Rap and hip-hop artist, producer
Raised in poverty by a single mother, young Jay Jenkins learned to make money and earn respect in the few, mostly unlawful, arenas open to him on the streets of his Atlanta neighborhood. Starting out in such enterprises as selling illegal cell phones in alleys, Jenkins had a driving ambition to escape the dead-end life that seemed inevitable for some inner-city youth. He was drawn to rap music because hip-hop artists and their songs appeared to be the only cultural medium telling the truth about the lives of young people of color in the inner city.
Jenkins eventually entered the music industry as a producer, but he did not stay behind the scenes for long. In 2001 he released his first album under the rap name "Lil' J," and by 2003 he had become Young Jeezy, one of the most popular rappers; first in Atlanta, then throughout the South, and finally across the United States. Young Jeezy's authentic experience on the streets endears him to his fans, but not to critics of rap and hip-hop culture, who condemn the references to drugs and guns in many of his lyrics. However, Jeezy sees himself as a teacher as well as an entertainer. As someone who knows the hopeless life of the streets, he hopes to motivate young men like himself with a message of hope and honesty. As he says on the Web site of his record label, Def Jam, "I don't just do music for the clubs, I do music for the struggle. I do music for…the kids who ain't got no sense of direction. I'm trying to restore some of the morals back into the game, as far as the street."
Grew Up in Southern Ghetto
Jay Jenkins was born on October 12, 1977, in Columbia, South Carolina. His parents were not married, and his mother soon took her baby son back to her home in Macon, Georgia. Jenkins was raised by his mother and grandmother in Macon and moved to Atlanta as a teenager. There he lived in the rough Fourth Ward area of town, where he quickly learned how hard life could be for a poor African-American youth. Young Jeezy described the roots of his ambition in an interview with Nooreen Kara on the British Web site The Situation, "I don't want to be a statistic. I don't wanna be dead or in jail without nothing. It happens a lot where I'm from; people get killed, people go to jail, and people forget about them. I won't let that happen to me."
Determined to survive and succeed, Jay Jenkins took whatever opportunities came his way, legitimate or not. He understood early that on the streets his image was all-important and, after earning $200 working for his uncle's construction company, he asked for the money to be paid with one twenty dollar bill and the rest in ones, so that he would have a bigger roll of cash to show his friends. Along with working for his uncle, Jenkins became what he would later call a "hustler," selling whatever he could to make money. Beginning with stolen goods, such as cell phones, he soon progressed to stealing cars and selling drugs.
Jenkins was still focused on a way out of the street life, however, and hip-hop music seemed to offer an opportunity. Hip-hop culture rose out of poor urban black culture, and though Jay Jenkins had little education, his early years had given him authentic credentials to enter the rap music business. With a friend named Demetrius Ellerbee (stage name "Kinky B"), he started a music company called Corporate Thugz Entertainment in 1998, intending to work behind the scenes as a music producer. He soon began to feel that he had the talent and experience to become a positive voice within U.S. hip-hop culture and the young, black, urban community.
Began Career as Rapper
Jenkins began releasing mixtapes of his work, first as Lil' J, then as Young Jeezy. Mixtapes, or homemade compilations of a rapper's work, are a staple of the hip-hop music scene and are eagerly bought by fans who value their underground nature. In 2001, Lil' J's first CD, Thuggin' Under the Influence, was released, followed in 2003 by Come Shop Wit' Me. Produced by Corporate Thugz Entertainment, Come Shop Wit' Me was Jenkins first appearance as Young Jeezy, and the album sold tens of thousands of copies.
In 2004, rap legend P Diddy approached Young Jeezy about making an album for his Bad Boy Records label. Jeezy agreed to make one album as part of a studio group called Boyz in Da Hood, which included fellow rappers Big Gee and Big Duke. The three released the album Boyz in Da Hood, which reached number five on the Billboard Magazine chart of 200 most popular albums.
Young Jeezy was determined to make it as a solo performer, and in 2005 he signed with the respected rap record label Def Jam. His first major label album, Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101, sold 172,000 copies during the first week of its release, rocketing to number two on Billboard's chart. In 2006, Def Jam released Inspiration: Thug Motivation 102, which was also popular with Jeezy's fans. In 2007, Young Jeezy joined two rapper friends, Slick Pulla and Blood Raw, to form a new group they called USDA, or United Streets and Dopeboyz of America. Together they made an album called Cold Summer, The Authorized Mixtape.
Wrote Controversial Lyrics
Young Jeezy's gangster past, gravelly voice, and street-smart style gave him credibility among fans of rap, but the explicit references to drugs, guns, and sex have been controversial. During the early part of his career, Atlanta radio stations were reluctant to play his songs. Critics of Young Jeezy's lifestyle also point to two arrests, one in March 2006 in Miami for carrying a concealed weapon, and one in Macon, Georgia, in May 2007 for disorderly conduct. Jeezy has for the most part remained unconcerned about mainstream response to either his music or his life. Though he has worked to become successful, he has consistently refused to become commercial and has little interest in crossing over to other genres. He has always considered the poor people of the street to be his true audience, and they, he feels, will understand his message.
Jeezy's sharp lyrics and tight rhymes deliver vivid images, and he considers himself to be like a motivational speaker, using his words to inspire change in his listeners. His message is down-to-earth and gritty, like the hard life of the hustler. In songs like "Talk to 'Em", he speaks to the younger generation about the hard, cold side of the gangster life. "Soul Survivor" is an uplifting anthem of endurance and triumph over hard times, and "Don't Get Caught" offers advice about the incomparable black male experience of being stopped by the police.
At a Glance …
Born Jay Jenkins on October 12, 1977, in Columbia, SC; children: one son.
Career: Corporate Thugz Entertainment, co-founder and chief executive officer, 1998-; Boyz N Da Hood, rap artist, 2004; solo artist, 2005-.
Addresses: Office—c/o Corporate Thugz Entertainment, 2221 Peachtree Rd., Suite D-602, Atlanta, GA 30309. Web—www.corporatethugzent.com.
One of Young Jeezy's biggest controversies arose out of one of his street nicknames, "Snowman." Some commentators on the rap scene claim that Jeezy got the name because of his habit of adorning himself with "ice," or glittery jewelry, but many others point out that "snow" is a street name for cocaine, which Jeezy admits to selling during his youth. When Young Jeezy's music company began selling t-shirts with a picture of a glowering snowman, the news network CNN issued a story about the drug connection. In response, many high schools banned the shirts, prompting Jeezy to explain to Nooreen Kara, "You can't just look at the snowman and say that it glorifies one thing. It doesn't glorify drug use, it glorifies the ultimate hustler, the struggle, the movement, the people who ain't got it and are trying to get it."
When Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S. Gulf Coast in August 2005, Jeezy demonstrated that his support for the poor and the disenfranchised went further than the words of his songs. He not only collected enough food, water, clothing, and other supplies to fill twelve trailer trucks that he sent to help survivors, but he opened his own large house in Georgia to over a dozen refugees left homeless by the storm.
In 2006, Jeezy launched his own line of clothing. He had intended to call it USDA, like his music group, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture objected, and Jeezy changed the name to 8732, the letters USDA when entered into a phone for a text message. Such in-jokes are an important part of the culture of rap music, allowing fans to feel a part of an outlaw society.
In spite of disapproval from the critics of gangsta rap, Young Jeezy has continued to develop his career, doing guest appearances on the albums of such rap stars as Fabolous and Lil' Wayne and live performances like the March-April 2007 Street Dreams Tour. On November 12, 2006, he performed several songs on Black Entertainment Television's first annual Hip-Hop Awards.
Thuggin' Under the Influence (as Lil' J), 404 Music Group, 2001.
Come Shop Wit' Me, Corporate Thugz Entertainment, 2003.
Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101, Def Jam, 2005.
The Inspiration: Thug Motivation 102, Def Jam, 2006.
Trap or Die (with DJ Drama), Aphilliates, 2006.
Tha Streets iz Watchin' (with DJ Drama), Aphilliates, 2006.
$nowman, Bcd Music Group, 2006.
You Can't Ban the Snowman, Bcd Music Group, 2006.
Young Jeezy Presents USDA: Cold Summer, The Authorized Mixtape, Def Jam, 2007.
Billboard, December 16, 2006, p. 38; June 2, 2007, p. 43; June 9, 2007, p. 71.
Entertainment Weekly, October 7, 2005, p. 74.
Esquire, February 2006, p. 66-8.
The Fader, September 2006, p. 106-14.
New York, December 11, 2006, p. 88-90.
Rolling Stone, November 16, 2006, p. 86-8; December 28, 2006, p. 114.
Corporate Thugz Entertainment,www.corporatethugzent.com (August 6, 2007).
Kara, Nooreen, "Young Jeezy: Interview," The Situation,www.thesituation.co.uk/us_interviews/06/young_jeezy/young_jeezy.html (July 23, 2007).
Reid, Shaheem, "Young Jeezy Opens His Home To Gulf Coast Disaster Victims," MTV,www.mtv.com/news/articles/1509747/20050916/jeezy_young.jhtml (July 23, 2007).
"Weapons Charges Against Young Jeezy Dropped," Dirty South Rap Dot Com,http://dirtysouthrap.com/news/2006/05/17/weapons-charges-against-young-jeezy-dropped/ (July 23, 2007).
"Young Jeezy," Def Jam Recordings,www.defjam.com/site/artist_home.php?artist_id=567 (July 23, 2007).
"Young Jeezy." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 22, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/young-jeezy
"Young Jeezy." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved February 22, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/young-jeezy
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Rap musician, songwriter
From a world of hustling drugs, cars, and whatever he could get his hands on, Young Jeezy turned a life of crime into a lucrative music career. Out of the hip-hop hotbed of Atlanta, Georgia, and on the basis of his self-distributed mixtapes, Young Jeezy developed one of the strongest street followings an unsigned MC could have. His presence and potential was felt by both Jay-Z and Diddy (formerly known as Puff Daddy), who later signed the aspiring rapper to respective record deals. With the release of Jeezy's 2005 Def Jam debut, Let's Get it: Thug Motivation 101, Jeezy earned a top spot in the MC elite. With his trademark slow southern drawl and fresh beats from some of the hottest hip-hop producers, Jeezy exposed his hustling past through clever stories and rousing rhymes. With a nickname of the Snowman, the former street hustler raps about the continual hustle that people face every day, whether on the street or in the schools. "With his rumbling, slurring baritone and unyielding force of will, he rhymes with a preacher's power," wrote Oliver Wang in the Los Angeles Times, "only he's proselytizing from the corner, not the pulpit."
Born Jay Jenkins on October 12, 1977, in Columbia, South Carolina, rapper Jeezy grew up in Atlanta, moving back and forth between his mother and father, grandparents and various relatives who would take him. In his early teens he left his family to make money on the streets. For Jeezy, that usually meant selling stolen goods or drugs (especially cocaine) to the highest bidder. At the turn of the twenty-first century, after years of living hard, Jeezy recognized that if he didn't make a change in his life, he might have no life to live. "I woke up one morning and went cold turkey, for real," he told Peter Rubin in XXL. "I turned my back on everything I knew, literally."
Before he became a rapper, Jeezy launched his own record label, Corporate Thugz Entertainment, and promoted records from Cash Money. He had his foot in the door, but it wasn't fulfilling. "So I just decided to do it myself," he stated on his official Def Jam website. "Ain't nobody gonna go as hard as you gonna go. I saw the bigger picture at the time. I have a way with words and I know how to hustle." While his hustling had stopped on the streets, Jeezy saw the music business hustle as just another way to get ahead. He knew the streets and how to speak to them; all he had to do was set it to some beats. "The streets taught me how to be a man. I took what the streets gave me and I made something out of nothing; a lot out of a little," he told Nooreen Kara of The Situation.
In 2001, under the name Lil' J, and through Corporate Thugz, Jeezy released Thuggin' Under the Influence. With an assortment of local MCs and producers, Jeezy tapped into the underground mixtape circuit, a route where many rappers begin to capture a fanbase. In 2003, with DJ Drama, Jeezy released and sold thousands of copies of his mixtapes, including Tha Streetz Iz Watchin. Following the release of his 2003 disc Come Shop Wit' Me and 2005's Trap of Die, label heads Jay-Z and Diddy flew to Atlanta to catch Jeezy in action. "I don't just do music for the clubs. I do music for the struggle," Jeezy affirmed on the Def Jam website. "I do music for … the kids who ain't got no sense of direction. I'm trying to restore some of the morals back into the game, as far as the street."
In 2005 Jeezy signed on with Diddy's Bad Boy label to record a record with the gangster rap group Boyz N da Hood, and with Def Jam for a solo album. Bad Boy released Boyz N da Hood in June of 2005; by July it was number five on the Billboard 200 chart. However, the group's debut was completely overshadowed a few weeks later by the release of Jeezy's Def Jam debut. In July Def Jam promoted Jeezy's Def Jam solo record Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101. The album debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 chart, and eventually sold over 1.7 million copies. The production was "fueled by big, martial beats and brassy synth lines, along with a lethal combo of dope-boy koans and laconic ad-libs," according to Rubin. Jeezy told Kara, "I know what I want to say; it's like ghetto gospel, being a motivational speaker. If I was in front of a group of people, I would say the same thing." His mass appeal reached listeners with the single "Soul Survivor," featuring singer Akon. The number four song was followed by other hit singles, including the Mannie Fresh-produced "And Then What," a remix of "Go Crazy," featuring Jay-Z and the ghetto vibrations of "My Hood" and "Trap Star."
From the inner cities to the easy suburbs, Jeezy was recognized by his music and trademark style. Def Jam came up with a cartoon drawing of a snowman for the MC's official logo. The icy snowman fronted Jeezy's album and merchandise—a symbol to recognize the ultimate hustler. Critics, parents and even fans didn't know if the snowman was a nod to Jeezy's cocaine dealing past or all of his iced jewelry. When T-shirts emblazoned with the recognizable snowman were worn in suburban high schools, students began to get suspended and the logo was banned as a sign of cocaine. "You can't just look at the snowman and say that it glorifies one thing," he explained to Kara. "It doesn't glorify drug use, it glorifies the ultimate hustler, the struggle, the movement, the people who ain't got it and are trying to get it." The controversy only legitimized Jeezy as one of the most popular rappers in the business. In the Los Angeles Times Wang wrote that Jeezy, "possesses a swaggering sense of certitude that elevates otherwise pedestrian tales into impressively aureate anthems." At the close of 2005 the New York Times named Let's Get It as the Pop Album of the Year.
In the year following Let's Get It, more and more rappers from the south were emerging with a sound very similar to Jeezy's. The MC aimed to handle the copycats with the recording of his sophomore record at Atlanta's Patchwerk Studios. Inviting some of the best in the R&B and hip-hop world to assist him, Jeezy worked with Timbaland, R. Kelly, Ludcaris, Snoop Dogg, Three 6 Mafia, T.I., G-Unit's Young Buck, and singer Keisha Cole.
To promote his new record, Jeezy sponsored an essay contest to Atlanta high school seniors. "The Inspiration Essay Contest" offered local seniors the chance to win a $1,000 college scholarship. In December of 2006 The Inspiration: Thug Motivation 102 debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart. The record's first single, "I Luv It," had a classic Jeezy boldness, and the remainder of the album showed an accomplished MC at work with some of the best talent in the music industry. Considering himself more of a motivational speaker than just a rapper, Jeezy has said he aims to leave a mark in the world, and not be just a passing fad. "Tupac was one of the realest. And everybody bought his records 'cause he was that type of dude. I want to be in that position," he admitted to Bonsu Thompson in XXL.
For the Record …
Born Jay Jenkins on October 12, 1977, in Columbia, SC.
Under the name Lil' J, released Thuggin' Under the Influence, 2004; under the name Young Jeezy, released Come Shop Wit' Me, 2003; with Boyz N da Hood, released Boyz N da Hood, 2005; signed to Def Jam, released solo debut Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101, 2005; released The Inspiration: Thug Motivation 102, 2006.
Awards: Billboard, R&B/Hip-Hop Award, for New R&B/Hip-Hop Artist, 2006.
Addresses: Record company—Def Jam, 8920 Sunset Blvd, 2nd Flr., Los Angeles, CA 90069; and 825 8th Ave., 29th Flr., New York, NY 10019, website: Def Jam Official Website: http://www.defjam.com. Website—Young Jeezy Official Website: http://www.youngjeezy.com.
(As Lil' J) Thuggin' Under the Influence, Corporate Thugz, 2001.
Come Shop Wit' Me, Corporate Thugz, 2003.
(With Boyz N da Hood) Boyz N da Hood, Bad Boy, 2005.
Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101, Def Jam, 2005.
The Inspiration: Thug Motivation 102, Def Jam, 2006.
Billboard, December 16, 2006.
Los Angeles Times, December 18, 2006.
XXL Magazine, October, 2005; January, 2007.
"Young Jeezy," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusicguide.com/ (February 15, 2007).
Young Jeezy Official Def Jam Website, http://www.defjam.com/site/artist_bio.php?artist_id=567/ (February 15, 2007).
"Young Jeezy: Putting His Mouth Where His Money Is," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/bands/y/young_jeezy/young_jeezy_inw_050801/ (February 15, 2007).
"Young Jeezy," The Situation,http://www.thesituation.co.uk/us_interviews/06/young_jeezy/young_jeezy.html (February 15, 2007).
"Young Jeezy." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 22, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/young-jeezy-0
"Young Jeezy." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved February 22, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/young-jeezy-0