Jeezy on His New Album, Being a Dad, and Why Going to the Club Is Work For Him

The rapper talked to Maxim about Church in These Streets, his arrest from last year, and more. 

It’s a new era for Jeezy. The artist, once known to the world as the Snowman (a thinly veiled nod to cocaine), was seminal in spearheading ATL’s trap music scene. But life has a way of changing your perspective—especially when the law wrongfully comes to get you. Jeezy, now 38, is more focused on driving home a poignant message in his music. His previous release, the Politically Correct EP, was delivered on the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March and filled with socially conscious rhymes. His latest offering, Church in These Streets, carries a similar tune, though that doesn’t mean it’s all serious around these parts. While discussing his latest musical mindset, Jeezy also drops some gems about being a dad and turning up in the club. It’s all about balance.

It feels like there are a lot of religious undertones to this album, right down to the title, Church In These Streets.

It’s a serious album, and I want people to take it seriously. It’s one of those albums that I feel has that type of message in it. It’s not church, per se, but more like people congregating and getting together. This is a certain way of life, and I wanted to come at it from a leader’s perspective like nah, there’s some real things going on out here in the world, and we’re gonna talk about them today—the good, the bad, the ugly. Everything.

It feels like we’re listening to what’s going on in your mind right at this moment.

Yeah, you can blame one of my friends for that. He told me to write a diary, and I was like, “Man, I don’t really got time for that, and I don’t wanna write nothing that I could possibly lose one day and not have.” And he was like, “Nah man, you should write in a diary.” And I said, “Well what if I start writing my songs as if they were my diary?” And one of my friends, [his name is] Hip-Hop, gave me a pad while I was in LA and I started writing in that pad, and I wrote every song in that pad, so it was like my diary. Just so you know, I had an incident happen in LA that kind of brought me to this point. I was actually incarcerated in Los Angeles for something I had nothing to do with, and just the way they handled the whole situation kind of just made me real rebellious as far as taking the music approach. You know, people make music because they want to be on the radio or whatever, but this time around it’s like nah, I’ma tell you my truth. I’ma tell you how I feel, and I’ma tell you on my platform.

How did you work that into your album?

That’s what kind of inspired Church In These Streets. When the charges were dropped, they might have felt like they were doing me justice by dropping the charges, but at the same time, they kind of ruined the reputation that I had built for myself. That just made me feel like, you know what? There’s no reason for me to be a cookie-cutter rapper or be somebody that just kind of follows the rules, and me knowing when I said “church,” it was going to bring a different kind of attention. That’s one of the reasons why I did that, because when you go to church, that’s something serious. Whether you’re going because you need some type of spiritual healing or you just need some type of leadership, it’s the same thing with music. People follow their favorite rappers because they feel like some of them are poets, some of them have actually been through a lot of the things they talk about, and I happen to be both. So why not push the envelope and name it something and make it feel like something that I would feel like it was serious? And that’s what I came up with, and that’s why I feel so strongly about it.

Can you elaborate on those legal issues from last year?

I was on tour with Wiz Khalifa, and an incident happened in San Francisco. I had nothing to do with it because, after my set, I had actually went back to the hotel. The next city was Los Angeles, and so the people from the law enforcement agency from San Francisco—or I forget the exact name of the county—came there to arrest me at the last show of the tour. So I’d been on tour—a wonderful tour, by the way—20,000 people a night! And they came on the last night while we’re about to pop our champagne and they arrest me for something I had nothing to do with. Everybody, from the Live Nation people to every artist that was on the tour with, were like “He wasn’t even there!” But anyway, long story short, they locked me up at a time when my album was coming out, which was Seen It All. It was maybe a week before it came out, so when that came out, I was incarcerated.

How long were you in there? 

It was six days I think I was there, but I wasn’t with my homeboys. I was with my employees, so my cameraman, my bus driver, my assistant—all these different people are locked up because they stereotyped me. We’re sitting in the county jail, wearing jail clothes, and just really being treated like we really did something wrong. What made me so mad about it was that we were actually doing something right. We were where we were supposed to be, and now we’re getting treated like criminals! And I had a couple days to sit there and think, because I didn’t get out as soon as I got in because I didn’t want to leave the rest of my staff in there, so I stayed until we were able to all get out together. Those six days, I just had a lot of time to think, and it just made me mad. It made me angry, it made me rebellious. It made me feel like as hard as I go and as much as I do for charity, as well as how much I’ve grown as a human being, they would just pull me back down to that level to make me a street dude again.

I know a lot of people do a lot more time so I can’t act like it was like 10 years, but I just think as a man and as a person, it was a slap in the face—to the taxpayers and everything! To be treated that way, I just feel like I wasn’t going to stand for it no more, because had I not had the resources for the finances, I probably would still be in there! So it was just one of those times. If anything, it made me stronger, but it’s not good to have to wear somebody else’s boxers and eat bologna sandwiches all day, especially when you’ve worked as hard as you’ve worked to live the life that you live, and they’re basically treating you like you’re just another dude. I just came out of there with a different mind state. I just came out of there with my chest out and my head up, and I was like, I’m gonna say what I wanna say and nobody’s gonna stop me.

Looking back at the ten-year anniversary of your debut, Thug Motivation 101, what do you think is one thing that you would have maybe warned your younger self about before getting fully involved into this game for a decade?

Don’t be scared to evolve, don’t be scared to grow. I think people like me and Hov [Jay Z] and other cats, we continue to evolve because we’re here, but we never knew that Dr. Dre was going to be one of the wealthiest men in this business just off the fact he came out of a group called N.W.A. Who would have known that Ice Cube was going to be who he is today? He’s making movies year-round and actually doing well. He was a writer for N.W.A.! You can’t be scared to evolve, and that’s what I would tell myself because had I opened the door a long time ago, I’d probably be three times further in my career and life than I am right now. For a long time, I held back because I felt like that was the thing to do. You know you get into that mode where you feel like you just gotta keep it real? But the realest thing is just to keep it real with yourself. That’s the one you gotta deal with.

So what’s Jeezy as a dad like? Are you a cool dad?

Absolutely! I’m a G. I’ve always had the mindset that I don’t want me and mine to go through what I had to go through, and I live by that. All the street stuff, I did that for mine. They will never do that. That’s all I preach: be all you can be, don’t limit yourself. The world is big. You don’t have to just do it from right here; you can do it from anywhere. And just know that you can be who you want to be if you apply yourself. If you don’t apply yourself, it’s because I’m your father and you think that’s where you’re gonna be. Really, you probably gotta work triple time, because now you’ve got that umbrella over your head like, “Oh, that’s Jeezy’s kid.”

Are you noticing any music inclination from your kids?

Nah, I would never let that happen. No! It’s a different game. Unless you’re willing to take it seriously, I wouldn’t wish that on nobody, man. It ain’t that type of game. This is a difficult business, and if you’re not willing to sacrifice everything, it’s tough. People think that they can just make it because of who they’re affiliated with or who their cousins are or who their uncle is or who their father is, and I just think that’s the exact opposite. I’ve never seen that play out like that.

Do you let them know when they suck?

Absolutely. With my son, when he’s slacking, I always tell him straight up like, “You’re playing.” That’s kind of hard to hear from your dad, but you have to be openly honest. Because when he does great, I tell him he’s doing great. I tell him I’m proud of him, and I send him a long text that says, “Look man, I’m proud of you. I love your focus, I love what you’re doing,” but when he gets to slacking, I send him that same text, but even longer. If I’m on the road, it’s like, “Man, what are you doing? We had this conversation!” You know, just being a father is the real deal. Sometimes I’m a bit tough on him because you know you have to be tough. It’s a tough world. Then sometimes I’m overly proud of him because some things he does, I wouldn’t believe that someone his age would know how to do. But at the same time, you have to be tough, because when they’re out there in the world, ain’t nobody gonna give them that love that you give them. Ain’t nobody gonna tell them that they’re always great and they’re always good. So you have to prepare them for that.

What does Jeezy do for fun?

Really right now I’m just in grind mode, but for me, fun is just kicking back and chopping it up, smoking some cigars and sipping on some Cabernet or something, kind of just relaxing, reflecting on my thoughts and catching up with friends. I like to chill when I’m not moving. I have to move a lot, so when I get a chance to just chill, I just chill. Or even kicking it with my loved ones or people I know who really care about me; that’s my highlight. My sister comes to visit me and brings her kids, or I’m able to kick it with my mother or my peoples, that’s what I look forward to.

This sounds like really PG-rated fun. No more turn-ups in the club? No more strip clubs?

No, I do that, but I do that for a living so that’s not even the fun part. I’ve been partying since day one, so to me, it’s all the same. When I’m in the club, I’m working. But believe you me, when I’m in there, I have fun. It’s almost like you feel guilty to go in there and just be in there for no reason. Don’t get me wrong, I love being in the club. I love hearing the new music and seeing what’s going on. And nobody can outdo me in any club. I don’t care who it is, where you’re at, how you’re doing it – that’s my comfort zone! I’m just as comfortable in the club as I am on the stage. But that’s like work to me. It’s great work, so I ain’t complaining. My job is great, by the way!

It’s kind of funny, because everyday people will go into the club and blow all their money. You go into the club and you’re making money.

Yeah but don’t get me wrong, there was a time where I went and blew all my money too! [Laughs]

What was your last big purchase, your last splurge?

Some buildings. I bought a bunch of buildings in Atlanta, so I got some business on the way. But that’s like my last big purchase.

I thought you were going to say, like, shoes.

Nah. That’s not a big purchase by the way [laughs]. Some buildings, man. I’m trying to get my real estate game all the way on point, so that’s where I’m at with it. That’s a big purchase for me. That’s my thing; that’s what I’m on.

What’s your drink of choice right now? Your cigar of choice?

Cigar of choice is Montecristo, the 80-year edition. That’s my favorite one right now. My drink of choice, you know that has to be Avion. And Tito’s, I love Tito’s. I’m a Cabernet dude, so if I’m chillin’, I might drink a glass of Cabernet and kick back.

And who’s your favorite designer right now?

Ah man, that’s a good one. As far as shoes, who am I rocking right now? It’s different with me; it varies. Because it’s like whatever I feel, that’s what I wear. I’ll go from some Rick Owens to some Chuck Taylors overnight, you know what I mean? Then some Timberlands and back to some Yves Saint Laurent. It’s just however I’m feeling. With me, however you look, that’s how you feel. Like when you’re feeling your best, you look your best. And when you’re feeling like you wanna just thug it out, then you’re thugged out.

What’s the car that bosses are driving currently?

Really, bosses aren’t driving at all! [Laughs] So if I’m not in the back of my Rolls or in the back of my Sprinter, I’m usually in my Escalade. I just feel like that’s real presidential and real regal, and you just can’t go wrong with that. But those long nights you’re talking about, it’s always great to not drive, because at that time, you’ll probably get yourself into some trouble that you don’t need to be in, and then that way, if you ain’t gotta drive, you can turn up as much as you wanna turn up. No worries!