate about. From the Michael Brown situation to the Trayvon Martin situation to what’s going on in Detroit with the whole city being bankrupt. Those are the things that get me going. I’m the dude that’ll be on the Internet in the morning figuring out why Kim Jong-un ain’t been seen in the past couple months. I’m trying to figure that out.