By Erika Ramirez, New York
Def Doc: Island Def Jam Music Group’s President Steve Bartels, Young Jeezy, Island Def Jam VP of Lifestyle Shawn “Pecas” Costner, at the New York screening of the documentary “A Hustlerz Ambition”
Rapper Young Jeezy’s infamous ad-libs and raw verses paint a story of a man who’s hustled against countless adversities to get to where he is now — but it doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Did you know, for example, the Atlanta rapper was struck with Bell’s Palsy while at a video shoot with Fabolous? Or the truth behind the alleged Gucci Mane v. Jeezy beef of 2005?
On Tuesday night (Nov. 29), Young Jeezy hosted the NYC screening of his documentary, “A Hustlerz Ambition,” at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema Theatre. After an introduction by Island Def Jam Music Group’s President Steve Bartels, Jeezy thanked all in attendance, from journalists such as Simone “Boss Lady” Amelia, It’s The Real’s Jeff and Eric Rosenthal, VIBE Online Music Editor, Mikey Fresh, to Def Jam Vice President Gabe Tesoriero and Def Jam publicists Alexandra Bianchi and Christopher Atlas.
Young Jeezy at the New York screening of his new documentary “A Hustlerz Ambition”
“A Hustlerz Ambition,” directed by Chris Robinson, chronicles Jay “Young Jeezy” Jenkins’ life from birth right up to the release of the third installment of his “Thug Motivation” trilogy, “Thug Motivation103: Hustlerz Ambition,” narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. The documentary, taped in a span of three years, covers Jeezy’s upbringing, including selling drugs in the traps of Atlanta from the age of 11, suffering from Bell’s Palsy, fighting an FBI investigation due to an erroneous B.M.F. gang affiliation claim, and more.
Young Jeezy shared details on the documentary with Billboard.com’s The Juice earlier this month. “I want you to see everything I went through to get to this point so you can understand why I make the music that I make and why I represent the people that I represent,” Jeezy told us.
Commentary from former and present Def Jam executives (L.A. Reid, Ashaunna Ayers, Shawn “Pecas” Costner), VIP friends and collaborators (Diddy, Jay-Z, T.I.), family members, close friends and business partners (Demetrius “Kink” Ellerbee) are interwoven throughout the documentary.
Mid-film, viewers get Jeezy’s thoughts on his Def Jam signing. After the late Shakir Stewart, former Executive Vice President, played Jeezy’s demo to former Island Def Jam chairman and chief executive, L.A. Reid, he was flown to NYC for a meeting. Young was taken back by the label’s initial skepticism.
“F— that money. They didn’t get it. They didn’t understand my vision,” he said. But after Stewart visited the set of the video shoot for Jeezy’s “Air Forces” and Def Jam saw the results, L.A. Reid brought Jeezy on. “He [L.A. Reid] looked at me. I’m never gonna forget cause I got all this fuckin jewelry and he said, ‘whatever you’re doing… You don’t need to do it anymore. I got you from here.'”
Fans also get Jeezy’s side to the beef between Gucci Mane and himself. Tension manifested when Jeezy turned down a concert performance along side Mane (in promotion of their collaborative single “Icy”) because he was on bed rest following throat surgery. “I don’t do rap beefs. That’s for rappers,” Jeezy says on “A Hustlerz Ambition.” The drama only led Jeezy back into the studio to work on his debut effort, “Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101.”
The album, however, leaked months before the official release date (July 26, 2005), leaving Jeezy devastated. “It’s over. They’re not going to buy this sh–,” he thought. “I just turned my back on everything I knew.”
Documentarian: Young Jeezy addressing the crowd at NYC’s Landmark Sunshine Theatre.
“Then the album came out. I sold 200,000 [copies]. Then I sold another 100,000 next week, another 100,000 the next week. Then I’m on the ‘Soul Survivor’ set in Brooklyn… Even Jay-Z came out,” Jeezy tells.
Young Jeezy’s candor sets “A Hustlerz Ambition” apart from other music documentaries. He shares blessings and demons that are rarely spoken of: from finding his mother under the influence, the impact a male kinship had on his rap career, to the struggle of keeping one foot in the streets and one on the charts.
“He’s one of the special ones,” Diddy shares. “He has an opportunity to walk through the streets. Be a ghetto superstar and still be the leader they need him to be.”
Attendees left with a deeper respect for the rapper. “Brilliant job with the ‘Hustlaz Ambition’ documentary, Def Jam and team! More respect than ever for Jeezy’s legacy,” Boss Lady (@BossLadyNYC) tweeted soon after the screening.
Jeezy closes the doc by saying, “I can be what the streets chose me to be and represent them the best way I can… I want to be what ‘Pac wasn’t, I want to be what Biggie couldn’t be. I didn’t do what everybody [else] did cause it worked for them. I did what Jeezy did, I did it the Jeezy way.”