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After scoring a commercial breakthrough in 2005 with Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101—a collection of gruff, big-balled boasts about his conquests in the drug game—Georgia rapper Young Jeezy quickly dropped two new full-length albums over the next three years. But since then, Jeezy has been mostly silent: He announced the release of his fourth album (and third in the Thug Motivation series) several times, but ultimately failed to deliver a finished product. But now, finally, comes Thug Motivation 103: Hustlerz Ambition, Jeezy’s grand reinstatement into hip-hop featuring guest spots from Jay-Z, André 3000, and Snoop Dogg. Jeezy is also the subject of a new documentary, A Hustlaz Ambition, that digs into his troubled past, including his stint as a crack dealer at age 11. The A.V. Club talked to Young Jeezy about what delayed TM103, what defines a true hustler, and why he’s married to the streets.
The A.V. Club: Congratulations on finally releasing Thug Motivation 103: Hustlerz Ambition. The delays had to be frustrating.
Young Jeezy: Nah. It’s one of those things that you just ride out—all the chitter and the chatter. People had to know when I was working on this project that I wasn’t gonna let up, lay down, or give in. I was gonna get it, and when it’s right, it was gonna be right. You gotta understand, I did this shit for my people and my culture. I felt like going into the new year, 2012, my people needed motivation and inspiration. So that was always my goal. You gotta understand, I don’t do the quotas and the deadlines that the label do. That’s on them.
AVC: Why did you release two mixtapes this year (The Real Is Back and The Real Is Back 2) when your studio album still wasn’t finished?
YJ: I just felt like I just had to keep that music flowing, especially for my diehards that have been riding for me. I just had to let them know that I was still working on the album and they’re gonna love it.
AVC: What exactly caused Thug Motivation 103 to be delayed for so long?
YJ: I ain’t the one for making excuses, man, but I had a couple things going on around me—obviously [my producer] Shawty Redd was going through a few things. [Redd was arrested on murder charges on New Year’s Day 2010. He was cleared of those charges on November 3, 2011. —ed.] There were a lot of things, but I never stopped working. I just took all that in and did what a true boss would do and just stayed grounded and stayed focused and kept working on the music and everything worked itself out.
AVC: There have been a lot changes to the tracklist since you started releasing singles from 103 earlier this year. How many tracks did you record?
YJ: Um, I recorded a few. But one thing about me, I know what’s for an album, and I know what’s for a mixtape. I think a lot of the stuff that I was recording in earlier projects was mixtape music. And that’s what I was doing—I was recording mixtape music. When I got an album song that I knew was an album song, that’s what I stuck with. It was just one of those things, man. I was pretty much just putting together the outline and it’s like, 103 to me is pretty much all my albums in one: There’s a little bit of Thug Motivation 101, a little bit of Inspiration, a little bit of The Recession. They all kinda combine to make this one project, which is TM103: Hustlerz Ambition.
AVC: What defines an ambitious hustler? Aren’t all hustlers by definition ambitious?
YJ: It’s the ultimate hustler, baby. The hustler that outhustles the hustler. The first one to show up and the last one to leave. And that’s what I’ve always been. It’s 24/7 with me. I’m basically working on my label, CTE World. We just signed Freddie Gibbs. Obviously I’m working on getting him set up right now.
AVC: And you’ve also got a clothing line, 8732.
YJ: I’m basically the black Ralph Lauren right now. It’s the No. 1 urban brand in American right now. My hustle is nonstop. I never stop hustling. Everyday, all day I have to be productive. And when I ain’t productive, I get concerned. And by the way, that’s the only reason why I’m still here.
AVC: TM103 kicks off with “Waiting”, which seems to be your grand statement that Young Jeezy is back.
YJ: It’s like the whole world was waiting on this album. Whether they was hating or they was innovating, they was waiting on this album to see what I was gonna do. “Waiting” is one of the first tracks on the album and it’s basically saying like, “They need some motivation. They need me.” It’s like they’re saying, “Where you at?” I’m like, “I’m right here. I know y’all been waiting.” You listen to the first four bars on that song it’s like, [raps] “I told y’all, I told y’all I told y’all again/ I don’t lose, ain’t gonna lose, ain’t gonna lose, never lost.” Know what I mean? I play the game to win. And that’s what it was about. When it’s Jeezy time, it’s Jeezy time. I got y’all. When y’all need me, I’m gonna be there.
AVC: Another track, “F.A.M.E. (Fake-Ass Motherfuckers Envy),” both dissects the inevitable downfalls of celebrity as well as the way others perceived your lack of new material.
YJ: A lot of things come with fame, whether it’s losing friends or losing family. You still gotta stand up and be that guy even when you ain’t having great things. Because you’ve gotta be the spokesperson for your people. That’s what “F.A.M.E.” was about—fake-ass motherfuckers’ envy. A lot of motherfuckers were opinionated at the time. And they felt like I couldn’t do it again. I always knew in my heart that shit was too easy.
AVC: T.I., who appears on “F.A.M.E.,” can certainly relate to being doubted given his constant legal troubles.
YJ: Of course! He went through the same thing. And a lot of cats don’t understand. We’re public figures. We’re spokesmen for the ghetto and the slums and the have-nots. But we still go through real shit to this day. My man just went through some real shit; he just came home. Nobody know what he was speaking about, where he’s been, what he was going through. I felt like it was a perfect opportunity for him to explain how he felt just like I explain how I felt.
AVC: His verse flows effortlessly.
YJ: He wrote that shit in two minutes, so I know he was feeling that.
YJ: It was basically one of my homies and one of his homies and they hooked up when I was out in L.A. shooting a joint off of the upcoming compilation, It’s The World. I was shooting a joint with Freddie Gibbs and Scrilla. It’s called “Sittin’ Low.” My homie hit Warren up and Warren came up to my video shoot. He brought all the homies from his hood. He just came up there and we kicked it. We sat in the back of my Rolls Royce Phantom, smoked a few blunts, and listened to some beats. And he played, like, six beats. And I wanted number six. I was like, “I want that beat right there.” And we just chopped it up and kicked it and talked shit.
AVC: “I Do” features Jay-Z and André 3000. How’d you hook up with those guys?
YJ: Jay is my dog, man. Basically, I reached out to him. He was actually taking off on a jet somewhere and I was in Miami. And I told him about the record. I sent it to him while he was taking off. He called me in mid-air like, “Oh, this shit is crazy. I’m doing my verse now and I’m gonna put it down when I get back.” It was just real organic like that. I reached out to André. You know, me and André had been talking back and forth, just talking shit, talking about music—him working on his new album and me working on my new album. I told him about the record and he said just to send it to him. He hit me back like 20 minutes later. He’s like, “Gimme a week. I got you.” And in a week he knocked it out.
AVC: Lyrically, it’s the strongest song on the album.
YJ: If you listen to that record, it’s basically my testimony to the game. I feel like I’m married to the streets and I’m married to the game. That was like me saying basically, “’Til death do us part, for better or for worse. I’m gonna always ride for my people. I’m gonna always ride for the cause.” I feel like this is my duty and I must uphold my duty. And I feel like that song is basically saying I’m not married yet, but I’m married to the game.
AVC: What’s the key to staying relevant in a constantly evolving genre like hip-hop?
YJ: When you’re a true pioneer and you’re a true spokesperson and you’re really who you are, you can stand the test of time. Jay, he’s been here forever. André 3000, he’s been here forever. And there’s some guys who can stand the test of time even when the game changes. That’s who we are. That’s why we’re still here. That’s why I’m a Southern artist and I’m still here four albums in. I mean, you can’t name a lot of people from the South that have four albums that are still here that have platinum plaques. That’s not easy to come by. That comes with great work and great music and just great determination and dedication.
AVC: People respond to authenticity. You’ve lived what you rap about.
YJ: Of course. That’s one of the things that makes you great, when you’re you. A lot of these cats they don’t know how to do them. They want to do somebody else. When that burns out, who are you next?