Rap tycoon. Business mogul. Entrepreneur.
The media may use a variety of terms to describe Atlanta-based rapper Jeezy, but his own definition is far broader. Instead of choosing a label, he simply refers to himself as “one of the greatest hustlers there’s ever been.”
Although best known for his rapping, the 39-year-old actually began his career as an entrepreneur, founding record label Corporate Thugz Entertainment in 2001.
“That was my plan — to be this big CEO and run this big record label and make all this big money,” he says. But when he discovered his artists weren’t putting in the same amount of effort as he was (not to mention one of his first signees was apparently sent to jail on a murder charge), “I just decided to do it myself,” he says. “Ain’t nobody gonna go as hard as you gonna go…I have a way with words and I know how to hustle.”
Clearly. Since making the switch from manager to artist, Jeezy has released a series of hits including “Soul Survivor” and “Lose My Mind.” And while he’s still busy making music (his newest album, “Trap or Die 3,” was released in October), he’s also started to refocus on the business-side of things. Already, this includes his own online merchandise shop, a soon-to-launch marketing shop called 99 Agency that will work with entertainers, athletes, and brands, plus real estate investments in Atlanta. Jeezy also has a gig as an adviser to Avi?n Tequila, where he helps the tequila brand reach multicultural consumers.
On Jan. 5, Jeezy was honored for, among other accomplishments, his “entrepreneurship” at a New York City event hosted by event curator and entrepreneur Marcus Damas and media strategist Karen Civil.
In a conversation with Fortune, Jeezy reflects on his time in the music industry, discusses some of the mistakes he’s made over the years, and shares the best business advice he’s received.
This Q&A has been edited for grammar and clarity.
What were some of the lessons you learned from your upbringing that help you in business today? [Jeezy, who was raised by an alcoholic, single mother in Atlanta, started dealing drugs at age 11, as detailed in the 2011 documentary Hustlaz Ambition.]
Jeezy: Just the morals of it. The integrity of it. The hunger. At the end of the day, you’re making something out of nothing — the hunger is different. I had to be very disciplined. And I think everything I learned from the streets and from my upbringing is the reason I could be successful.
What were some big mistakes you made when you first started?
Jeezy: Not taking the time to learn the ins and outs of the industry because I was busy doing other things, so I just took people’s word. And over time, you understand that you can’t put the type of responsibility on other people that you can put on yourself. You can always believe in yourself.
Tell me about your current business ventures.
Jeezy: I’m very big in real estate right now. We recently opened up a 6-story compound studio in Atlanta. Anywhere from partnering with high-end restaurants in Atlanta to [working with] Avi?n Tequila. Anything that you can think of that has something to do with my lifestyle.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Jeezy: Never be scared to invest in yourself. You can’t be scared to lose. You have to see longevity in things. You’ve always got to be planning your next move. It’s not about the last 10 years, it’s about the next 10 years.
Would you rather be known as an artist or an entrepreneur?
Jeezy: I would rather be known for who I am — one of the greatest hustlers there’s ever been.