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“When you learn how to ride a bike, you know to ride that bike. When you hit that pot, you know how to hit that pot. It never leaves.”

Trap or Die may have had a more literal meaning for Jeezy when he dropped the mixtape that forever changed his life. “It went from me just runnin’ around Atlanta with some paper and a dream to me actually being able to stand on stage and do what I love,” says the 39-year-old trap pioneer, who just released Trap or Die 3, the final installment in the series.

 

Trap or Die 3 is also the first album of the three projects. Beginning with his major label debut, the unforgettable Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101, released in Summer ‘05 -- he signed after January’s Trap or Die -- Jeezy is now seven albums deep on Def Jam. Trap or Die 2, now six years old, was a mixtape hosted by Don Cannon, and the first one, of course, is one of the most famed editions of DJ Drama’s Gangsta Grillz series.  

Gangsta Grillz had become an especially attractive brand at that time, due to recent releases with T.I. and the Bankhead group P$C. Jeezy’s first Gangsta Grillz tape arrived six months after his first tape with Drama, Streets Iz Watchin, which did big numbers -- “230,000 units strong in the motherfuckin’ streets,” boasts Jeezy during the rally cry that begins Trap or Die.

 

Jeezy, known as Young Jeezy until a few years ago, is now a taxpayer who receives counsel from The Minister and has been been shouted out by President Obama -- whose presidency he effectually predicted a couple of months before the ‘08 election.

 

He’s out of the streets, but his past life isn’t lost on him.

Some of the all-time great Jeezy songs lie among Trap or Die’s 26 tracks. The tape presented him as a rare breed whose record is not to be questioned, as it was openly verified by the streets and law enforcement alike. “Jimmy crack corn, Jeezy flip O’s,” he rapped, as though it was an adage as old as the streets.

 

“Get Ya Mind Right” was his introduction to the rap world at large, and to the legions of listeners he knew had never heard a dope boy sound so determined, or dope boy music sound so triumphant. The song made it onto TM101, which went platinum in two months. Trap or Die’s famous title track also landed on the album, and “Icey” might have been on there too, had it not become one of the most controversial songs of the original trap era.

 

The Snowman had the ability to translate his impassioned street sermons into an adrenaline rush that felt as pure as the product he was rapping about. He was aided by the cataclysmic orchestral rollouts of Shawty Redd, the producer with whom he first learned to rap.

 

Trap or Die 3 opens with two consecutive Shawty Redd joints. Both of his epic movie-like productions are immense. And one can think of few rappers quite bold enough to rap on them. Jeezy, once again, shows he’s the only narrator fit to soundtrack the streets.

 

On the opener, “In the Air,” he tells tales of winning over and getting signed by Puffy and LA Reid, interspersed with typical one-two punches like: “They was in them Breitlings, but ya boy was in that Rollie / Who else gon’ talk them chickens like he workin’ at Chipotle.” Only he could make that line a knockout. “She said, Young can you hit me with a metaphor,” he raps during the third track, “It Is What It Is.” The line is reminiscent of his first-ever single, “And Then What,” when he asked himself, “Ay Snowman, can I get an ad-lib?”, quickly abiding with a celebratory “yeahhhhhh!” His preaching wouldn't be so effective were it not for his rare charisma with certain literary devices.

 

As the closing piece in a series that led to the proliferation of trap music, Jeezy feels Trap or Die 3 deserves to be an album. How many mixtapes are put out commercially these days anyway? This one features Yo Gotti, Lil Wayne, French Montana, Chris Brown, the late Bankroll Fresh, and the almighty Plies, who delivers an outrageous verse on “Sexé,” the album’s most ratchet cut -- something of a sequel to the Trap or Die 2 standout (and TM103 lead single) “Lose My Mind.”

 

Jeezy’s wish was to make Trap or Die 3 an album, without taking away from the organic quality that perhaps only a mixtape can deliver. “For me, it was a real thought process of going in and making something that could and should be an album, but in the rawest mixtape form possible,” he says, “so you, know, no cut, no outside direction, no outside production, just all Jeezy shit.”

 

“And that’s what we did.”

"If it didn’t work I was probably gonna go to prison ‘cause I had told too much, so I really couldn’t go back and do what I was into anyway ‘cause now everybody know who the fuck I am.”

“The studio was small, it was dark, it was grimy,” Jeezy tells of the Trap or Die 3 environment. “Just what we call the shoe box. We had the shoe box working day and night, leaving that motherfucker at 9 or 10 in the morning.” The space was reminiscent of Shawty Redd’s basement, where Jeezy rapped his first words and recorded Trap or Die and TM101. The mindset was much the same as well -- “the hustle and the grind,” he says with a smile. “I love that shit.”

 

The grind was what he loved about the streets, and he’s transferred that spirit into his music career. “I slept on my grandma’s couch for nearly 13 years, and wouldn’t get in the bed,” he remembers, “‘Cause I wanted to be the first one up grinding.” His latest album “brought back that feeling,” he says. “That hunger, that excitement about what can you make the next day or how this song gonna play out.”

 

The Trap or Die title track opens up with one of the most memorable lines on the tape: “Last time I checked I was the man on these streets / They call me residue, I leave blow on these beats.” Jeezy’s rasp was heavy but it singed through beats, especially when the topic was cocaine. The “man in these streets” lyric was further memorialized by Kendrick Lamar, who referenced it on good kid, m.A.A.d city’s “The Art of Peer Pressure.” The next part of the line, regardless if “residue” is a veritable nickname, was precise when it came to just how barely -- if at all -- Jeezy was removed from the streets. Or the blow. Its residue was all over everything he rapped about.

 

Even when he stopped selling drugs, the “trap or die” mentality had basically the same meaning -- as well as the same stakes -- for Jeezy. Firstly, he rapped with the same spirit he embodied ever since jumping off the porch at age 11. But he also became an incredibly vulnerable target. There were those who thought he was selling the keys to the streets. Once he decided to share his story, there was no going back to his past life, as there was no way he could casually return to his former self and move around in the same way. Still, no matter how far he separated himself,  the trap wasn’t going to let him go simply because he found a new living.

 

As Jeezy approached rap stardom, he became no less of an enemy of the authorities, who studied his lyrics and awaited his likely fallback into criminal behavior. In escaping a life that was sure to have him dead or in jail, he jumped into a new one that -- at least in the short term -- only made such outcomes loom more imminently.

 

“‘Cause it was do or die,” says Jeezy of his early success with his new craft, “meaning, like, if it didn’t work I was probably gonna go to prison ‘cause I had told too much, so I really couldn’t go back and do what I was into anyway ‘cause now everybody know who the fuck I am.”

 

He didn’t know how many more tapes would bear his name, so through his music, he told his fans exactly how he wanted to be remembered. “Every word, every bar, every ad-lib in that first Trap or Die,” he says, “I was really coming from a place, like, if they never hear me again, they gonna feel me now.”

“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.”
“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.”

Interconnected with Jeezy’s role as a motivator is his love for his paper, and what he does with it when he’s got too much to hold onto. They called him “Thunderstorm” for the way he made it rain; his people claim to be the reason why dancers stayed overtime with large plastic bags. On the cover of TM101, Jeezy famously sits in front of a wall of cardboard boxes each stuffed with cash -- all real; he took it upon himself to replace the prop money that had first filled the boxes. “When I came in the game, I was just a wild, young motherfucker with some money,” he affirms.

 

Since then, Jeezy has evolved in his ability to make music that’s not simply driven by his instinctive wildness, or his fiendish pursuit of the material rewards of the grind. This maturity was particularly obvious on his last album, “Church in These Streets.” Jeezy thinks the album was  “a little bit before its time,” likely to be appreciated more after the fact -- similar to 2008’s The Recession, which also served as a direct response to the socio-political climate of Black America. Church in These Streets was set in the same streets Jeezy made his name in, though he knew he was taking a risk by getting more literal with his “ghetto gospel” than ever before.

 

A year later, he’s back to his bread and butter. Part of his desire to return to Trap or Die might stem from the underwhelming response to Church in These Streets, his lowest debut on the albums chart at No. 4. Perhaps a part of him suspects that rebranding himself as Pastor Young might have led certain onlookers to see him as a fading persona, on the periphery of today’s trap culture, which seems to be younger than ever. Jeezy’s current perspective may be one of someone who’s “out of the streets,” but he feels he can still speak on the trap -- and what it takes to survive and (hopefully) make it out -- better, and truer, than anyone doing it today.

 

“Despite how I see shit now, I’m still me,” he says. “So don’t ever forget that shit. Don’t take my kindness for weakness or the fact that I ain’t stayin’ on that subject like I can’t talk it no more. That’s who I am.”


Though Jeezy entered music on somewhat of a whim, he has always considered himself superior to his competition when it comes to giving an accurate sonic expression of the culture he comes from. “And even then,” he says of his rap beginnings, “the reason why I went so hard is ‘cause I felt like it was being represented in a way that it could’ve been represented a little bit better.”

Today he feels the same need to clean up the current focus of trap music, a genre that has now become a force in mainstream music -- experiencing a great muddling effect on its origins in the process. “You know I’m listenin’, watching the game,” says the elder statesman, “and it kind of dawned on me that a lot of these cats are trying to be somebody I was when I came in the game.” His intent with Trap or Die 3 is to remind newcomers that his story has not been emulated multiple times over -- and thus his legacy won’t be equaled anytime soon. “Everything I ever said, everything I ever spoke on -- I did that shit,” Jeezy assures. “And ain’t no nigga in this game finna tell you the same. Don’t give a fuck who he is. I said it. He ain’t did what I did.”

 

The first Trap or Die 3 single Jeezy put out was “Let Em Know,” not a radio-hopeful club anthem -- like the “Magic City Monday” collab with Future & 2 Chainz (not on the album) that preceded it -- but a detailed, immersive statement of intent delivered over an atmospheric scene-setting production. Quickly reminding listeners of the motives behind Trap or Die 3, the lead track built a layer of intrigue around the release. Mention of the song led Jeezy to start rapping mid-interview: “Woke up this morning feeling like Rocky / Back to myself, yeah I’m motherfuckin’ cocky,” before pausing to reflect on the song’s potent opening lines. “There it is,” he affirms. “The bars let you know. He back. Snowman back. Snow back.”

 

One can smell the dope cooking on songs like “Where It At,” featuring Yo Gotti, which Jeezy calls a “dope boy classic,” and on the album’s most chilling track, “Recipe,” on which he shouts out the song’s producer, the honorable Mike Will Made-It -- much like Gucci Mane did on “Waybach” -- rapping, “Me and Mike Will, we cook up on the spot, boy / You gon’ need to stir it, no need for a top, boy.”  

 

The song that first played in the promo clip with which Jeezy announced Trap or Die 3 was “All There.” After about 15 seconds of doomsday horns, an onslaught of 808s enters in sync with a familiar wheeze -- a voice slightly more reserved than Jeezy’s but with a similar authenticity to it. When it clicked that this was Bankroll Fresh, it was immediately obvious that the song -- which dropped in full a month later with an accompanying video -- was something iconic for Atlanta street music. The goosebumps truly set in when Jeezy cuts in with his own sharp rasp and they both proceed to take the hook in tandem. “Me and Fresh going back and forth on a D Rich beat -- I don’t think there’s nothing else in this world that sounds that authentic and that real.”

 

D. Rich, the most frequent producer on Trap or Die 3 was an understudy of Shawty Redd’s. He first connected with Jeezy in 2008 when he assisted Redd on The Recession standout “Who Dat,” and they’ve been working closely ever since. As the executive producer of both installments of the revered (especially in recent times) Life of a Hot Boy series, Rich’s closest collaborator was Bankroll. It’s no accident that he thrived with both artists. Due to his unyielding dedication to the hustle, Fresh had been compared to the Jeezy of early trap lore.

 

Welcoming the comparison, Jeezy said, “D. Rich and Bankroll were the closest thing to me and Shawty Redd that I’ve ever seen.” He recalls making the decision to take an active role in the progression (and protection) of the young partnership. “When I saw what D. Rich and Bankroll was doing,” says Jeezy, “I asked them to come sit down so I could mentor them and help them get that shit to the next level. It’s sad to say but a week after that he passed.”

 

Jeezy often talks with D. Rich about keeping Bankroll’s legacy alive, and they obviously had to  create the “All There” video -- monumental in its own right -- in his honor. “That’s his family, that’s his nephew in the video, that’s his son,” Jeezy says of the video. The two preschool cousins lock their red-dusted fingers and share a very slick handshake soon after their lost ancestor proudly croaks, “Hood n*gga, Hot Cheetos what I snack on.”

“That’s his mother, grandmother,” he goes on, “Those are his friends. Those are his artists. I just wanted to go over there and give them a real blessing. We love them. And we love what he did for his culture.” They were proud to host Jeezy, whose black Bentley coupe pulls up to the shadowy hood of Zone 3’s Mechanicsville in the pelting rain to start the video.

 

The downpour apparently started right as Jeezy arrived at Bankroll’s grandmother’s house for the shoot. “Everybody was like, ‘Oh no, we can’t do it.’” he recalls. “I was like, ‘Are you crazy? We gon do this right now.’” He looked to the sky and then turned to D. Rich. “I said, ‘Yo man, I feel like these tears of joy. ‘Cause this is all his people. This is a celebration for him.’”

 

So they shot in the rain, which Jeezy is sure was meant to be, revealing, “When we was done shooting, it stopped raining. Craziest shit ever. Crazy.”

 

Jeezy knows that the 28-year-old artist was living by the same “trap or die” mentality that defined his own come-up. That’s what made him gravitate towards Bankroll’s music. His death has likely made Jeezy reflect on all the times he’s been close to falling victim to the world that made him such a special artist. Perhaps he’s counting his blessings; he certainly knows Bankroll could’ve achieved great things. “I’m grown, but where we come from we don’t say we love each other,” says Jeezy. “But I ain’t got no problem telling my homies that now -- ‘I love you nigga, be safe.’ ‘Cause you just never know. You never know. I seen Fresh a week before he passed.”

 

Six months after Fresh’s death, Atlanta lost another street-born artist in Shawty Lo in a freakish single-car accident. Jeezy knew Lo, a year his senior, from the streets before either of them had gotten into music, and he would go on to appear on the all-star remix of Lo’s biggest hit, “Dey Know.” “I was in a spot the other night, and they played a Shawty Lo song, and I just saw people rejoicing,” he remembers. “For whatever it’s worth, it was worth it for him to put in all the work he did, even though it was before his time. ‘Cause they live on forever through their music.”

 

He went on to reflect on how much promise Alabama rapper Doe B had exhibited before he was shot and killed in late 2013.  Though he knows each of the forenamed artists tragically met his end far too soon, he also recognizes the greatness they all achieved. “You gotta know these people died with passion,” he says, as though he knows that most -- in or outside the trap -- can’t say the same. “They was actually tryna do something. So you gotta always respect that.”

 

Like the fallen soldiers just mentioned, Jeezy’s purpose was to rise out of the streets and make a name for himself, one that carries with it an air of distinction to the people who can relate to his struggle. “All I ever wanted to do was be great,” he says, “and be recognized for overcoming things that normal people don’t overcome.” He’s proven that with his music, which has likely taken him farther than even he could have imagined. But greatness is not an end but an ever-building product of the “trap or die” lifestyle.

 

With his new album he seeks to prove that an older, wiser Jeezy can make music with the same level of vigor he did with the first Trap or Die. “I’m a fighter,” he says adamantly, “I ain’t never layin’ down, not bendin’ over, none of that shit. Sometimes people forget that ‘cause they see your see your success and they like, ‘Ah, he don’t know what the fuck he talkin’ ‘bout anymore.’” For Jeezy, success always begets more opportunity, and more challenges. “I need to feel adversity at all times,” he says. “I love to hear somebody say I can’t do something. I’ma do it 10 times over.”

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“When you learn how to ride a bike, you know to ride that bike. When you hit that pot, you know how to hit that pot. It never leaves.”

Trap or Die may have had a more literal meaning for Jeezy when he dropped the mixtape that forever changed his life. “It went from me just runnin’ around Atlanta with some paper and a dream to me actually being able to stand on stage and do what I love,” says the 39-year-old trap pioneer, who just released Trap or Die 3, the final installment in the series.

 

Trap or Die 3 is also the first album of the three projects. Beginning with his major label debut, the unforgettable Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101, released in Summer ‘05 -- he signed after January’s Trap or Die -- Jeezy is now seven albums deep on Def Jam. Trap or Die 2, now six years old, was a mixtape hosted by Don Cannon, and the first one, of course, is one of the most famed editions of DJ Drama’s Gangsta Grillz series.  

Gangsta Grillz had become an especially attractive brand at that time, due to recent releases with T.I. and the Bankhead group P$C. Jeezy’s first Gangsta Grillz tape arrived six months after his first tape with Drama, Streets Iz Watchin, which did big numbers -- “230,000 units strong in the motherfuckin’ streets,” boasts Jeezy during the rally cry that begins Trap or Die.

 

Jeezy, known as Young Jeezy until a few years ago, is now a taxpayer who receives counsel from The Minister and has been been shouted out by President Obama -- whose presidency he effectually predicted a couple of months before the ‘08 election.

 

He’s out of the streets, but his past life isn’t lost on him.

Some of the all-time great Jeezy songs lie among Trap or Die’s 26 tracks. The tape presented him as a rare breed whose record is not to be questioned, as it was openly verified by the streets and law enforcement alike. “Jimmy crack corn, Jeezy flip O’s,” he rapped, as though it was an adage as old as the streets.

 

“Get Ya Mind Right” was his introduction to the rap world at large, and to the legions of listeners he knew had never heard a dope boy sound so determined, or dope boy music sound so triumphant. The song made it onto TM101, which went platinum in two months. Trap or Die’s famous title track also landed on the album, and “Icey” might have been on there too, had it not become one of the most controversial songs of the original trap era.

 

The Snowman had the ability to translate his impassioned street sermons into an adrenaline rush that felt as pure as the product he was rapping about. He was aided by the cataclysmic orchestral rollouts of Shawty Redd, the producer with whom he first learned to rap.

 

Trap or Die 3 opens with two consecutive Shawty Redd joints. Both of his epic movie-like productions are immense. And one can think of few rappers quite bold enough to rap on them. Jeezy, once again, shows he’s the only narrator fit to soundtrack the streets.

 

On the opener, “In the Air,” he tells tales of winning over and getting signed by Puffy and LA Reid, interspersed with typical one-two punches like: “They was in them Breitlings, but ya boy was in that Rollie / Who else gon’ talk them chickens like he workin’ at Chipotle.” Only he could make that line a knockout. “She said, Young can you hit me with a metaphor,” he raps during the third track, “It Is What It Is.” The line is reminiscent of his first-ever single, “And Then What,” when he asked himself, “Ay Snowman, can I get an ad-lib?”, quickly abiding with a celebratory “yeahhhhhh!” His preaching wouldn't be so effective were it not for his rare charisma with certain literary devices.

 

As the closing piece in a series that led to the proliferation of trap music, Jeezy feels Trap or Die 3 deserves to be an album. How many mixtapes are put out commercially these days anyway? This one features Yo Gotti, Lil Wayne, French Montana, Chris Brown, the late Bankroll Fresh, and the almighty Plies, who delivers an outrageous verse on “Sexé,” the album’s most ratchet cut -- something of a sequel to the Trap or Die 2 standout (and TM103 lead single) “Lose My Mind.”

 

Jeezy’s wish was to make Trap or Die 3 an album, without taking away from the organic quality that perhaps only a mixtape can deliver. “For me, it was a real thought process of going in and making something that could and should be an album, but in the rawest mixtape form possible,” he says, “so you, know, no cut, no outside direction, no outside production, just all Jeezy shit.”

 

“And that’s what we did.”

"If it didn’t work I was probably gonna go to prison ‘cause I had told too much, so I really couldn’t go back and do what I was into anyway ‘cause now everybody know who the fuck I am.”

“The studio was small, it was dark, it was grimy,” Jeezy tells of the Trap or Die 3 environment. “Just what we call the shoe box. We had the shoe box working day and night, leaving that motherfucker at 9 or 10 in the morning.” The space was reminiscent of Shawty Redd’s basement, where Jeezy rapped his first words and recorded Trap or Die and TM101. The mindset was much the same as well -- “the hustle and the grind,” he says with a smile. “I love that shit.”

 

The grind was what he loved about the streets, and he’s transferred that spirit into his music career. “I slept on my grandma’s couch for nearly 13 years, and wouldn’t get in the bed,” he remembers, “‘Cause I wanted to be the first one up grinding.” His latest album “brought back that feeling,” he says. “That hunger, that excitement about what can you make the next day or how this song gonna play out.”

 

The Trap or Die title track opens up with one of the most memorable lines on the tape: “Last time I checked I was the man on these streets / They call me residue, I leave blow on these beats.” Jeezy’s rasp was heavy but it singed through beats, especially when the topic was cocaine. The “man in these streets” lyric was further memorialized by Kendrick Lamar, who referenced it on good kid, m.A.A.d city’s “The Art of Peer Pressure.” The next part of the line, regardless if “residue” is a veritable nickname, was precise when it came to just how barely -- if at all -- Jeezy was removed from the streets. Or the blow. Its residue was all over everything he rapped about.

 

Even when he stopped selling drugs, the “trap or die” mentality had basically the same meaning -- as well as the same stakes -- for Jeezy. Firstly, he rapped with the same spirit he embodied ever since jumping off the porch at age 11. But he also became an incredibly vulnerable target. There were those who thought he was selling the keys to the streets. Once he decided to share his story, there was no going back to his past life, as there was no way he could casually return to his former self and move around in the same way. Still, no matter how far he separated himself,  the trap wasn’t going to let him go simply because he found a new living.

 

As Jeezy approached rap stardom, he became no less of an enemy of the authorities, who studied his lyrics and awaited his likely fallback into criminal behavior. In escaping a life that was sure to have him dead or in jail, he jumped into a new one that -- at least in the short term -- only made such outcomes loom more imminently.

 

“‘Cause it was do or die,” says Jeezy of his early success with his new craft, “meaning, like, if it didn’t work I was probably gonna go to prison ‘cause I had told too much, so I really couldn’t go back and do what I was into anyway ‘cause now everybody know who the fuck I am.”

 

He didn’t know how many more tapes would bear his name, so through his music, he told his fans exactly how he wanted to be remembered. “Every word, every bar, every ad-lib in that first Trap or Die,” he says, “I was really coming from a place, like, if they never hear me again, they gonna feel me now.”

“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.”
“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.”

Interconnected with Jeezy’s role as a motivator is his love for his paper, and what he does with it when he’s got too much to hold onto. They called him “Thunderstorm” for the way he made it rain; his people claim to be the reason why dancers stayed overtime with large plastic bags. On the cover of TM101, Jeezy famously sits in front of a wall of cardboard boxes each stuffed with cash -- all real; he took it upon himself to replace the prop money that had first filled the boxes. “When I came in the game, I was just a wild, young motherfucker with some money,” he affirms.

 

Since then, Jeezy has evolved in his ability to make music that’s not simply driven by his instinctive wildness, or his fiendish pursuit of the material rewards of the grind. This maturity was particularly obvious on his last album, “Church in These Streets.” Jeezy thinks the album was  “a little bit before its time,” likely to be appreciated more after the fact -- similar to 2008’s The Recession, which also served as a direct response to the socio-political climate of Black America. Church in These Streets was set in the same streets Jeezy made his name in, though he knew he was taking a risk by getting more literal with his “ghetto gospel” than ever before.

 

A year later, he’s back to his bread and butter. Part of his desire to return to Trap or Die might stem from the underwhelming response to Church in These Streets, his lowest debut on the albums chart at No. 4. Perhaps a part of him suspects that rebranding himself as Pastor Young might have led certain onlookers to see him as a fading persona, on the periphery of today’s trap culture, which seems to be younger than ever. Jeezy’s current perspective may be one of someone who’s “out of the streets,” but he feels he can still speak on the trap -- and what it takes to survive and (hopefully) make it out -- better, and truer, than anyone doing it today.

 

“Despite how I see shit now, I’m still me,” he says. “So don’t ever forget that shit. Don’t take my kindness for weakness or the fact that I ain’t stayin’ on that subject like I can’t talk it no more. That’s who I am.”


Though Jeezy entered music on somewhat of a whim, he has always considered himself superior to his competition when it comes to giving an accurate sonic expression of the culture he comes from. “And even then,” he says of his rap beginnings, “the reason why I went so hard is ‘cause I felt like it was being represented in a way that it could’ve been represented a little bit better.”

Today he feels the same need to clean up the current focus of trap music, a genre that has now become a force in mainstream music -- experiencing a great muddling effect on its origins in the process. “You know I’m listenin’, watching the game,” says the elder statesman, “and it kind of dawned on me that a lot of these cats are trying to be somebody I was when I came in the game.” His intent with Trap or Die 3 is to remind newcomers that his story has not been emulated multiple times over -- and thus his legacy won’t be equaled anytime soon. “Everything I ever said, everything I ever spoke on -- I did that shit,” Jeezy assures. “And ain’t no nigga in this game finna tell you the same. Don’t give a fuck who he is. I said it. He ain’t did what I did.”

 

The first Trap or Die 3 single Jeezy put out was “Let Em Know,” not a radio-hopeful club anthem -- like the “Magic City Monday” collab with Future & 2 Chainz (not on the album) that preceded it -- but a detailed, immersive statement of intent delivered over an atmospheric scene-setting production. Quickly reminding listeners of the motives behind Trap or Die 3, the lead track built a layer of intrigue around the release. Mention of the song led Jeezy to start rapping mid-interview: “Woke up this morning feeling like Rocky / Back to myself, yeah I’m motherfuckin’ cocky,” before pausing to reflect on the song’s potent opening lines. “There it is,” he affirms. “The bars let you know. He back. Snowman back. Snow back.”

 

One can smell the dope cooking on songs like “Where It At,” featuring Yo Gotti, which Jeezy calls a “dope boy classic,” and on the album’s most chilling track, “Recipe,” on which he shouts out the song’s producer, the honorable Mike Will Made-It -- much like Gucci Mane did on “Waybach” -- rapping, “Me and Mike Will, we cook up on the spot, boy / You gon’ need to stir it, no need for a top, boy.”  

 

The song that first played in the promo clip with which Jeezy announced Trap or Die 3 was “All There.” After about 15 seconds of doomsday horns, an onslaught of 808s enters in sync with a familiar wheeze -- a voice slightly more reserved than Jeezy’s but with a similar authenticity to it. When it clicked that this was Bankroll Fresh, it was immediately obvious that the song -- which dropped in full a month later with an accompanying video -- was something iconic for Atlanta street music. The goosebumps truly set in when Jeezy cuts in with his own sharp rasp and they both proceed to take the hook in tandem. “Me and Fresh going back and forth on a D Rich beat -- I don’t think there’s nothing else in this world that sounds that authentic and that real.”

 

D. Rich, the most frequent producer on Trap or Die 3 was an understudy of Shawty Redd’s. He first connected with Jeezy in 2008 when he assisted Redd on The Recession standout “Who Dat,” and they’ve been working closely ever since. As the executive producer of both installments of the revered (especially in recent times) Life of a Hot Boy series, Rich’s closest collaborator was Bankroll. It’s no accident that he thrived with both artists. Due to his unyielding dedication to the hustle, Fresh had been compared to the Jeezy of early trap lore.

 

Welcoming the comparison, Jeezy said, “D. Rich and Bankroll were the closest thing to me and Shawty Redd that I’ve ever seen.” He recalls making the decision to take an active role in the progression (and protection) of the young partnership. “When I saw what D. Rich and Bankroll was doing,” says Jeezy, “I asked them to come sit down so I could mentor them and help them get that shit to the next level. It’s sad to say but a week after that he passed.”

 

Jeezy often talks with D. Rich about keeping Bankroll’s legacy alive, and they obviously had to  create the “All There” video -- monumental in its own right -- in his honor. “That’s his family, that’s his nephew in the video, that’s his son,” Jeezy says of the video. The two preschool cousins lock their red-dusted fingers and share a very slick handshake soon after their lost ancestor proudly croaks, “Hood n*gga, Hot Cheetos what I snack on.”

“That’s his mother, grandmother,” he goes on, “Those are his friends. Those are his artists. I just wanted to go over there and give them a real blessing. We love them. And we love what he did for his culture.” They were proud to host Jeezy, whose black Bentley coupe pulls up to the shadowy hood of Zone 3’s Mechanicsville in the pelting rain to start the video.

 

The downpour apparently started right as Jeezy arrived at Bankroll’s grandmother’s house for the shoot. “Everybody was like, ‘Oh no, we can’t do it.’” he recalls. “I was like, ‘Are you crazy? We gon do this right now.’” He looked to the sky and then turned to D. Rich. “I said, ‘Yo man, I feel like these tears of joy. ‘Cause this is all his people. This is a celebration for him.’”

 

So they shot in the rain, which Jeezy is sure was meant to be, revealing, “When we was done shooting, it stopped raining. Craziest shit ever. Crazy.”

 

Jeezy knows that the 28-year-old artist was living by the same “trap or die” mentality that defined his own come-up. That’s what made him gravitate towards Bankroll’s music. His death has likely made Jeezy reflect on all the times he’s been close to falling victim to the world that made him such a special artist. Perhaps he’s counting his blessings; he certainly knows Bankroll could’ve achieved great things. “I’m grown, but where we come from we don’t say we love each other,” says Jeezy. “But I ain’t got no problem telling my homies that now -- ‘I love you nigga, be safe.’ ‘Cause you just never know. You never know. I seen Fresh a week before he passed.”

 

Six months after Fresh’s death, Atlanta lost another street-born artist in Shawty Lo in a freakish single-car accident. Jeezy knew Lo, a year his senior, from the streets before either of them had gotten into music, and he would go on to appear on the all-star remix of Lo’s biggest hit, “Dey Know.” “I was in a spot the other night, and they played a Shawty Lo song, and I just saw people rejoicing,” he remembers. “For whatever it’s worth, it was worth it for him to put in all the work he did, even though it was before his time. ‘Cause they live on forever through their music.”

 

He went on to reflect on how much promise Alabama rapper Doe B had exhibited before he was shot and killed in late 2013.  Though he knows each of the forenamed artists tragically met his end far too soon, he also recognizes the greatness they all achieved. “You gotta know these people died with passion,” he says, as though he knows that most -- in or outside the trap -- can’t say the same. “They was actually tryna do something. So you gotta always respect that.”

 

Like the fallen soldiers just mentioned, Jeezy’s purpose was to rise out of the streets and make a name for himself, one that carries with it an air of distinction to the people who can relate to his struggle. “All I ever wanted to do was be great,” he says, “and be recognized for overcoming things that normal people don’t overcome.” He’s proven that with his music, which has likely taken him farther than even he could have imagined. But greatness is not an end but an ever-building product of the “trap or die” lifestyle.

 

With his new album he seeks to prove that an older, wiser Jeezy can make music with the same level of vigor he did with the first Trap or Die. “I’m a fighter,” he says adamantly, “I ain’t never layin’ down, not bendin’ over, none of that shit. Sometimes people forget that ‘cause they see your see your success and they like, ‘Ah, he don’t know what the fuck he talkin’ ‘bout anymore.’” For Jeezy, success always begets more opportunity, and more challenges. “I need to feel adversity at all times,” he says. “I love to hear somebody say I can’t do something. I’ma do it 10 times over.”

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Llamas4President and All Dat

Love these. Do soulo!

 
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ThatDamnKanessa
ThatDamnKanessa
Nov 2, 2016

Beautiful piece through and through. I loved the visuals Elijah and Angus you took me more in-depth with Jeezy than I've ever been. Articles like this take you back to a place in time. Best Regards, -Kanessa (@thatdamnkanessa)

 
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DoubleR2000
DoubleR2000
Nov 2, 2016

Nice job HNHH

 
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Master IP
Master IP
Nov 1, 2016

Please do NAV

 
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NotPettyWap

PLZ

 
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👾LORD PIŁŁS THE MIGHTY👾

This is wonderful HNHH I love when ya'll do this. You guys please do Tory Lanez, Travis or Carti next please

 
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PumPumTamer
PumPumTamer
Nov 1, 2016

Can't Ban The Snow Man⛄️

 
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👑king fresh 💯

G herbo or denzel curry should be next

 
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