Trap Or Die: Tracing Young Jeezy’s Road From BMF To Billboard
By: Dell Frost
With hip-hop heavyweights like Outkast on hiatus and T.I. serving time, Young Jeezy has officially taken the top slot in Atlanta’s pecking order. Of course, Jeezy’s ascent to the upper ranks of hip-hop would not have been possible without the assistance of the now infamous Black Mafia Family. The curious relationship between Jeezy and BMF is newly explored in the book BMF: The Rise & Fall Of Big Meech And The Black Mafia Family by Mara Shalhoup, and what the author uncovered is simply unbelievable. After only a few minutes of conversation with her, one thing becomes clear: this was a wild ride rivaling anything you’ve seen in a Hollywood crime movie.
Jeezy has long won over the listening public with his dope-boy anthems. The impending sequel to his landmark street album, Trap or Die, represents a bit more than something to ride to this Spring. In a way it brings us full circle to the beginning of Jeezy’s career, when the blueprint for the original Trap Or Die was laid. In that era, Jeezy rode with a crew called The Black Mafia Family, or BMF, who were later outed for running a drug trafficking organization that pulled in an estimated $270 million dollars by the federal government.
BMF operated out of the dual headquarters of Atlanta and Los Angeles, run by Demetrius “Big Meech” Flenory and his brother Terry “Southwest T” Flenory respectably. While Terry ran a tight ship and led a relatively low-key lifestyle for a drug kingpin, Big Meech lived lavishly enough to put professional athletes and rappers to shame. In a move straight out of “How NOT To Run Your Multi-Million Dollar Criminal Empire”, Meech founded a rap label called BMF Entertainment and set out to make his sole artist Bleu DaVinci a star. The subject matter in Bleu DaVinci’s rhymes may have had a little more credibility than your average rapper due to the crew he ran with, but that didn’t take away from the fact that he was an utterly average artist who lacked the “it” factor that creates stars.
Enter Young Jeezy.
On the surface, Jeezy is nothing more than another rapper talking about selling dope, but it was the intangibles that he possessed that had rap fans buzzing in the months leading up to his debut album. Big Meech and BMF had a huge hand in helping create that buzz. Although Jeezy was not signed to BMF Entertainment and operated under his own label Corporate Thugs Entertainment (and eventually Def Jam Records), Meech’s influence and financial assistance ensured Jeezy set the city of Atlanta on fire. But was BMF’s involvement with Young Jeezy a sincere gesture to help launch a career, or a move to legitimize BMF Entertainment as something other than a front for drug money?
In the BMF book by Shalhoup, Meech describes pushing Jeezy’s career as the “most exhilarating” thing he’d ever done. When I asked author Shalhoup about Meech’s true intentions with Jeezy and BMF Entertainment, she seems convinced that laundering money was not the sole reason for its existence.
“I think it was a passion personally,” said Shalhoup. “The guy had enough money to do whatever he wanted. On one hand it was to legitimize, but I think he went as far with it as he did because he had a genuine joy for it.”
Meech’s love for music stems back to childhood, when he and his father played in the church band. Of course, the the question of that love being enough to leave behind drug trafficking if BMF Entertainment had taken off can only be answered by Meech himself. He never explicitly stated so to Shalhoup in an interview from jail but it seemed like a possibility, “He was still heavily into the drug game at the time, but from my conversations with him it seems as if he wanted out, and he believed he could make it.”
At the height of BMF’s ten-year reign, Meech funded six-figure music videos for Bleu DaVinciand even placed billboards in the city of Atlanta proclaiming “The World Is BMF’s”. The lifestyle didn’t exist solely in music videos: Meech personally saw to it that his entire entourage got their own individual bottles of expensive champagne when they hit the club at night. While BMF was run more like a corporation than a street gang, various high profile instances of violence in Atlanta set the police on the search. In 2003, Anthony “Wolf” Jones, former bodyguard to P.Diddy, was killed in the parking lot of Club Chaos after an altercation with Big Meech. In 2004, Rashannibal “Prince” Drummond was slain in the parking lot of Atlanta’s Velvet Room after a verbal argument with BMF members. And in 2005, Bobby Brown’s nephew was stabbed and seriously wounded after a run-in with BMF in P.Diddy’s Atlanta restaurant.
Lastly, a violent situation between rapper Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy took place and had many questioning if BMF was involved. The conflict between Gucci and Jeezy stemmed from a collaboration they did together called “Icy” for Gucci Mane’s album Trap House. Jeezy’s label reported requested to use the song for Jeezy’s project and was denied. Feelings were hurt, words were exchanged, and a rap beef was born.
The 2005 incident happened when five men stormed into an Atlanta apartment armed with ducttape, brass knuckles, and a gun with the intent to inflict harm upon rapper Gucci Mane (exactly how much harm is open to interpretation). Gucci was in the middle of a heated feud with BMF associate Young Jeezy and had been warned to “Stay Strapped” in a song where Jeezy mentions “There are boys in your hood that’ll do anything for Jeezy, so when I want your ass touched, it’s done believe me”. Gucci managed to grab a gun and killed one of the men in attempt to save his own life. The murder charges against Gucci that would eventually be filed were dropped less than a year later. Were the men who attacked Gucci Mane really associates of BMF? That depends entirely upon who you ask.
“Attorneys have told me that they believe BMF was involved and that federal agents who were investigating BMF were very interested in that crime,” said Shalhoup.
High-profile incidents such as these and the flashy lifestyle that BMF enjoyed in Atlanta eventually helped hasten the demise of the crew. Meech and his brother Terry were convicted in 2007 of continuing a criminal enterprise and were each sentenced to 30 years to life in prison. Over 100 indictments were handed down to associates of BMF (including BMF Entertainment’s lone rapper Bleu DaVinci), bringing an end to a painful (or memorable depending on who you ask) chapter in Atlanta’s history.
Without the extremely effective homegrown promotional vehicle that BMF provided for Jeezy, it’s possible that Trap Or Die would of fallen on deaf ears, or possibly wouldn’t have been made at all. Within the context of hip-hop, the summer of 2010 is going to be interesting as Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy both vie for a spot as one of the top rappers in Atlanta… especially considering their beef is still alive and well. Just two months ago, the respective entourages for Jeezy and Gucci were involved in an all out brawl in an Atlanta shoe store.
As we move in on the release date for Trap Or Die II, we can only hope that the city is big enough for the both of them, especially now that Jeezy doesn’t have BMF backing him up.
Props to Mr. X