The cover shoot for Young Jeezy’s major label debut album, Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101, did not go as planned. The setup was simple enough: Jeezy sitting in front of boxes of money stacked up like Legos. Jeezy realized the money on set wasn’t real, and to him, that meant the entire shoot was illegitimate. With nearly $2 million in fake cash on hand for the shoot, Def Jam’s art team wondered how in the world they were supposed to get that much real cash to replace it. That’s when Jeezy made a phone call. Twenty minutes later, his people pulled up with four duffel bags and started pouring out $1.8 million in bills—$200,000 short of the $2 million required to fill up all the boxes.

“I was like, ‘Go out to my trunk and get the rest,’” says the 37-year-old Jeezy, sitting in his Malibu mansion that overlooks the beach. “I wanted it to be that real. I can’t talk to these people about Thug Motivation when we have fake money in the boxes. That would make me just like every other rapper.”

When coke rap classic TM 101 dropped on July 26, 2005, Young Jeezy lived up to the self-proclaimed title of being both your “favorite rapper’s favorite rapper” and your “favorite trapper’s favorite trapper.” As the last hurrahs of G-Unit/Dipset/Roc-A-Fella came and went in the mid-2000s, the epicenter of hip-hop shifted from New York to Atlanta. The album ushered in the golden age of Atlanta rap, and its effects are still being felt today. In an era when A-Town stalwarts like Ludacris, OutKast, and Lil Jon were running commercial rap radio, Jeezy (much like fellow trapstar T.I.) used his mixtape grind to turn himself into a local rap sensation before using TM 101 to launch himself into national stardom.

“I consider Thug Motivation to be the Get Rich or Die Tryin’ of the South,” says DJ Drama, whose iconic Gangsta Grillz mixtape series was only kicking off in the early 2000s when Coach K introduced him to Jeezy.

Jeezy was a reluctant star, one who initially aspired to be behind the scenes. He did, however, fall in love with rap at an early age and fondly recalls putting his ear to the walls in his apartment to overhear his neighbor playing JJ Fad’s “Supersonic.” He also discovered he had a knack for “putting them words together”; when he was too shy to talk to girls in school he would write them love notes to win their affection. Still in his early 20s, he tried making his CEO dreams a reality by recruiting local rappers to his label, Corporate Thugz Entertainment. When his artists got locked up, he started rapping under the moniker Lil J.