Young Jeezy’s appeal is that he has always appeared as a superhuman. On Trap or Die, the 2005 mixtape that transformed him into an instant street legend in Atlanta and beyond, he didn’t rap with a chip on his shoulder— he rapped like he had an army of 10,000 warriors at his back. His full-throated delivery and knowing laugh combined with cinematic string arrangements felt like epics on par with the Mahabarata. He was not a cocaine salesman so much as the patron saint of illegal drug trafficking.
Though Jeezy’s first two albums Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 and The Inspiration are considered his seminal works, he has crafted a rich catalogue of mixtapes over the years that first earned and later solidified his reputation as the “man on these streets.” His most recent album, Trap or Die 3, was a concerted effort to stay true to his hustling roots. “When you learn how to ride a bike, you know how to ride a bike,” he told HNHH in his 2016 digital cover story. “When you hit that pot, you know how to hit that pot. It never leaves.”
Today is Jeezy’s 40th birthday. Let us revisit a handful of songs that appeared on his mixtapes between 2001 and 2011.https://www.instagram.com/p/BZBuyjlAlr0
Lil’ J – “Watch What You Say’n” feat. Fidank | Thuggin’ Under the Influence (T.U.I.) (2001)
Shawty Redd was to Jeezy what DJ Toomp was to T.I.—even in 2001, when Jeezy was rapping under the name “Lil’ J.” Redd produced “Watch What You Say’n, one of the spiciest tracks on J’s debut Thuggin’ Under the Influence.
“Air Forces” | Streetz Iz Watchin (2004)
By 2004, Lil’ J had rebranded himself Young Jeezy and emerged as one of Atlanta’s most pugnacious street rappers. “Air Forces,” another Shawty Redd masterpiece, was so potent that it found its way onto Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 a full year later after its initial release on Streez Iz Watchin.
“Hold Up” | Streetz Iz Watchin (2004)
Streetz Iz Watchin was Jeezy’s first tape hosted by DJ Drama, with whom he later feuded. (“Drama just started acting like a bitch… I’ll slap the shit out of Drama.”)
“At the time, I wasn’t hot enough to sell out, so I was giving ’em away,” he told The Fader,” but at the same time, it was instant hood classics.”
“Grey Goose” feat. Yo Gotti & All-Star | Trap or Die (2005)
“[Trap or Die] was my first breakthrough,” Jeezy told The Fader. “I remember the grind of paying for beats, paying for studio time, going in there and putting the hard work in, and then turn around giving my mixtapes out to create a buzz. Not knowing that it was going to be part of my legacy.”
“Every word, every bar, every ad-lib in that first Trap or Die, I was really coming from a place, like, if they never hear me again, they gonna feel me now,” he said in his 2016 HNHH digital cover story.
“Icy” w/ Gucci Mane & Boo | Trap or Die (2005)
Jeezy and Gucci both claimed custody of “Icy,” and this disagreement that would escalate into a violent beef between the two rappers. Zaytoven explained the genesis of “Icy” and the Jeezy-Gucci feud to The Fader:
[“Icy”] was perfect. You’ve got Young Jeezy, the hottest guy in the streets. Then you’ve got Gucci Mane, who’s like an underground guy who’s trying to get on. Both of these guys need the song real bad. Jeezy didn’t even want the song, but he needed it. He had the streets on lock, he just didn’t have a song that defined “Jeezy got the hottest song out,” or, “Have you heard the new guy, Jeezy, on the radio?” He didn’t have one of them. So “Icy” was that. And for a guy like Gucci Mane, it was like, “This is my only shot. This is my only shot in the game so I’m not fixing to give this up to nobody.” “Icy” sounded like a Jeezy single because he’s rapping on the first verse, talking about jewelry—and him and the people he was with was always in the fancy cars, with all the jewelry, popping all the bottles—so it almost fit him. It just wasn’t his song. It was Gucci Mane’s song. So it started turning sour real quick.”
“Stay Strapped” (Gucci Mane diss) (2005)
Gucci Mane ended up placing “Icy” on his debut album Trap House. It has been reported that he never paid Jeezy royalties. Jeezy’s response came in the form of the diss track “Stay Strapped”; soon after his public call for Gucci’s chain (“I want that motherfucking bullshit-ass ‘Icy’ chain!”), five men attempted to rob Gucci in his Atlanta home. Only four came out alive.
“Sunny Days” | Trappin Ain’t Dead (2009)
This flip of New Edition’s “Can You Stand The Rain”: EXQUISITE.
“Grape” | Trap or Die 2 (2010)
Five years after “Icy,” Jeezy made it apparent that he still held a grudge against Gucci, even though Gucci was incarcerated at this point. “Might need Jesus but they really need loyalty,” Jeezy raps on “Grape,” “Made a few niggas so a nigga need royalties.”
“Do It For You” feat. Freddie Gibbs | The Real Is Back (2011)
Widely regarded as Jeezy’s second-best mixtape after Trap or Die, The Real is Back was so phenomenal that Jeezy felt compelled to record and release the heat check mixtape The Real is Back 2 three months later.
“Sittin Low” feat. Skrilla and Freddie Gibbs | The Real Is Back 2 (2011)
For 18 glorious months, Freddie Gibbs was signed to Jeezy’s Corporate Thugz Entertainment (CTE) imprint. They amicably parted ways in 2012. Their relationship is no longer amicable.
“It’s gotta be beef when there’s two real motherfuckers in the equation,” he said in an interview with Desus & Mero earlier this year. “When there’s one motherfucker, it’s just like — pshh. Pussy ass nigga. I’ll whoop yo ass, nigga. Fuck with me. Fuck Jeezy. Bitch ass nigga. And when that nigga come on here, ask him about me.”
But we’ll always have “Sittin Low.”