Every Edition of ‘Trap or Die’ Represents A Special Moment In Jeezy’s Career

Getty Images | Prince Williams

The partnership between Young Jeezy and rap is about as equally mutual as it can get. Before most even heard the name, the “So Icy” joint with Gucci Mane, Jeezy was a staple in the south. He was pulling up in expensive whips and had the entire region wearing Snowman t-shirts. He meant something to the hoods, the d-boys, and the hustlers. That comes at an inconvenient price, though. Being one of the most authentic rappers out at the time meant that the lifestyle could have caught up to him. Prison or death was always around the corner, and he knew this, too.

“The reason why Trap Or Die was so potent — I always thought in the back of my mind that I was going to be either incarcerated or deceased, and I just wanted to be heard,” he told XXL on the 10th anniversary of the tape. “So Trap Or Die was so real because I just wanted to be heard and felt it would be my only and last time. So I gave it everything I had.”

Rap needed to work, otherwise Young Jeezy could just be another “RIP” t-shirt, a gone-too-soon situation. When you place yourself into the space that he did mentally, you come up with music that will last a lifetime. It’s why Trap Or Die was a turning point in his life, resulting in a type of buzz you can’t buy. At this point, he was already signed to Def Jam after his demo landed in the hands of Shakir Stewart, but a deal is not a guaranteed way to make it. The ground work had to be laid.

On the opposite end, Jeezy presented a side that wasn’t being satisfied in rap. He was a voice for the world to get money. The biggest hits of 2005 included Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop,” and Ying Yang Twins’ “The Whisper Song.” The streets didn’t necessarily have someone to represent them. While T.I. is a legend who has done so much in his career, I always felt like Jeezy was more grounded and detailed. He rejected the idea of the music industry — “Minus all the videos, stickers and flyers/ most of these rappers are compulsive liars” — and provided listeners with a first-hand experience of what it’s like to move cocaine.

As much as it was drug talk, there was motivation in his words. There’s a reason why his message traveled worldwide, he wasn’t just someone from the hood who knew how to rap, he was business minded. On the surface, Jeezy stands for one thing, but deeper than that he preaches about excelling at life. If you strip away all of Jeezy’s street talk in his music, the underline of it all was to be the best at what you do. You don’t get to be “trapper of the year four times in a row” by slouching off. Having “so much paper it’ll hurt your hands” isn’t the product of a lazy person.

Each Trap or Die project is a portrayal of a different moment in his career. The first installment was necessary in establishing himself to a wider audience. It’s the intro to Young Jeezy class that would turn a doubter into a believer before the end of track two. Without it, does he go on to experience the same level of success with TM101? Would Def Jam have understood what they had or would he have struggled to obtain a release date? These are questions only speculation can answer, but the impact of the first Trap or Die is undeniable.

Fast forward five years later, to 2010, and Jeezy is a bonafide star. He’s well into his career with three albums, a few more mixtapes, and his own label. Around this time, the idea for Trap or Die 2 comes up. DJ Drama is out, though, as the two had a falling out in 2009 over mixtape hosting prices. It was a sad event at the time — the two ended up reconciling — but it felt worse knowing Jeezy was moving ahead with a series that Drama helped coin. The end result is a project that’s radically different than the first.

The stakes for Trap or Die 2 weren’t there like they were in 2005. What did he have to lose besides messing up a series? It wasn’t a make or break moment, and the music shows that. At the time, I can say I slept on this tape. “Camaro,” “Lose My Mind,” and “Insane” were highlights, but revisiting it provided me with a better idea of what this project meant. It was a moment of bragging, a celebration with talk of expensive cars, rooms that have rooms, and lots of green paper. It was a well deserved victory lap that didn’t slouch on the music front.

With a second installment, the possibility that a third might arrive one day was always a small thought in the back of the minds of Jeezy’s fans. It was both exciting and scary when he announced it was coming this past August. The excitement came from remembering what the series meant, but nobody can do this three times in a row without fail. How many rap trilogies are considered classics? Jeezy saw it as a challenge, one that would result in another career milestone. He reconnected with Shawty Redd, D. Rich, and DJ Folk to construct the bulk of Trap or Die 3. All praise due to them as well as Jeezy for not destroying the legacy.

Getty Images | Prince Williams

So, what does Trap or Die 3 mean for Jeezy at this point in his career? The answer is rejuvenation. For the last few years, we’ve witnessed Jeezy stray from what made him popular. He took an extended trip to the west coast to work with DJ Mustard and YG, but none of the music seemed to work. Also, 2015’s Church In These Streets was a different sounding album that wasn’t bad. It just didn’t go over well with his audience. This meant it was time to return to the beginning, and that’s what you get out of ToD3.

Shawty Redd’s voice is the first thing you hear on the album’s intro “In The Air.” It instantly transports you back to “Trap or Die,” the song, and how amped up he was over a decade ago. “Y’all know this gon’ be another 20 year run,” Redd declares. What makes this another strong intro in Jeezy’s catalog is how he reminisces upon his time in the streets and making the transition into the rap game, first via P. Diddy with Boyz N The Hood and then Def Jam solo. It sets the tone for the rest of the album.

Long removed from the days of whipping up in the kitchen, Jeezy is like a director. He’s giving you bits and pieces based on a true story. Maybe not exactly movie-like narrative, but he’s able to draw you in on songs like “Recipe” and “All There.” The latter features vocals from the late Bankroll Fresh, and the style of going back and forth really give this track an authentic feel. Trap or Die 3 feels like you’ve jumped in a time machine with Jeezy.

Back to the Future aside, Jeezy made the most out of his Trap or Die series. Each installment can be associated with a different, pivotal moment in his career. It’s not every generation that a rapper is able to start a series and make it to three without stumbling or ruining the legacy. Jeezy is able to ensure that this doesn’t happen by ending his trilogy on a high note. Great risk, greater reward. It’s snow season once again.

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