Rapper Jeezy on his career, new memoir: 'I was writing my music as if I wasn't gonna be there anymore'

The platinum-selling hip-hop artist sat down with Yahoo News to discuss his new memoir.

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LOS ANGELES — Jay Jenkins, better known to the world as Jeezy, has never shied away from talking about his life in his music. But for the Grammy-nominated, BET Award-winning, platinum-selling hip-hop artist, this next project might be his most personal.

The famed artist is letting the public in on his childhood as a military brat, struggles growing up in Georgia and career in the music industry in his new book, “Adversity for Sale: Ya Gotta Believe.”

In the memoir, which is Jenkins’s first book, he opens up about the adversities he faced in his personal life, and the lessons he learned that enabled his success as a rapper and businessman.

Perhaps most importantly, Jenkins, 45, writes about the role of music in his life and how it helped him become the man he is today.

“I just always loved music,” the Atlanta-based artist told Yahoo News in a sit-down interview. “When I was coming up, I loved the Master P’s, the 8Ball and MJGs, Da Brat. My thing was to listen to music before I went to school every morning. A lot of people would listen to it because they liked it. I would listen to it because I was learning things from it. So those were my books, because I hated reading back then.”

A photo illustration shows hip-hop artist Jeezy, in sunglasses, facing the camera.
In his new memoir, Jay Jenkins, better known as Jeezy, opens up about adversity and the lessons that enabled his success. (Illustration: Alex Cochran for Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images)

“And when I stumbled upon Tupac,” Jenkins continued, “that was a game changer because now you got somebody that you listening to, that actually has values and morals and he stands for something. I ain’t never seen no shit like that.”

‘Nobody was coming to save us’

Jenkins was born in Columbia, S.C., and spent time growing up in Hawkinsville, a central Georgia town southeast of Atlanta. He later relocated to Okinawa, Japan, because of his father, who was in the military.

In the book, Jenkins talks about what traveling away from the hood meant to him.

“[The military] showed me that there was a world out there that I ain’t see in my neighborhood. So when I came back [to Georgia], when my parents got divorced, I was trying to convince my friends that there [were] beaches; we had never seen beaches, we had never seen palm trees. We had never seen another race of people [other than Black and white].”

Jenkins holds up a copy of his memoir at the BET Awards.
Jenkins arrives at the BET Awards on June 25 at then-Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Even though a life of struggle was all he knew, he had a bigger vision for himself. “I always wanted to do business. All my people had factory jobs, nine-to-fives that was paying minimum wage or people working for people, like my mother was cleaning somebody’s house. I wanted anything that was going to put me on another level, so that I can create jobs for my people, because that’s how I felt, like nobody was coming to save us.”

Music or nothing

As Jenkins grew older, he got into the trap game (selling drugs), where he was making hundreds of thousands of dollars. He tells astonishing stories of dropping thousands each week in Magic City, a popular strip club in Atlanta, alongside cultural icons like Big Meech.

But Jenkins’s relentless work ethic and grind set him apart. He stayed in the studio and eventually started investing more money into his music.

“I just knew that there wasn’t no other way if I didn’t figure it out,” he said. “I was going to end up in prison or probably dead like the rest of my friends.

“A lot of my music ... was me just wanting to be heard. I was writing my music as if I wasn’t gonna be there anymore. So I was like, ‘This better be the best I ever said.’ And so that’s what ‘Trap or Die’ and ‘Thug Motivation’ [released in 2003 and 2005, respectively] was, because I was preparing myself for the worst and when it popped, I understood, and now I was like, ‘OK, I gotta sustain this.’ So I just carried that same energy into all my next projects.”

Young Jeezy poses next to a car for a photo session in 2005.
Young Jeezy at a photo session in 2005 in West Los Angeles. (Gregory Bojorquez/Getty Images)

Jenkins’s career would soon flourish after a meeting with legendary music executive Antonio “L.A.” Reid at Def Jam Recordings, of which Reid was chairman. Once Jenkins performed for the music mogul in his office, Reid told him: “Young Jeezy, whatever you were doing before you came in here today, you don’t have to do it anymore. We’ve got you from here,” according to the memoir.

Jenkins attributes a lot of his success to DJs playing his music when he was an up-and-comer, and gave a big shout-out to the late DJ Nando, who would spin his records at Magic City.

Known as Young Jeezy at the time, Jenkins signed to Def Jam in 2004, and his major-label debut album, “Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101,” was released the following year. It debuted on the Billboard 200 at No. 2, selling 172,000 copies in its first week and receiving a platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America.

‘You got to believe’

Jenkins sits at a dinner table, with posters on stands advertising his memoir nearby.
Jenkins at a dinner celebrating his upcoming book on July 14 in West Hollywood, Calif. (Jarrod Williams/Getty Images)

The title of Jenkins’s book has special meaning for the rap artist and now author.

“You got to believe,” he said. “You got to believe, at all times, [that] you can bounce back. You got to believe at all times that you can get it done.”

The book is available for preorder and officially drops on Aug. 8. Jenkins said those who plan to listen in via audiobook will hear his voice narrating the memoir.