Sometimes “movements are bigger than single records,” says Jay-Z in Young Jeezy’s new biographical film, A Hustlerz Ambition; a comment that can easily summarize the Snowman’s rise to fame. Last night, in two theaters at New York City’s Landmark Sunshine Cinema, the documentary tied to the release of Jeezy’s fourth album, Thug Motivation 103: A Hustlerz Ambition, was unveiled and screened for the very first time by Def Jam and the man of the hour himself. Chronicling the drug-slinging trap rapper’s evolution, the film documents both sides of Jeezy’s (real name: Jay Jenkins) personal and professional lives, focusing on painful, comedic and triumphant moments while on his path to becoming a bonafide player in the rap game.
Making the audience privy to many intimate details of his life, the film delves into Jeezy’s childhood, how his uncle “Bo” first gave him forty dollars to flip at age 11, the divorce of his military father and substance abusing-mother (who he later saw buy and be high on crack), living with his grandmother in Hawkinsville, Georgia and utilizing her stove to dominate the streets, fighting for paternity rights to his son, and battling severe health problems like Bell’s Palsy and polyps on his vocal cords. While the glimpse into his personal history is informative and helps to understand his overall story, the film, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and directed by Chris Robinson, is mostly geared toward shedding light on Jeezy’s relentless drive to achieve everything he wants in life, plus much more.
After linking up with his boot camp buddy Demetrius “Kink” Ellerbee, both men took their talents to Kink’s home city of Macon, Georgia where they infused the streets with a lifestyle that focused more on ambition than the gang violence that had previously held court. With enough funds raised from hustling, the duo soon purchased a studio, and once their Young Gunz/CTE movement took off with mixtape Tha Streetz Is Watchin and regional shows that Def Jam executive Sean Pecas described as “cult rallies,” Jeezy was courted by L.A. Reid and soon signed, releasing his platinum-selling debut album, TM101 in 2005. Balancing success with defeat, the Snowman saw many of his friends lose their lives or be sent to prison while his movement continued to gain popularity, and to this day, continues to straddle the line between being an entrepreneur loyal to the streets and a music industry icon.
In addition to Jay-Z, commentary from Def Jam employees and hip hop heavyweights like Diddy, DJ Drama, Rihanna, Bun-B, Drake and The Family Hustle’s T.I. is sprinkled in the documentary, most of which focuses on Jeezy’s impossible-to-ignore authenticity. “He’s believable, you believe him,” says Young Money’s Drake of the Atlanta-based rapper in the film, and similarly, Jay-Z nods at Jeezy for being an artist whose content isn’t “just visiting the topic,” but one who has actually lived and breathed the stories he’s telling, and in turn, has created a powerful street movement over the years. But is that enough?
In today’s hyper-digital era of music, the rap audience might be a bit more fickle with what they choose to listen to. While artists like label-mate Rick Ross attempt to snag street credibility by fraudulently rapping about Big Meech and are successful in doing so, Jeezy was actually affiliated with the Black Mafia Family drug kingpin, and yet struggles to gain traction for his upcoming project, TM103, due out alongside the movie, on December 20th. Those who know the difference between entertainment and authenticity, however, are routing for Jeezy’s comeback. “I kind of came up the same way,” said Harlem rapper Vado (pictured at right) when we caught up with him at last night’s premiere. “I’m sure a lot of artists can relate to that, man; it’s real. It’s definitely something to motivate you and keep it going.” Thug motivation 2012? We’ll have to see.
Young Jeezy: A Hustlerz Ambition will debut in theaters on December 20.