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— by Shaheem Reid

Atlanta in the spring of 2005 feels very much like New York in the fall of 2001. A-Town's next superstar is about to pull a 50 Cent and graduate from the mixtape circuit to the mainstream in what will seem like an overnight success story. But it's actually been years in the making.

In much the same way that Jay-Z and Nas ruled their hometowns four years ago, T.I. and Ludacris have the A on lock in 2005. But just like Jay and Nas found out, Tip and Luda have to make room at the top for a third party.

Because just like 50 consumed the airwaves, the clubs and random audio systems in cars tippin' down the street, Young Jeezy has become a Southern phenomenon with guest appearances on monster mashes like Gucci Mane's "Icy" (see "Gucci Mane Says 'I'm Not A Murderer'; Young Jeezy Denies Involvement In Case"), posse cuts like "Dem Boyz" and his own beloved ditties like "Air Forces" and "Trap or Die."

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"This is how I survive, man. I'm a hustler, man," the newest member of ATL's musical hierarchy said while sitting in the back of his tour bus en route from Atlanta to Macon, Georgia. "Like with the wordplay, I've always been so clever. I know how to motivate people. I could sit right here and have a 15-minute conversation with somebody and change their whole life."

Within the past year, Jeezy's own life has changed drastically. Not only did he land a solo recording contract with Def Jam, Jeezy — known to his followers as Da Snowman — also inked a group deal as part of the foursome Boyz N Da Hood with P. Diddy at Bad Boy.

"I'll be honest with you, I haven't had a good night's sleep in 12 years, homie," Jeezy said, thinking back to when he signed his first deal with L.A. Reid and Kevin Liles at Def Jam in 2004. "For real, man. It's like, when I signed them papers, I slept for like two days. I was like, 'Damn! I got a chance, man.' I never wanted to be a statistic. I never wanted to be that cat who tried and never made it."

Jeezy's transition into the music game meant he could leave his much-rapped-about life in the street chaos behind. As he tells it, Jeezy has been a hustler in one way or another since he was young.

"I knew what not to do and what to do," said Jeezy, who was born in South Carolina but moved to Atlanta as a toddler. "I could hang with the older cats and still be cool. I could still go to school and do my thing. In middle school, I had an '87 Regal. That was unheard of.

"But at the same time, I'm still hanging with the little badass dudes in the 'hood," he added. "So we're stealing cars, getting into little gang brawls. We're shooting at this house; they shoot at us. I would hustle anything, dog. I'll take you back to when we were selling cell phones, when those little burnt-out Motorolas came out. Whatever I could do to get money."

As the money started to roll in, his spending, especially in the strip clubs and on jewelry (he's named Da Snowman because of his ice), became street lore. But it just wasn't enough.

"I was on [Interstate] 20," said Jeezy, who once bought 50 bottles of Cristal during a one-night balla fest at strip club Magic City. "I was like, 'Damn, man, you ride this road every day. Are you going to ride the same highway for the next 10 years? What are you going to do with yourself, man? You mean, in all this time, you ain't done nothing?' I was like, I gotta do something. I gotta make these people know that this is how I really get down, 'cause I'm hearing cats rap about things and I don't believe them. I see straight through it."

Last summer, Jeezy put out his first mixtape, Streets Is Watching, but in January he really made a name for himself with the Trap or Die mixtape he released in conjunction with DJ Drama's Gangsta Grillz series. It basically set the South on fire, much like 50 and the G-Unit's early mixtapes, like 50 Cent Is the Future, did New York.

His CD became such a sought-after commodity that Trap or Die was even being sold in stores down South as if it were a regular album. So with the anticipation growing nationally, Jeezy is hoping to capitalize tenfold, or at least twofold: He has two albums coming out this summer, Boyz N Da Hood's self-titled debut on June 21 and his own Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101 on July 26.

"I don't know how to be a rapper," he laughed as the bus pulled up to a crowded parking lot next door to Macon's rowdy Club Money's. "I just know how to be me. I know how to be a G. I know I have to go in there and drop something hot. I can't wait until the 'hood get it and see what they're going to say."


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  "And Then What"
(featuring Mannie Fresh)
Let's Get It!
(Def Jam)
   Photo: Warner Bros.