Back in 2000, the man we now know as Jeezy was Jay Wayne Jenkins, a young, aspiring rapper from Atlanta, Georgia. After his first musical release as Lil J in 2001, he joined Boyz n da Hood in 2004, and went out on his own as Young Jeezy in 2005. While he’s since dropped “young” from his name, Jeezy’s hold over the industry and fans remains firm; he’s worked with Kanye West, Rihanna, and Jay Z and been nominated for four Grammy awards. He still holds hometown dear, too; he’s donated school supplies to children, hosted charity events, and fed the homeless in Atlanta.
This past Friday, Jeezy released Trap or Die 3 (Def Jam Recordings), a 16-track record that features artists such as Lil Wayne. On the day of its release, just ahead of his performance at Powerhouse 2016 in Philadelphia, he caught up with three-time Olympic gold medalist and New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony over the phone.
JEEZY: First and foremost, man, I appreciate you for doing this. I know you’re my guy and all.
CARMELO ANTHONY: Absolutely. You know you’re family.
JEEZY: I’d like to start our conversation by saying I definitely like the way you represent what you’re fond of. You still stay in touch with the people and just keep it solid. I see a lot of the charity stuff you do. I respect that.
ANTHONY: It’s vice versa. We can get to a certain level and it’s easy for us to forget where we came from or the people that are behind us, so I feel like it’s important that we keep doing what we’re doing, especially what you’re doing down there [in Atlanta]. We’ve got to keep doing that and do more. We can’t stop.
JEEZY: Right. On the real though, just being so young, then coming out of the hood and making it is just crazy to see. You know our craft takes us all around the world, with the U.S.A. team and different countries and places, taking pictures with the kids, and they respect you the same, I just think that’s crazy. You picked up a basketball and really stayed focused, and now you’re all over the scene doing what you do. The same with myself, just picking up a microphone and coming from the block, then being able to go around the world and really staying yourself and staying true to who you are.
When I’m in NYC—you know I’m up there—I see how you move around and you speak to your own, but there’s just so much love and respect there. NYC is a tough city, you feel me?
ANTHONY: Yeah, and it ain’t easy to do. You’ve got to be willing to do it, you’ve got to know how to move around, and you’ve got to know who to move around with. As long as you stay true to yourself and to who you are, you ain’t in nobody’s way.
JEEZY: I already know about that with you being from Baltimore. That’s a tough one bro.
ANTHONY: [laughs] You learn so much just from that. It carries over to our success right now, wherever we are.
JEEZY: Right. You’ve got to keep a level head, man. You’ve got to stay focused on your craft. You’ve also got to stay focused on your family life, and then your personal life as well. We have a lot of the same peers, whether it’s Hov or different people that we associate ourselves with, but at the same time we stay focused on our goals and what we try to do in life. It’s crazy to see—you coming from Baltimore, me coming from Atlanta—how far we’ve made it. At the same time, we still continue to celebrate each other and look out for each other when we can.
ANTHONY: Absolutely. Just to think about where you’re at right now: you’re in Philly about to do this show. You’re about to spread the word. Your album just came out today, so congratulations on that. So the support is definitely there, but what you’re about to do is, you’re about to give them some more, like the way that you were able to stay relevant with the game changing how it is right now, that’s called consistency. Not too many people can say that they’re consistent with the change of the game.
JEEZY: The last time I played [in New York] you invited me to your crib. We were outside playing on the patio. [laughs]
ANTHONY: Absolutely, of course. I remember that.
JEEZY: That was the last time I played. It’s crazy, you know what I mean?
ANTHONY: That was real time, though. There wasn’t anything forced, it was just good positive energy, good vibes. We all need that.
JEEZY: Right. Real talk. You’ve got to have people around that just got positive vibes. You only got one shot at this, so there’s no right way to do it. You only get one Carmelo. You only get one Jeezy.
ANTHONY: We’ve got to take advantage of that. This album, though. I see you took it back. You were trying to get the streets back.
JEEZY: Yeah, the streets [are] back, and I wanted to really push myself harder. I feel like it was just a brand, you know what I’m saying? It’s almost like going to the championship for the first time, and you just want to go back and you just want to play harder, and to me that was my championship, that was the height of what I was doing, what I was doing on my own before I got signed. I just knew how hungry I was then, how determined I was, and what I really wanted. It’s like now I’m back in that mind state. Not that I wasn’t hungry before, but I just feel like at some point, everybody has got to push themselves a little harder than they normally do, and I feel like that’s what this was. I put this name out there and I knew what came with that, so I had to really go hard. I knew what my target was and I knew what I was trying to do. That was my whole thing: to see the way the streets gravitated to the album, because it’s really for them. It’s really for the people in the streets. … I’m gonna do what I’m supposed to do: music to grind to, to work to, to work out to, to practice to, to scrimmage to. That’s what it was. It’s a soundtrack for ambition.
ANTHONY: Yeah, there’s definitely that re-spark. We all need that sometimes, to get re-sparked again. Sometimes it’s different influences and different motivations; sometimes we’ve got to go and get back to the basics. Like last year, I did this campaign that was called “Back to the Basics” where I went back to the street, went back to my block, and really felt the people. We’ve got to go back to that sometimes. We distance ourselves from that and we see it from afar. Some people can’t relate back to that; once you’re out of it, they don’t want to relate back to that. It’s always good to get back to the basics, though. You’ve got to touch the roots, you’ve got to touch those people. Regardless of what’s going on, people always respect that. We can’t lose that.
JEEZY: That’s what keeps us going, because every time I’m out and somebody tells me they love what I do, that’s what I do it for. That’s like my vice. That’s like my high. When people understand that this is who I really am, and to be appreciated for your craft … People respect you for your craft, your look, and how you really rep. When I think about the Knicks, I see that. I think that that’s who you are, and it’s dope. When people think about the streets, they see me. When I hear people tell me they love what I do, no matter what the climate is, it makes me want to go harder, because that’s what I’m out here fighting for—to get that love. You just want to be appreciated for being you and being the best you. Sometimes when people get success they forget about the people that pointed them there or championed them into this position. I pride myself on really understanding. I wouldn’t even call it keeping it real. I just call it keeping it me. When they tell me, “You’re doing what you’re supposed to do,” it makes me go ten times even harder, because I know that there are people on the sidelines and they’re watching me. They’re cheering for me. I want to be the best me I could possibly be when it comes to them.
ANTHONY: They need that. People need to see the authentic people that are still out there, the genuine people that really care. In your situation, you ever listen back to your old shit? Like before this album?
JEEZY: Yeah, I do it when I’m in the gym a lot because everything I ever said, I just want to make sure I stay consistent with it. If I’m gonna put a message out there, I want to make sure I stay consistent. Sometimes, when I’m in the gym, I might go through The Recession or Let’s Get it: Thug Motivation 101 just to make sure that I’m up on my game, because I said it. People take your words and they live by them. For me, when I get some free time or some spare time, I always try to go back and check my old stuff. It’s like watching the tapes of the game, you know what I mean? You want to go back and go as hard as before.
ANTHONY: You want to stay consistent with the actual message anyway. You can’t confuse these people. They want what they want. They need what they need.
JEEZY: I can’t speak for everybody, but sometimes, people get in this game and they get the money, but then they forget why they got in the game in the first place. … I don’t even look at it as fame, I just look at it as me being me, and me going out here everyday and being productive, because I am the product, and I’m selling myself. I’m selling my ambition and my integrity and my adversity, and I’d just like to be that. You’ve got to be happy with yourself. [laughs] You can’t sell yourself if you’re out here and you ain’t good. Because you’re giving people messages, and if your message is wrong, then it’s like the blind leading the blind. For me, that’s why I like to read a lot. That’s why I try to keep up on current events, what’s going on in the world with the elections and the politicians and business people, because I feel like it’s my duty to spread that. I feel like it’s my duty to speak on that even if I’m never asked, because I’m representing the people. I don’t want to be in a position where I have no knowledge.