Courtesy of 13th Witness
Ten summers ago a new single by an upstart rapper out of the thriving Atlanta mixtape scene announced itself to the world with the sonorous blaze of soul horns and drug talk delivered in a beyond-the-grave rasp that was radically unlike anything else on the radio. One of the hardest, catchiest songs of the summer, in one fell swoop it introduced the pop world to Young Jeezy, the fertile musical culture that he sprang from, and the ins and outs of packaging and distributing large amounts of cocaine.
A decade later, “Go Crazy” was (and still is) a hot song, but over the years it’s also acquired an unexpected historical weight. Not only did it put Jeezy on for an audience outside rap diehards, it also brought trap rap into the mainstream, and as one of the breakout singles from a rising wave of independent rappers coming out of Atlanta it contributed to the decade-long shift of rap-game from the major labels in New York to the South’s renegade mixtape scene. Basically, “Go Crazy” is as important to hip-hop in 2015 as it was in 2005 when it was blasting out of car stereos around the clock, across the country. We got Jeezy on the phone to talk about what the song meant to him then, and what it means to the world now.
Noisey: Tell me what your situation was like when "Go Crazy" came out. You'd released a couple of independent records and there were a bunch of labels fighting to sign you, right?
Jeezy: I was pretty much in the Trap Or Die phase. The "Go Crazy" record came about when I was listening to a T.I. mixtape and I heard him freestyling over the beat. Don Cannon had did the beat and he was a good friend of mine, so I hit Don Cannon like, yo, I need a beat like you gave Tip on this song, and he was like, "Tip don't even want the beat. You can have it.” And I was like, shit, cool. So he gave me the beat, I went into the studio, did the song, and just around that time Too Short walked in the studio and he heard it and he was like, "Yo, this shit is crazy." We started having a discussion and he was like, "You should put Jay-Z on it," and I was like, "Shiiit. You know what? I'ma reach out to him." At the time Jay-Z was president of Def Jam, and me and him was cool, and he loved the song. He got back with me about a couple days later and he was like, "By the way I'ma do it." And when I heard the verse when he gave it back, I knew what it was right then and there. I knew what it was.
I know what you mean. The first time I heard that track, with the Curtis Mayfield horns at the beginning, it made the hair on my neck stand up.
That's one of the best samples ever.
One of my favorite parts of that song is the fact that your first line in your first big crossover single is "Guess Who's Bizzack," and a lot of people who heard that hadn't heard you before. I think there's something amazingly cocky about treating the radio like you've been owning it, when really it was the first time you'd been played a lot of places.
Yeah. I had it in my mind that I wasn't taking no for an answer. You know what I'm saying? I still do. I was so big in the streets, I felt like I owned the radio as well because if you came to Atlanta that's what you heard. It wasn't different to me. For me and Hov to be on the track, it was no better thing to say than "Guess Who's Bizzack?" Like, yo, I'm back, and look who I brought with me. Look what I'm about to do. That type of shit.
Looking back at how radio was at the time, there were still a lot of gangsta rappers getting play but none of them were talking about the dope game with the level of detail that you were.
They let me in, man. The first time I heard on the radio that they let me say "If it's taking too long to lock up bring it back" [on "Dem Boyz"], I knew I got em. It's like talking on the phone and the feds is listening but they just don't know what you're talking about because they can't break the code. I got em. Because I knew the street lingo so well that, if that got by, I could get anything by. After I figured that out, I just proceeded with my plan, man, I just to smash on em, because I knew the people in the streets that was listening to the music would understand what I was saying. If I could get that on the radio waves where everyone else could hear it they'd think, "Did he just say that?" I listen to the radio now and they say so much crazy shit and it's like I think I opened the door for that. Because when they wouldn't let you say certain things because it related to other things, I just figured out a way to say it so slick that even if they thought they heard it, they didn't hear it. I was talking real shit on the radio and they playing it and not knowing it. All day though.
What it like to see songs like "Trap Queen" that are on the same level of detail being playing on pop radio?
It's weird, man. But I don't like to be in the trap genre. I'm great at what I do. I don't think you can put Sade in a box and call her R&B, soul, whatever. That's Sade. I'm Jeezy. Don't get it fucked up. [“Trap Queen”] is a great song. But now that it's the norm, you've got a chick working at Wells Fargo who thinks she's a trap queen now, when I know a broad on the West End that's a real trap queen for real. Now you've got regular people who can relate to the song because it is so catchy. If they really knew what a trap queen was they'd be scared as hell.
I remember when people started figuring out what the snowman on your T-shirts was all about and it was a big controversy, with high schools banning them and everything.
I think it was more so me. I came in the game with such a presence and such a don't give a fuck attitude, once they figured out who I was and the energy I could harness and how I could speak to these people in the thousands, and that they'd recite every word that I spoke, I think it was too much power for them, man. There was some Kurt Cobain shit going on. I think once they figured out my mind state and that I was really speaking for these people, they tried to shut me down. If you really keep it all the way a thousand—the snowman shirt was being commercialized. People were wearing them in middle schools, high schools, to work. At first it was this cute thing, then all the sudden it was like “Who’s Jeezy?” And they'd go google Jeezy and see all this shit, and they were like, "Aw no, we gotta ban this shit." By the way, I saw those shirts being sold in Harlem. In Harlem, man. I went to the store to buy some shit and they was trying to sell me my own shirt. That's when I knew that that shit was for real. I remember going to the Magic show [apparel trade show] one year with Jay-Z, that's right before I got my clothing line, and we walked around the Magic show and 70 percent of the booths were snowman shirts. We had people walking up to me saying, "Man, thank you for creating a way for us to feed our kids this year."
I think "Go Crazy" is one of the most motivating songs ever recorded. That's what I listen to when I need to focus or get on my fuck-the-world shit. I'm sure you hear that from a lot of people.
You know, I'm gonna keep it a hundred with you. When I'm out and about, that's what I get. I have people walk up to me like they grew up with me, every day of my life, saying "Thank you for everything you've ever done for me." I look at them like, what do you mean? "Man, you got me through so many tough times." I think in some way we all relate, because we weren't given anything and we wanted everything. When you've got that type of determination and drive, it rubs off. When you listen to the record, that ain't the soul of a man who's just on a song to sell it and make a personal gain. That's somebody who's on a song who wants to actually be heard, and he's speaking for other individuals just like him. People, when they come up to me, it's just weird. Not even in a bad way, don't get it fucked up. I feel like they're my family. I feel like we've been through some things together.
Miles Raymer is a writer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter.