Jeezy on Being the James St. Patrick of Rap: ‘When I Put Them Air Force 1’s On, You Already Know’

If you’re an avid TV watcher, you’re probably familiar with Power. Helmed by showrunner Courtney Kemp and 50 Cent, the six-season series proved to be a gem on the STARZ network courtesy of Omari Hardwick, who played the show’s protagonist James St. Patrick. 

Patrick was quite debonair. His luxe suits and magnetic charm always wooed everyone he came across. His skill for closing business deals and monopolizing properties made him a sizable threat in New York City. And though Patrick was a smooth bandit across the board, he had a murderous streak that no one could tame. 

When Jeezy enters the Billboard offices, he does so with the same swagger that made St. Patrick a beloved treasure in the Power Universe. Upon arrival, he’s gracious and flattered by the reactions to his bloodthirsty feature on EST Gee’s “The Realest.” After laying the hammer down with a blistering 24-bar verse, Jeezy released his Gangsta Grillz-helmed project SNOFALL with his former Trap or Die partner DJ Drama on Friday (Oct. 21). The 17-track affair is primarily a solo expedition for Jeezy until he collides with Lil Durk on “Most Hated,” 42 Dugg on “Put The Minks Down” and “Scarface” with EST Gee.

“If you really look at the game, everybody that’s in the rap game that came after me,” says Jeezy. “I left the door open for them. A lot of these cats are really from the streets. They saw if Jeezy could do it, they could do it too.”

And while Jeezy is enjoying his life as a businessman, father, and newly-wedded husband, he proves why SNOFALL is his “F-U” to father time as he seeks to reclaim his throne as the forefather of street music. 

“[I’m] James St. Patrick,” he says with a sly grin. “When I put them Air Force 1’s on, you already know.” 

Billboard chatted with the Atlanta star about his new project SNOFALL, if he has accepted being a legend, performing B-Side concerts, and ending his beef with Freddie Gibbs.

I saw you said on the Big Facts Podcast that music is your talent, but business is your passion.

Yeah, that’s real. Always been though. 

I feel like with you, you came back to music because this is something you’re good at. 

You know how you have that one thing you got when girls come around? You might be good at dribbling a basketball. That one thing when you know like, “I’m gonna get my s–t off.” That’s what music is. 

Also, I realized I still have a responsibility as well — because I still have some influence in this. I can’t just leave the game like, “I got mine and y’all figure it out.” It’s more, “This is how I’m moving — and you ain’t gotta move the same, but if you’ve been in the game this long, this is how you balance it all.” A lot of things people think you can’t do, because rap is so stereotyped. With me, I can do whatever I want, at my own time and my own pace. Coming back with Drama for this SNOFALL was like Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan having a one-on-one in they background. 

If you respected and you get to see that, like, “S–t, I got to watch Pippen and Jordan play one-on-one,” that’s like me and Drama. We both up and having fun with what we do — but at the same time, it’s still the game of street music. We get to do that at a high level with all of the wisdom we got. It’s like getting to see your two favorite basketball players or boxers spar at the gym. You like, “Damn, that was legendary.” 

When you heard Gee’s “The Realest” for the first time, you must’ve shed a tear — because you took this verse somewhere else. 

When he came [into the studio], I heard his music and saw what he did. I see a lot of me in him trying to figure it out. I just wanted to keep the lines of communication open. You’re going to run into some situations where you’re gonna wanna talk to somebody who’s done it, because he’s a street dude running into rap. You gotta navigate it, and I wanna make sure I can be there. When he played me his album, I was like, “D–n.” He said, “I think this is my intro.” I was like, “That should be the last record.”

We had that conversation and he was like, “I really want you on it.” I was like, “Say less — give me a day or two and I got you back.” I pinned it up, on some big homie s–t. I wanted to keep going. Like when Jay-Z gave me the “Go Crazy” verse, he wanted me to know, “I f–k with you like this.” That’s where I was with it and I loved the concept of the record. Same thing with the BET Awards, I just wanted to show him love. On that same platform, Jay came with me and did “Seen It All” with me at the BET Awards. That was unheard of — and I felt like it was the same thing for me, like, “I got you.” 

You always had that mentality of being the big homie even with someone like Kodak Black. Who besides Kodak or Gee have you taken over from a mentor standpoint?

Definitely [Lil] Durk. You just want to have somebody you can bounce s–t off of. 42 Dugg is another one of my guys. Haiti Babii is another guy I just signed from Stockton to Def Jam. The list goes on, to even upcoming cats like Baby Money from Detroit — and Payroll was one of my real [guys]. Me and Pay talked all the time. I was like, “Pay, people don’t know you produce.” He’s one of the hardest producers I’ve ever heard. He don’t produce his own s–t, and he produced his last project and he called me. 

I’m never gonna be the person to try to tell people what they should do. I just know what I been through, and I know it wasn’t easy. I know there were times I wished there was somebody I could call — but they wouldn’t understand my position, because they’re not from the streets and not doing what I’m doing now. I got a wealth of knowledge and wisdom when it comes to that. I hate when they see me and go, “OG.” Nah, ain’t nothing original about gangsta, don’t call me that. Big homie wanna see you win more than he has won. OG gonna put you on some dummy missions.

Was it easy for you making that switch from businessman to street rapper again, knowing it’s familiar territory with Drama?

Yeah, I get in that mode — and I mean that on the Gee record when I say, “I got four million in cars and nowhere to go.” I mean that. I ain’t on it like that, but I can be. I can go get some chains and throw them on and do what I do. When I’m in that zone, I’m in that zone. I’m still a street guy to the core. I still have street values, morals and integrity — but at the same time, I understand what’s going on in the world. I’m not gonna go out here and act like I’m exempt because it’s me. 

I thought the B-sides concerts you’ve been doing have been dope. Talk about the feelings you’ve experienced performing those cuts, compared to a traditional Jeezy concert.

Yeah, that’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Since me and Drama were coming together on this particular project, I thought it would be a perfect time. We’ve been in each other’s circumference a lot. I was like, “I thought it would be crazy to do a B-side concert.” And put it in a secret location, with standing room only, and you gotta win a ticket, so you can’t go buy this to pay to get in. And it’s strictly for your day-one people. It was one of those things where picking the records was therapeutic. We just sat there and reminisced, like, “Remember when we did this?”

People don’t remember I was riding around in a Ferrari, and I’d pull up to Dram’s to get my show tapes made before we did a mixtape… Dram would be like, “Take your shoes off.” I’d be like, “N—a, you live in the hood. You buggin!” We been through all that, so we laugh about the times we had. Going through the records was like, “Damn, bro, we really have a history and legacy with what we’re doing.” I remember a lot of those records I was writing still in the street. I didn’t know if this was gon’ work out. So when I heard myself say certain things, like on “Mr. 17.5,” I’m like, “Damn.” And I wasn’t all the way in. I was still trying to figure it out. Look how far I came. For you to go and take records you did back then and get people in a room to do them now, it says something. 

A lot of people have projects, but they don’t have enough of a movement to do a B-side show. We had 70 on the board. The other ones, we had to go through and condense it down. It’s crazy, because when we did The Real Is Back one and two intros, even for me, I was dancing to “Holy Ghost.” S–t is crazy. I’ve been on the tour with the best of them, and this was the first time I was in the room and doing all the s–t that I wanted to. Just seeing the love was crazy, because we’re doing more B-side concerts. 

I saw a lot of different people, especially of all ages, embracing you as the people’s champ in the SNOFALL trailer. Talk about touching all different walks of life.

I’ma tell you a quick story. I went to Jamaica a couple years ago. One of the drivers was a native and he wanted to take us somewhere special. We’re going up in the mountains, and two hours later we’re in Nine Mile where Bob Marley’s from. From the second I touched down in that area, I immediately started hearing stories about what Bob did for the people — whether it was loaning money, helping with a bully, or walking kids to school. They just had this genuine love for Bob Marley that was beyond music. I remember sitting there — like, I always loved his music, but now I see why he sings “One Love.” 

When I see these youngsters coming up I see what I did for their fathers and brothers — it’s generational. That’s what it’s really about. You don’t want to be a hit record. It’s a flash in the pan. But when you in the hearts of women, men, and children, it’s a real thing. I do it for someone to walk up and say, “Jeezy, you changed my life.” They just giving you these different ways you helped them out and for me, that’s the fulfillment. It ain’t the awards, it’s that love. I got that when I went to Nine Mile. 

I think about your legacy, and you’ve had your fair share of beefs — whether it was with Gucci Mane, Rick Ross, and Freddie Gibbs. Interestingly enough, you’ve been able to end all your feuds. How were you able to obtain this level of peace, knowing the situations you’ve been through in your career?

When I realized that most of the time people act out, you don’t have to match energy and engage or react — because, at the end of the day, especially with the Freddie s–t, it was just bad communication. Same thing with Ross — just bad communication, and it took the right people to get in the mix. What I have learned is the same when Nas did “Hip Hop Is Dead” and I reacted. I was kinda spazzing out on the radio, if you remember. I’ll never forget when I got in the car from the radio station, somebody from Def Jam was like, “Nas wanna holla at you. He’s on the phone.” 

I’m ready for whatever he’s gonna say — I’m all for it. We can fight dogs, race cars, shoot guns or whatever he wanna do. He said, “What’s up, King?” He asked how I’m feeling, and he was like, “I can understand your frustration, but let me explain what I’m saying, and how it has nothing to do with you.” He was so calm — and I always remembered that. When me and Freddie [Gibbs] had our thing, that was one of the reasons I remained calm — because I’ve been on the other side of that. So I’m hearing his frustration, and I get it, because we’re doing business and not everybody’s gonna be happy. It’s like being married, you gotta communicate. You can’t be like, “I’m gonna blow the whole house up.”

As Black men, we rarely do have good communication. It was love. That’s it. It wasn’t even nothing to have a conversation about, because we both knew where we stood at that. So going forward, we gotta communicate better.

I remember having a conversation with Ludacris, and I asked him if he was finally comfortable with the word “legend.” He said it took him so long to accept that. Have you accepted that?

Man, it’s so hard, because I feel like [I do with] the OG s–t. Like, what does that mean? It just feels like you’re not in it no more, and that’s not the truth. I could be in it any way that I choose to. Whether I sign someone or run a label, I could go run Def Jam tomorrow. It’s when you do other things and you have success there. Let’s just say, Magic Johnson — one of the best to ever do it — he’s an even better businessman. I wouldn’t approach him like, “What’s up old timer? You used to play basketball, but now you own the Dodgers.” It’s a mindset. 

My focus doesn’t have to always be rap. I’m building companies — Cognac, vodka, gin, and performance fuel water — and my real estate portfolio is nuts. When I say I own half of Atlanta, I mean that s–t. LLC Shawty, that’s me. My focus ain’t gon’ be in one place, but that doesn’t mean I’m not in it anymore. When you say “JAY-Z,” he’s doing astronomical things. If you put him in the studio with any of these young cats, he gonna tear they ass up. That’s what he does — but that doesn’t mean that’s what he has to do every day.

Going to the “legend” thing, it makes it sound like the run is over. How so? It’s because I believe in reinventing myself all the time. It’s Snowman forever. I been on tour with the best of ’em, and I look in that crowd and see 500 Snowman shirts. I can identify my people, and that means it’s real and tangible. This is like Metallica s–t. It wasn’t just about the songs, it was about the movement. 

I don’t even think LeBron has hit his highest plateau yet. Even who he is and what he’s doing. We’re gonna look up and he’s gonna be larger than we could ever think, because of his businesses. We’ve never seen somebody whose business is so on point. He’s like the Barack Obama of basketball. He’s about his business, and we ain’t seen no scandal. He’s clean-cut, and the connoisseur for music, because he’s still young enough that everyone wanna send LeBron their records. We’ll look up in 10 years and look up like, “This is crazy.” Who knows, he could run for president. 

I think it’s fair to call Nipsey [Hussle] a legend. Because everything he was working towards, he was working for his people, and he was taken too soon. I think it’s fair to call 2Pac a legend, because of everything he was doing for his people and he was taken too soon.

I ain’t even figured it all out yet. I’m still getting in rooms that I never thought I’d be in. I’m getting knowledge every day. I’m James St. Patrick for real. Clark Kent for real. I’m trying to do it bigger than it has ever been done. Like I would look at Jay and Nas, of course we know they’re legendary — but they still got work to do. Nas is getting Grammy Awards. He wasn’t getting no Grammys back then. His business is impeccable. It wouldn’t be fair to cancel my man out just yet. I agree with Ludacris on that: Between [legend] and OG, I’m confused.

Carl Lamarre