Jeezy embarked on his music career in 2001, as Lil J, with the release of Thuggin' Under the Influence (T.U.I.). He later joined Boyz n da Hood in 2005, the same year his solo major label debut Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101, was released. Its lead single "Soul Survivor", which features R&B singer Akon, became a top-ten hit in the US. His subsequent albums, The Inspiration (2006) and The Recession (2008), both yielded chart-topping singles. Jeezy has also been featured on numerous hip-hop and R&B hit singles, such as "Say I" by Christina Milian, "I'm So Paid" by Akon, "Hard" by Rihanna and "Love in This Club" by Usher, the latter of which reached number one on the US Billboard Hot 100, in 2008.
Jay Wayne Jenkins was born in Columbia, South Carolina and relocated to Atlanta, Georgia when he was a toddler. Because his parents were separated, custody of him transferred between family members frequently. In an interview with XXL magazine, he described his childhood as "empty". In 1994, he spent nine months in YCA (Youth Challenge Academy), a boot camp in Fort Stewart, Georgia, for narcotics possession.
Jeezy released his first independent album, Thuggin' Under the Influence (T.U.I.), in 2001 under the name Lil J. It featured artists such as Freddy J., Kinky B, Fidank, and Lil Jon, who also produced some of the tracks. In 2003, Jeezy released (also independently) Come Shop wit Me, a two-CD set featuring completely new tracks with some songs from T.U.I. Jeezy signed with Bad Boy Records in 2004 and joined the group Boyz n da Hood, whose self-titled album was released in June 2005 and peaked at #5 on the Billboard 200 albums charts.
In May 2004, Jazze Pha's manager Henry 'Noonie' Lee showed Young Jeezy's demo to his friend Shakir Stewart, Vice President Artist and Repertoire (VP A&R) at Def Jam. Stewart "fell in love with it the first time heard it" and took it to L.A. Reid. Reid recognised the talent and gave Stewart the green light to sign him. As the "hottest thing on the street" at the time, various labels - including Warner and Interscope – were after his signature. However, Young Jeezy decided he wanted to be in business with Stewart and Reid. As a result, signed with Def Jam Records.
Young Jeezy's debut single off his debut album, "And Then What" featuring Mannie Fresh, reached #67 on the Billboard Hot 100. Young Jeezy's major label debut, Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101, was released on July 26, 2005. It debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200, selling 172,000 copies in its first week and was later certified Platinum by the RIAA. The second single off the album, "Soul Survivor" featuring Akon reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and would end up becoming Young Jeezy's highest-charting single of his career. The third single, "My Hood", reached #77 on the Billboard Hot 100. In an interview with HitQuarters, A&R Shakir Stewart said that Jeezy had recorded over 60 songs for the album.