Jeezy will not bend. That becomes abundantly clear as the legendary Atlanta rapper fills the Zoom window during an interview this week. Right now, he has plenty to keep him busy. Jeezy’s 10th studio album, The Recession 2, is set to be released on November 20; he recently launched an interview show called The (Re)Session Podcast, re-upped an executive role with Def Jam, and hosts a talk show on Fox Soul, Worth a Conversation, which debuted in October.
“During the pandemic, you’re either going to come out of this better or worse, better or bitter,” Jeezy says. “So for me, I wanted to come out of it better.”
To Jeezy’s credit, he does seem to have avoided all the overwhelming negativity of 2020. But in the world outside of Jeezy’s window, the temporal landscape has begun to feel like a flat circle, especially since the release of his third album, 2008’s The Recession. The American people are weathering another economic downturn thanks to two pandemics—COVID-19 and another Republican regime. Instead of Jeezy celebrating Barack Obama, he’s now experiencing the ascension of the 44th commander-in-chief’s former vice president. Nevertheless, it’s one relationship from Jeezy’s past that has enraptured the current zeitgeist.
On Thursday, Jeezy is scheduled to face his longtime rival, Gucci Mane, in a Verzuz battle. For the uninitiated, Verzuz is the brainchild of Swizz Beatz and Timbaland. The contest, which became a breakout hit in the early days of quarantine, features two artists from the same era playing 20 of their hits back-to-back. In the case of Jeezy and Gucci Mane, the bout will be closer in temperament to the most shade-filled battle so far, Brandy and Monica, than the friendly sparring of Mannie Fresh and Scott Storch. As elated as Jeezy is to discuss the latest phase of his career, he’s coldly diplomatic about this week’s main event. His beef with his Arctic compatriot is 15 years old at this point and stems from an early Zaytoven collaboration, “Icy.” Diss songs were lobbied back and forth, shade was thrown on radio interviews, and numerous people were caught in the physical and emotional crossfire.
Jeezy is a cyclical artist by nature. There’s a reason we’ve been treated to four Thug Motivations, three Trap or Dies, and now two Recessions. On Friday morning, fans will be treated to the raspy-voiced icon’s musings about our current times, but before that, we’re poised to see firsthand how someone sheds all bitterness in the pursuit of something better.
The Recession 2 is coming out on November 20, 12 years after the first one. Are you committed to making a new Recession album after every conservative regime plunges our economy into the pits of hell?
What else is there to talk about? We all seen it. We watched it happen. What I learned through social media, things happen in real time and they’re fast, so we tend to forget. Four months ago, we was marching, looting, and having racial tension we never seen before. It’s just a series of events, and then things just started to feel like they getting back to normal on top of the fact that we had a pandemic. I’ve never been through one of those before. Then we had some different leadership, as far as the whole presidential situation.
So it was just a lot of different turmoil. It just really inspired me to touch on some of that, but at the same time, motivate my people and give them something to help them through these times and to celebrate, because the shift is happening. Things are happening, but not to forget about the moment, because it’s been surreal for even me. When I wrote the last Recession, we were celebrating. Barack Obama was coming into office. Things were different. It wasn’t this bad. So this is a different feel.
Is it weird for you that not much has changed from the last recession in terms of how extreme it was? I was listening to “The Recession (Intro)” when you were talking about how everybody’s broke. It’s kind of crazy that we’re back in this hole after Obama kind of helped us get out of it.
It just ain’t that. It’s a series of things. Some things are out of our control. Nobody knew that COVID would do what it did, nobody knew that these people would go kill unarmed Black men because they feel like they’re doing their country service, and nobody knew that George Floyd was going to lose his life in front of the whole world. We didn’t know those things. Everybody’s in disarray on top of the fact that the whole world is sitting around waiting on $1,200 [stimulus checks] for the month. I couldn’t live off that if I tried. So it was so many different things compiled on it, that it was different about the last recession.
The last recession was more of a money thing. This was full circle. This was you don’t want to send your kids out to the grocery store to get milk and cereal, because you don’t know if they’ll make it back or not. This was I, as a Black man, don’t want to get pulled over in my car because I might get stereotyped, and just because I carry myself the way I do, things could go left. It was so many different things this time around, but I feel it was in a worse place. But I almost feel like a lot of these things were the best things that could’ve ever happened to us, because it made everybody take this shit seriously. It made a shift happen. Believe it or not, Trump was probably one of the best things to happen, because you see what happens when you put the wrong person in his position. COVID was like, everybody sit down and think about this and create new ways and be innovative about how are you going to live your life from this point, because just so you know, something can come around and put all of us at danger and it don’t matter how tall, how short, what nationality, what race, where you’re from—this is worldwide. All of us are affected.
Could you walk me through the cover of Recession 2? Bold choice with the beret.
It came together because of the inspiration. I was listening to Bobby Womack and Marvin Gaye and a lot of those guys. Music then really captured the time and the pain and what was really going on. That’s how you aligned yourself to what was going on, and we had all types of different movements that was going on at that time. And the beret to me represents strength. It’s what you saw when you saw the strong men, shades, berets, all black pants with the strong boots. It was a mind-set. It was militant, but it was smart. It was united. And when I started making this project, that’s what I was making it for, for us to unite, celebrate, because we are strong.
And the reason why I chose that car is because my uncle used to pick me up back in the day in one of those cars and he’s like, “Get in the car, nephew, and let me tell you something.” We’d ride around the block, and by the time I’d get done listening to that Curtis Mayfield, I felt like I could take the whole world. Because he put me in that passenger seat and he took me around the block and showed me what life was. And that’s what I want to do, because again, music heals, and I want my music to be timeless, because there’s a message in there and I want each and every person to hop in that Delta ‘88 with me and spin a few blocks, and let’s talk about what’s going on out here. You know what I’m saying?
And you can wear your beret too, if you like. [Laughs.] You feel me? But that’s it for me.
How do I organize my life like Jeezy? Because you’re wearing a lot of hats. I’m trying to get where you are. There’s not enough hours in the day. Can you drop some game for me?
I mean, you just got to believe in yourself, got to believe in your team, and you really got to dedicate yourself to who you want to become. And I understand, it’s the same 24 hours in a day, but if you use them wisely and you’re efficient, you’ll see the results. And once you get that momentum, it ain’t no coming back from that. You just got to do it. You just got to be it and be willing to take the sacrifices that come along with it. And once you do that, you will see the results. It’s just like the gym. You get in there, you get in there three, four months, you get to working out, people telling you you’re looking good, you ain’t about to stop.
You’re going to keep going. I just say just do it, just be it, be it, and don’t let nobody discourage you or distract you, because everybody ain’t going to see your vision. My vision started in middle school and I’m still living it out today. How I saw what my life should be like. And everyday I never forget. When I was in middle school with a pocket full of lint, I still had them dreams and it’s the same way right now.
It takes a lot in 2020 to break the internet, but it happened when it was announced that you and Gucci are going to do a Verzuz. Can you walk me through, how does that happen?
I mean, that’s above my pay grade. The 19th, I’m there. You know, it’s time. I just think it was the when and the how and we’re here now. It’s among us. This will be the Super Bowl in Atlanta, if that’s what you want to call it.
On The Breakfast Club, they said that there were rumors that Pee from QC helped put it together as well. Is there any truth to that?
I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know. I don’t know how that works. So I don’t want to overspeak.
But in T.I.’s podcast, you were kind of talking about how this would be such a big thing for Atlanta, for the two of you to do it. This almost kind of seems as the country’s healing, you two legends are finally coming together. Did you ever envision that this could happen, that you both could celebrate each other and celebrate what you’ve done for music, for 15 years now?
I mean, anything’s possible. I mean, even with the Verzuz, I saw how it took off during the pandemic, because everybody started tuning in. That’s another thing I got to say, when things happen, other things come out of that, and I think the fact that everybody was sitting still and watching the Verzuz, then it came full circle to this. So it’s how life works sometimes. When it comes full circle, it just does. I never ask why, I just go with it. Because I know when things come full circle, it’s the thing to do. I don’t even second guess it.
Thursday night, where’s your mind at? We’ve seen in a lot of Verzuz, whether it was 2 Chainz and Rick Ross, strategy can win you the game. And you’ve got a lot of mixtape tracks, you’ve got radio singles, you’ve got pop stuff. Strategically, can you walk me through how you’re trying to organize your discography from that?
Then I would give you my game plan and that wouldn’t be smart.
Can you give us a little bit of a taste, though?
I mean that’s the taste. You got to tune in. You got to tune in.
People want to know. Brandy and Monica, everybody was asking, “Who’s going to play ‘The Boy is Mine’?”
So you and Gucci—who can play “Icy,” or you’re not even worried about it?
That’s a good question. That’s a good question. We’ll get the answer on Thursday evening, though.
You can’t give me anything for the people?
That’s for the people.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity.