You can’t ban the Snowman.
But curmudgeonly adults still tried to in 2005. In an effort to promote his major debut album, Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101, Jeezy’s label created the infamous black graphic T-shirt with a mean mugging white snowman emblazoned on the chest. It was a way for fans to support the up-and-coming Atlanta rapper — aside from blasting “Go Crazy” or “Soul Survivor” from their speakers — by rocking the same snowman logo that he wore around his neck, minus all the diamonds. With Jeezy frequently wearing the T-shirt, it quickly became a must-have item for fans and a staple in high school hallways across the country that year.
The Snowman T-shirt was a genius marketing strategy. In fact, the design became so popular that countless bootlegs would end up hitting the streets in different colorways, featuring the Snowman remixed with accessories like bandanas or wads of cash. In a 2016 interview with Genius, Jeezy recalls when he realized how much of a cultural phenomenon his Snowman shirts had become. He was attending the famed Magic tradeshow in Las Vegas in the summer of 2005 with Jay-Z and saw “30 different booths” peddling their versions of the street classic.
“People were coming up to me saying, ‘I just want to thank you for creating a way for everybody to eat,’” Jeezy tells Complex in 2015. “They was like, ‘We want to give you some free stuff because we sold this many Snowman shirts.’”
Eventually, the Snowman T-shirts, now being worn in public schools across the country, became a problem when administrators caught wind that the snowman wasn’t just the fun loving creation you see in yards during the wintertime, but a clever nod to cocaine. Principals started making anyone who wore the design flip their shirt inside out for the day. Others had it quickly banned altogether because it promoted drug culture. It became such a controversial topic that it even made its rounds on cable television news segments at the time. Yaniv Zaken, founder of Miskeen Originals, a New Jersey-based brand specializing in hand-painted T-shirts that was commissioned to create its own take on the Snowman character at the time, even disapproved of crafting the design once he was made aware of its drug dealing undertone.
“This is part of a phenomena in which parents have no idea what their children are exposed to,” says Sue Rusche, president and CEO of the anti-drug group National Families In Action, in a 2005 interview with USA Today. “There is a code that children are aware of but not parents."
But the school ban didn’t dampen the impact of the Snowman. If anything, it is just a footnote that adds to its legacy as one of hip-hop’s most iconic pieces of merch ever. The idea to release it was originally cooked up by then-Def Jam marketing director Ashaunna Ayars who tells Genius her goal at the time was to make a symbol for Jeezy that was bigger than Houston rapper Mike Jones’ “(281) 330-8004” phone number promo merch that also rolled out around the same time. She passed the simplistic snowman design to Eif Rivera, who has since carved out a lane as one of hip-hop’s go-to music video directors, to bring the idea to life.
Initial production runs were small, no more than 1,000 pieces total, but as the hype bubbled thanks in part to Jeezy rocking the design in videos like “And Then What” and his star status grew, demand increased. Rivera tells Genius he printed close to 30,000 shirts for Def Jam at the time with some even being enhanced with glitter treatment, which resembled the source material, Jeezy’s custom pendant, that much more.
“You gotta understand what it symbolizes," Jeezy tells MTV in a 2005 interview. "It symbolizes a young hustler. If a cat goes and gets fresh, hits the club or goes to an event and he has a Snowman shirt on, it's almost like a white tee. You can throw on a white tee and G your way through the party. You might have a Snowman shirt on and it's all good. Everybody can't afford the Gucci and everything. It's the next best thing, the Snowman.”
Fifteen years later, Jeezy is far from a rookie promoting his debut album. He’s a veteran in the rap game, but the Snowman has lived on as a symbol of Jeezy and his career. Many still refer to him simply as “The Snowman” to this day. He even sells the T-shirts on his official online store if anyone is feeling nostalgic. Don’t be surprised if the mascot makes an appearance during his upcoming Versuz battle with Gucci Mane either. It’s just that connected to Jeezy at this point.
As the Atlanta artist rapped in his feature verse on Gucci’s “So Icy,” “In my hood they call me Jeezy the Snowman/You get it? Jeezy the Snowman/I'm iced out, plus I got snow, man.”