Atlanta rapper Jeezy is comfortable with just being the cool guy sitting courtside anytime he can catch an Atlanta Hawks game. The croaky-voiced, ad-libbing rapper and ambassador to the streets recently came off an excruciating tour, reluctantly agreeing to still perform during and after the franchises 10th home game this season versus the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Despite having some reservations about making an appearance, the 38-year-old rapper interchangeably known throughout his recording career as The Snowman, El Jefe or Mr. 17.5, wanted to support his hometown team. Im proud of my city and the people in it, confirms a dark shades-wearing Jeezy seated in front of the Hawks step-and-repeat.
Everytime they get close, we all rally behind them. Even when they drop the ball, we get right behind them again. They play just as hard as anybody else. Taking pride in being a beacon of hope for the underdog, Jeezys sixth major label solo LP, Church in the Streets, is the architect of trap musics current collection of songs and cautionary tales that reintroduces his socially conscious alter ego, Pastor Young. The cocky hustler-turned-philanthropist born Jay Jenkins is far removed from his unflinching corner boy persona he portrayed on his platinum-selling, chart-topping major debut, Lets Get It: Thug Motivation 101, appearing on the albums cover art resembling a member of the clergy and accomplished army general.
Also the multicultural advisor for Avion Tequila and head of A&R for Atlantic Records, Jeezy, who dropped the Young prefix from his stage name, considers himself one of contemporary hip-hops big homies, listing soul, originality, and rawness as his contributions to hip-hop culture. No stranger to controversy or highly publicized issues with the law, Jeezy insists that his musical output going forward, in this case Church in These Streets, needs to promote social responsibility.
It wasnt an album for the hip-hop community. It was more an album for the culture, says Jeezy, who received a shoutout from President Obama at a 2012 White House Dinner. I figure I had to restore some of the integrity lacking in the game.
Photo Credit: Zach Wolfe
Performing before masses of euphoric Hawks fans at Philips Arena encouraged Jeezy to consider his own career progression. The former Grammy-nominated member of the supergroups Boyz N Da Hood and United Streets Dopeboys of America (U.S.D.A.) credits his success to being a kid off the block that played hard. Jeezy then drew parallels between his own plight in hip-hop and the Hawks, who took top seed in the Eastern Conference this past season.
I got to play on the best team and field of anybody, says the Def Jam signee and founder of his own imprint, Corporate Thugz Entertainment (CTE). I rock with everybody from Jay Z, Dr. Dre you name it. The [Hawks] go hard. They play on the court with the best, Kobe [Bryant] and LeBron [James]. They play with those guys as if they outside on the basketball court. They give it their all.
Speaking of Kobe, Jeezy expressed his hopes for the basketball players career after his upcoming retirement, emphasizing he wants the iconic Los Angeles Laker to become a sportscaster. Nobody really gets the chance to talk to him a lot, says Jeezy. Its the right decision if thats what he chose to do. He put a lot of work in. He got that arrogant thing like myself (chuckles).
Jeezy ideally would like to collaborate with Sade or possibly Adele. She selling them records, ya heard me? (laughter) says Jeezy mimicking New Orleans-like speech.
Jeezys performance at the Hawks game follows previous appearances at games by T.I., 2 Chainz, Ludacris, Rich Homie Quan, and Big Grams, the collaborative group comprised of Big Boi and Phantogram. At halftime, the proprietor of the 8732 apparel line performed a medley featuring Put On, Lose My Mind, Soul Survivor and I Luv It. Returning to the court wearing a long charcoal gray and lime green Hawks jersey, Jeezys post-game set list consisted of a trunk-rattling, crowd-rousing repertoire: the remix to Shawty Los Dey Know, Who Dat, Go Crazy, Trap Star, Bottom of the Map, Peace Up (A-Town Down), My Hood, I Do, Superfreak, And Then What, R.I.P. and GOD.
Jeezy believes that marrying Atlantas music scene with sports is a good fit, joking that if he was a general manager, he would host big afterparties following the games. The founder of his nonprofit, Street Dreamz Foundation, selected Put On as the Hawks theme song, further hinting at his interest in potentially becoming one of the teams owners.
Its a step in the right direction, says Jeezy, who is launching a line of champagne, Project Gold Bottles, next year. Getting out there performing is a different feeling. Its more than just hip-hop. When we make the music, its about the city and the people in it.
Photo Credit: Zach Wolfe
Now somewhat of an elder statesman for hip-hop, Jeezy is showing no signs of putting down the microphone just yet. Im gonna do it until I get tired, he says. It aint really even about the number of albums at this point. Its about what I bring to the culture and the game. He thinks he could evolve into an actor, going back to his original concept of his music being an obligation.
Its a responsibility thing at this point, states Jeezy. When it doesnt feel like a responsibility no more, the torch could be passed on like Jay [Z] did. Its bigger than being a rapper or something. Im just someone who positively stood for what he believed in and didnt break, bend or fold.
As far as the Hawks, Jeezy is proud to see the teams image evolve out of headlines concerning comments made by previous management regarding the teams ties to hip-hop culture and its black demographics. The brash performer admits to not being well-informed of the situation rooted in emails sent by former owner Bruce Levenson. On the other hand, Jeezy says the Hawks best days, like his own, lie ahead.
Life goes on, asserts Jeezy. We continue to play ball and make music. We back stronger than ever. Im in the game. I got a lot of love for the city.