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Atlanta is undoubtedly Young Jeezy's town tonight.

It looks almost like a football tailgaters' party outside club Vision. About 3,000 people are lined up outside to support the MC nicknamed Da Snowman. Three thousand people, and just about none of them are getting in. But they're sticking around all the same.

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Vision already has 5,000 people inside and is about to burst at the seams. Jay-Z, Ludacris and the DTP crew, Slim Thug, T.I. and Big Boi are just a few of the big names inside; people flew in from L.A., Chicago, Memphis, D.C. and New York to catch the show.

So how does an MC who the mainstream only really got to know last week, when his debut solo album, Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101, opened at #2 on the Billboard albums chart, lock down a city as huge as ATL? Simple: he has one of the largest street followings in the business.

Here the now-legitimate hustler talks to MTV News' Shaheem Reid about making the transition from the trap to the music industry, how P. Diddy helped him get heard, and why you shouldn't dare call him a rapper.

MTV: You've become synonymous with the Atlanta music scene, but there are rumors as to whether or not you are really from the city. Where are you from?

Jeezy: I was born in South Carolina. I was probably there ... until I was about 1 or 2, something crazy like that. [Then I moved] to ... the ATL. My folks weren't together, so my mom and grandma were down South.

MTV: How skilled of a hustler were you early on in life?

Jeezy: I would hustle anything, dog. ... Whatever I could do to get money, man. I remember when I first started [working]. I was doing ... odds and ends. My uncle had a construction company. When I went in for a couple of days, I made like about $200. I remember telling them I want it all in ones and I just want one $20 bill. So when I go out on the block, I pull my bankroll and everybody would be like, "Damn!" I was just infatuated with money, man. My whole thing has been, "The sky's the limit. If you think it, I can do it." I can get it done.

MTV: There's a track on your album called "Don't Get Caught" where you talk about getting pulled over by the police with narcotics in your trunk and having to talk your way out of the situation. You went through that?

Jeezy: Maaan what? Did I? How many times! That's letting cats know. That's lesson one right there. If you ever get in a situation, be cool, calm and collected. Never let them see you sweat. Talk to people like you got some respect and you might be all right. Some of the street cats, first thing they be like is, "F--- you pull me over fo'?" Sometimes you gotta play that role. "Don't Get Caught" is basically telling you, do what you do, but at the end of the day, you could be in the streets and ... and be doing your thing. But when you get caught, your family's gonna spend your money and your homeboy's gonna hit your girl. Just know that. It's cool, whatever you doing, if it's wrong, but just know if you get caught, it's gonna be a total 360.

MTV: A lot of rappers talk about how authentic a dude you are. You have one of the strongest street creds in the game right now.

"I remember when I first started [working]. I was doing ... odds and ends ...

Jeezy: You can't just wake up in the morning and talk about the sh-- I talk about. Like that situation with the cops, you can't give a play-by-play description unless you really lived that. ... I don't glorify [my hustling days]. I just take it and know in my heart it's nothing no other rapper can say to me because everything they came in the game to get, I already had before I got in the game. All the Jacobs, the women, the cars, everything they wanted to rap for, I was already there.

MTV: I'm sure a bunch of cats are envious with your label situation. You're the first rapper to have simultaneous deals with two of hip-hop's most historic labels, Def Jam and Bad Boy. You got the Def Jam deal first; how did that go down?

Jeezy: I walked in with Jazze Pha, sat down with Kevin [Liles] and L.A. [Reid]. They got into the music. L.A. loved me from the day he first met me. He called me ... on a Sunday. He was like, "Jeezy, I want you over here."

MTV: So that was it? Def Jam was your first choice?

Jeezy: It was crazy 'cause everybody was flying me everywhere. [Warner Music Group Chairman/CEO] Lyor [Cohen] flew me in on an emergency flight [to Nashville] late one night [and] we sat down. I was like really digging Lyor, 'cause he was like a gangster with it. But L.A. just gave me that talk like, "I got your back." What really made it crazy was when I told him, "I'll do it, but you've got to let me do me." He looked at me and said, "You know what, man? I'm gonna let you do you. I'm gonna let you lead it. We're gonna sit back and play the cut, man." I get over there and Jay pops up [as president] ... and now I've got another somebody I could talk to. I could call him on the phone now.

MTV: Def Jam didn't really move on you for a while, then P. Diddy asked you to come to Bad Boy with Boyz N Da Hood. Why join a group?

Jeezy: Man, at the end of the day, cats was trying to get out of their situation. Life wasn't all good. Everybody and their mama knows Puff's gonna make you a superstar. The whole thing was if you're going to make me a superstar and I got a deal on my own that I could work, I'm back to hustling, baby. You'd be crazy not to do it. What I like about Puff is that he's hands-on. ... He's a cool dude. He's a hustla. He'll get out there and clown with you.

MTV: You once told me that early on, Puff had to step in because Atlanta radio was afraid to play your records.

Jeezy: I'm a real street cat and that's how I get down. People who work every day are kind of scared of things they don't understand. ... I came from the streets; I'm not gonna get in the music industry and turn my back on my homeboys, the same cats that listen to my music in their cars, the same people that go to the clubs and request my music. ... I can't change who I am. I been in the streets for a long time. They were holding that against me. I had the "Icy" record and the Boyz N Da Hood song ["Dem Boyz"] and they wouldn't play [them] on the radio. My records will tear it up in the club, but they wouldn't play [them].

MTV: Well, you don't have to worry about that anymore; every hip-hop station is playing your music now. What's it like going from being trap star to chart star?

Jeezy: [He laughs.] I'm walking out of the airport [recently, and] there was a white lady. She had to be about 42, corporate. Man, she ran me down. "Hey, Young Jeezy!" I'm like, "Man, what the hell?" She passes me her cell phone [and] says, "You have got to talk to my son, you are his favorite rapper. Can I get a picture?" That blew my mind. She says, " 'Air Forces,' baby, I can't believe that song." It's obvious that it's not just this one set of people that [feels my music]. People asking you to sign their $100 bill. They don't want to spend it, they want to keep it, because their man signed it. That's motivation.

MTV: That is motivation!

Jeezy: I could stop rapping right now and do seminars. I keep telling them, I'm not a rapper, I'm a motivational speaker. I don't do shows, I do seminars. I get all the gangstas together — Crips, Bloods, Vice Lords — and get them to politick. Y'all ain't gonna fight at Jeezy shows; we gonna have a good time. We gonna work this out. Whatever differences you may have, I'mma be the mediator. The hustlers, gangstas, everything. That's how I do. You seen my shows, I bring the 'hood out. Motivate the thugs, baby.

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Photo: MTV News

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