The Best Rapper Alive, Every Year Since 1979 Young Jeezy

2005: Young Jeezy

Credentials: Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101, Trap or Die, Boyz n da Hood  

In 2004, Young Jeezy first made an impact outside of his native Atlanta, grabbing guest spots on songs by Fabolous and Trick Daddy, releasing his Tha Streets Iz Watchin mixtape, and dropping a video with Bun B entitled "Over Here," which prominently advertised—at least to those in the know—his Big Meech affiliation. But the following year, Jeezy took off, beginning with the growing buzz around his Trap or Die mixtape.

He first broke nationally on Gucci Mane's "Icy" single, which, that same year, would become a source of conflict for both rappers. "Icy" was a smash, and Jeezy's first true hit, even if Gucci denied him use of it for his Def Jam debut. At the time, Jeezy was especially invested in obtaining the single; his appeal had been grounded in distinctive adlibs and a searing vocal style, one that seemed more concerned with blunt, overwhelming force, rather than the dexterity or diversity of previous Atlanta stars like T.I. More to the point, he didn't have a certified hit. 

Jeezy shouldn't have worried. 2005 marked the moment he crossed over completely, becoming one of the genre's biggest stars.  He not only held his own, but served as the charismatic center of Atlanta supergroup Boyz N Da Hood's debut LP. The record featured the group's biggest single, "Dem Boys," with a high-profile endorsement from P. Diddy. Jeezy would be the group's only breakout star.

As his Trap or Die mixtape continued to gain steam nationally, his debut LP, Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101 was released. Significantly, the album introduced the world to the trap house sound of Shawty Redd, whose shards of synthesizers were a revolutionary brittle reinvention of hip-hop's soundscape. It marked the end of hip-hop's biggest crossover era, as populist gangster rap adapted a more underground, oppositional sonic template, rather than the pop-friendly sounds it had adopted in the TRL era.

The album launched four charting singles, including "Soul Survivor," which reached No. 4 on the Hot 100 and pushed Atlanta's new brittle trap house sound onto the national stage. Even his soul-sampling "Go Crazy" managed to break through on the East Coast; the rapper managed to summon Jay-Z and Fat Joe for verses on the remix. Young Jeezy's totalitarian vision engulfed the country from the grassroots to the top.

Honorable Mentions: 50 Cent, Game, Common

50 Cent, meanwhile, released The Massacre, a commercial success, but something of a critical disappointment. Songs like "Candy Shop" became massive crossover successes—at the expense of much of the support of his traditional hip-hop audience, who were relegated to enjoying album tracks like "Baltimore Love Thing" and "Ski Mask Way." Nonetheless, these were incredible songs. In '05 50 was also responsible for some of the best tracks in his career, albeit under someone else's name.

The Game's debut, The Documentary, put him even more firmly in the conversation. The LP ultimately went double platinum after selling 586,000 copies in its opening week. "How We Do," released in late November the previous year, continued to gain airplay, and the album's third single, "Hate it Or Love It," was an even bigger success. Game's success, though, was split with 50 Cent, who was a major part of both singles; ironically, Game ended up with the stronger release, but 50 had scene-stealing verses (and hooks) on the album's biggest singles.

Common, meanwhile, released one of the best records of his career in Be, a major creative and unexpected commercial success. The rapper was signed to Kanye's G.O.O.D. music label the previous year and appeared on The College Dropout. Produced primarily by Kanye West with an assist from the recently-deceased J. Dilla, Common's Be received 4.5 mics in The Source and an XXL rating from XXL. It also became the rapper's second gold album, selling around 800,000 units.  —David Drake (@somanyshrimp)

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