If a decade can feel like a lifetime in the music industry, it must feel like an eternity to those who are trapped in the street life. In the summer of 2005, an Atlanta-based rapper brought the two worlds together with an album that superbly captured the underbelly of street life while redefining a rap sound that would eventually become its own genre.
Indeed, Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 stands is Jeezy’s magnum opus, but it also set the standard for what has now become rap’s most vivid subgenre, trap music.
To understand the genius of Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101, it’s important to know that it didn’t start with a pen and pad, studio time, or a record contract. Before the production of instrumentals or words being rapped over ad libs, the album was already written. It was birthed out of despair, a lack of resources, and a need for survival. It served as a testimony for America’s anti-hero who was created by America’s war on drugs — essentially a war on poor, Black and Brown people.
Before trap music transitioned into a subgenre, or became cool for pop artists and EDM DJs to borrow the sound, Jeezy witnessed the real-life consequences of living, working, and simply existing in a Trap.
As Jeezy commemorates the 10 years of an album that revealed the complexities, fears, joys, and ambitions of a hustler, it’s hard to minimize it by simply calling it a celebration. Instead, it’s more like an examination of the past, present and future of America’s most neglected people and environments.
A decade has past since the release of Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101. Why was it important to do a concert in dedication to that album in order to bring everything full circle?
When I dropped TM 101, Atlanta was just a different place, period. It was more festive, there were more things going on, and definitely a lot more money flowing. I just wanted to bring back that feeling for one night, just for the city. That was a good time for us when it came to music and the streets. It’s been 10 years so it’s for all the people who you know are still out here on they grind and pushing to do better. This is for them because this reminds us all of where we came from and the foundation and the bricks we laid for this city to still be the city. It’s for the streets, it’s for the people, it’s for the culture.
You were one of the first rappers to talk about the Trap on a record. It’s a term based out of Atlanta, so much of the nation were unfamiliar with the term. How does it feel to be one of the first artists to bring the idea of trap music to the forefront?
I don’t even like to refer to it as trap music. I just feel like it’s the voice of the people, man. It was about the hunger and the struggle. We were just tired of taking no for an answer and we just had to figure out our own way. We [Atlanta rappers] weren’t big in New York then. We had to make enough noise for them to come down here and feel us. That’s why it started because we gave them the real, we gave them what mattered, and they considered it to be trap music because it was from the streets.
People who have never been to a poor community may hear the music, but they don’t understand that people are living in the conditions that are expressed in the music. For you, what is the Trap when you take the music out of it?
Your Trap is your place of profession. It’s like, when you come up in these neighborhoods and you come up, and you’re with the have nots, and you see a lot of cats before you do their own thing, everybody wants to do better. We all aspire to be the guy that can take care of our neighborhood. So that’s why when you say “Trap,” it’s a place where you handle your business and it can go either way. If you don’t make it, you will for sure be trapped because you might end up doing some real time, or being killed, or kidnapped. Those are the things that you go through. It’s not something that we’re proud of doing. But If I’m not going out harming people at gunpoint and I’m a man out here grinding dollar for dollar and risking my life, I feel like I’m not doing anything wrong. That’s all that I see around me. I’m not a taker, I’m an earner. I’d rather earn every dollar I get. And that’s what we call the Trap. We’re proud that we’re able to take care of our families.
RELATED: Go Behind the Scenes with Jeezy on his exclusive photo shoot with rolling out.
President Obama announced that he wants to reduce the prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. What are your thoughts on his position?
You have some people out here who don’t give a damn. Their whole objective is to hurt and kill. Then you got some people who want to feed their kids and keep a roof over their heads, and I think Obama recognized that. So, I gotta salute him for that. When I started rapping is when I started seeing people get 30 or 40 years in prison, and that’s when I took music serious. I was like there ain’t nothing that I can possibly [do] in this world besides kill another human being, that’s worth that type of time. How can you give somebody 30 years for trying to feed their family if they’re not out here terrorizing the neighborhood? I commend Obama for that because, he’s the first president to actually recognize that.
I want to play devil’s advocate for a minute. Being in the life, you see the other side of selling drugs such as how addiction has destroyed families and communities. How does seeing addiction affect you when you’re in that life?
Honestly, when you’re out here and trying to make a way, you just become numb to a lot of things. It’s a sacrifice game and you just start thinking about the sacrifices. I had my family members on drugs. I’ve been into it with my uncles when they stole money from me and all types of other crazy stuff. But if I [hadn’t gone] through it, I wouldn’t be talking with you. I wouldn’t have anything to tell you. It’s like a sacrifice game where one thing cancels out the other. You don’t want to hurt or harm your people. But do you wanna starve and not have your lights on? Can you look at your kids in their faces when they wake up and tell them we can’t eat because I can’t get a job because I’m a convicted felon? You can’t do that. So, you have to weigh your options. The way we see it is they’re gonna get it from someone else, anyway. It’s a bad thing to say, but it’s the reality of it. Some of the people who have addictions are still great people. I’ve had my regrets of putting my mother on front street about this s—. But that was my story. When I see my mother now, she’s healthy and I’m proud of her. Hopefully, people will see that I’m not out here trying to be Pablo Escobar or some dumb s—. I’m just trying to make sure my people are straight.
I do think guys like you and T.I. had a way of telling the backstory of the Trap. Now that the music is becoming more mainstream, do you see that the backstory is missing?
When it comes to my music, I did it because I didn’t want to go to prison. I started losing a lot of my friends. I also didn’t like the way the streets were being represented at the time. You had a lot of people that were rapping for money and fame and I never came in this for that. I was a star at the Amoco gas station. To me, it was more about being heard and that’s why I had so much material out at one time. I was like, ‘If I go to jail, at least they’re going to hear me and feel me.’ That’s why I was going in and putting my heart and soul into it and then it just turned into something else. In my music, you can sometimes hear the anger, the growth and the frustration, because I was the voice of the people. I am the voice of the people and these are our frustrations. We’re out here doing this, but if we could do something else, we would.
We’re at the 10 year mark for Let’s Get It: TM 101. Ten years from now, what will that album mean for music and for the people who are caught up in the streets?
When I make my music, I try to make sure I speak with my heart and my emotions. I always tell people that I don’t understand how someone can get in the booth and just say anything because it sounds good at that time. I’m going to really sit down and think about what I’m saying. I want to have the same respect as I would have had when it first came out and that’s how I wrote that album. Ten years from now, I hope it could help somebody else through their struggle. With the way times are changing, it’s going to get tougher than it is now. I really think that album was before its time. If I put it out right now, I feel as if it would do even better than it did the first time I put it out.