Young Jeezy’s first major label album made drug dealing sound better than receiving an acceptance letter to Harvard. The way James Bond made being a secret agent seem like the essence of cool, Jeezy did with lush production and the charisma of a wall street wolf a decade before Leo. His imagery didn’t show a life full of penitentiary paranoia or fear that death was lurking around the boulevard, but the lavish livings of a rising kingpin that refused to be caught and adored by the streets that raised him. Thug Motivation 101 is Scarface with a happy ending. That summer of its release is a blur, but I remember that album, that feeling something momentous had been unleashed.
It was 2005, Atlanta was hot enough to be the Devil’s vacation home, but The Snowman was hotter. Boom, boom, clap was heard from every Cutlass, Chevy and Impala from Stone Mountain to Turner Field. You couldn’t move the radio dial without getting an ear full of “Yeahhhh.....” V103, Hot107.9, 95.5 The Beat, the hits were being played everywhere, there was even rumors gospel stations had "Soul Survivor" in rotation. White people were wearing throwback jerseys yelling “Trap Or Die,” kids sat outside eating popsicles and rapping every word of “My Hood,” suburban parents whose music preference consisted of country singers moaning over failed marriages and dead dogs were puzzled by the yams Jeezy was hoarding at his auntie’s house.
The summer ends, I return back to high school, 10th grade, and you could feel Jeezy’s presence. His lyrics were being recited like ancient proverbs. Phone signatures were changed to “Soul Survivor,” "Trap or Die” and “Last Of A Dying Breed.” The enormous tee, baggy Giraud’s/Rocawear/Sean John jeans and high top Air Force Ones were still the standard style, but I noticed a lot of shirts that were all black, oversize, tall enough to almost reach knees with a gruesome, angry snowman on the front. You couldn’t walk down the hallway without seeing one. Jeezy turned an innocent, childhood character into a symbol of the underworld and everyone wanted one. From boys that sold nickel bags to the chess club champion, it was a movement. I remember wanting a pair of overpriced Evisu jeans (would see fake pair on the daily), a XXL Snowman shirt (I’m a small), and a pair of bathing apes (they probably would’ve been fake) just to walk through the gym in slow motion while “Standing Ovation” played. Sadly, it never happened.
My school was a public institution in the suburbs with inner-city tendencies. We had gang violence, regular violence, drugs, guns, too many students, not enough teachers and a terrible football team that never got that life changing coach to push them to victory like in the movies. The school had small issues like rats and roaches and big issues like my geometry teacher having a degree in language arts, the hour before class she was learning the daily lesson plan she was suppose to teach. That’s the kind of problems we were facing, but we had a lenient dress code, and not having to dress in uniforms will make any school tolerable. Then one day they decided to place a ban on the Snowman shirts. It was sudden, unexpected, and the student body was outraged. Teachers used to laugh at the frowning frosty and then overnight it became the face of menacing delinquency. It was a strict and immediate ban, anyone that dared challenge the rule, would be forced to change or receive a call to their parents. Jeezy would later call his mixtape Can’t Ban The Snow Man, great marketing, but they could ban him and they did.
The shirts weren’t banned in just Atlanta but outlawed nationwide. I didn’t realize that Jeezy had ascended from being the hometown hustler into a mainstream trap star until years later. It was fine when parents were oblivious to what the Snowman symbolized but it didn’t take long before the truth circulated. Middle America was frightened by all the news reports, that a drug dealer turned rapper was influencing the clothes their kids wore. Ignorance isn’t bliss for adults, they handle misunderstandings by censoring. Fans just wanted to wear the shirt of the hottest artist with the hottest album, and they turned it into something offensive and degrading.
When I hear Kendrick’s friend quote Jeezy on GKMC, I wonder if somewhere tucked into K. Dot's closet is a Snowman tee. Each time I reach that skit on the album it takes me back to that summer of 2005 when Young Jeezy ruled the world. It was one of those rare moments, where it felt like every song on the album was a single, the kind of hits that could erupt a riot anywhere in the city. Before social media became a vast, connected community, it was easy to be oblivious to the reach of an artist. I never imagined a group of kids in Compton getting active to “Bang” or a pre-teen in Manhattan with his mom discussing the controversial shirt with a news reporter. TM101 is coming up on the 10-year anniversary, no longer young, no longer banned from the schools, but it has contributed an incredible career to the genre. The album aged well, a true classic, one that I can still play from start to finish. 10 years later, I still want a shirt.
[By Yoh, aka That's How Yoh Feel, aka @Yoh31]