Jeezy and Gucci Mane’s Verzuz match had it all. It gave us all a heavy dose of nostalgia as the two rappers played their biggest songs. But most importantly, it gave them an opportunity to come together on the same stage after years of beefing.
DJ Drama had a behind-the-scenes look at how the historic event came together. A longtime collaborator with both artists, he actually brokered a temporary truce between Gucci Mane and Jeezy over the radio back in 2009. Now, the legendary mixtape DJ and co-founder of Generation Now tells Complex what he thinks of the latest reunion. Swizz Beatz and Timbaland revealed they were getting calls to shut the match down before it went down, but Drama was always confident it would go well. “I think some people were concerned because of the memes that Gucci was posting and just how he was going into it,” he says. “But I also felt like they know that’s Guwop, that’s Gucci.”
The night had a few tense moments, specifically when Gucci Mane performed his 2012 diss song “Truth.” But by the end of the battle, the two came together and finished things on a positive moment by performing “So Icy” together. Drama points out how important the moment is for Atlanta, and for all of hip-hop. “It’s just a good vibe in the air to watch them come together as grown men and show the world that it’s bigger than them,” he says. “It’s bigger than their differences.”
After the battle took place, DJ Drama hopped on the phone with Complex to talk about how the showdown was months in the making, how it was almost a three-way battle with T.I., and what’s next for his Generation Now label.
When did you first hear that there was a possibility that Gucci and Jeezy would actually do a Verzuz battle together?
I heard maybe a couple months ago, through the grapevine, that the idea had presented itself. And then it didn’t happen. And then maybe a couple days before they announced it, I got another phone call about what my thoughts were if and when it were to happen. Originally, I think the idea came about as far as it being a three-way battle. It was going to be T.I., Gucci, and Jeezy. And I don’t know the inner minglings of how it came about, but if I had to be a betting man, I would just assume that when that idea was presented to T.I., he gracefully and respectfully was like, “That’s what the culture wants to see? Let those guys go at it.” So yes, I was aware of it ahead of time, but it wasn’t nothing until Guwop dropped the flyer and put it up. I was like, “Wow, it’s really happenin.”
Did either artists have any big reservations about the match? Who do you think had to be convinced the most?
I don’t know what their reservations were. I mean, I know that obviously they had a conversation and got on the same page with each other. I think both of them know each other enough, even from a distance, to know the other’s personality and what they’re getting into. I mean, off of what I know. I think Gucci, he was the one that took more convincing than Jeezy, for the idea. I heard that the idea originated on Jeezy’s side. So publicly, we know that Gucci respectfully declined and then somebody had to convince him. So I think there were people at Gucci’s side that persuaded him to really consider it and do it.
Did you ever think that something like this would actually happen?
I mean, I guess I could say yes, because I came close to it in 2009 when me and Jeezy first really got past our own situation. And in the midst of that, Gucci called from jail and we had conversations about it. So yeah, I think Verzuz is a dope platform that’s even bigger than what it started as, to be able to create a platform for them to come together like that. So I’m happy to see it. I mean, it definitely was a shock, but I can’t say that I never would have thought, in a million years, that it would happen. I always knew that there was a chance that it could.
What do you think this moment means for Atlanta?
It shows, to this day, the impact Atlanta has had on the culture and on hip-hop. It means a lot to the city because there are a lot of people in the last 15 or 20 years that both of those guys have touched in some form of fashion, as far as with their music, with opportunities, with business, with so many things. It really affects a lot of people. So it’s just a good vibe in the air to watch them come together as grown men and show the world that it’s bigger than them. It’s bigger than their differences. It’s just a special moment, man. I mean, just musically, how important they are to an era and just so many people in hip-hop. Jeezy and Gucci both make music that people hold dear to their heart, to a time and space in their life. They’re on the Mount Rushmore of Trap. Yeah, it means everything. The energy, I think this was the first Verzuz that had an after party, you know what I’m saying? That was packed, and it’s just a different type of energy.
What was the lead-up to the match like?
I got up there a little bit early and everybody had to do a COVID test. It wasn’t a lot of people in the building. Jeezy had his people, Gucci had his, Rozay was there, it was a family affair. It was very professional.
Swiss and Timbaland said they were getting calls from people before the battle, asking them to shut it down. Do you think it ever got to the point where it wasn’t going to happen?
I personally didn’t. Obviously, I think some people were concerned because of the memes that Gucci was posting and just how he was going into it. But I also felt like, they know that’s Guwop, that’s Gucci. You know what I’m saying? So, they are who they are respectively. I feel like Jeezy had his preparation together as well. So I felt like once it was announced and it was up, it was going to happen. I didn’t feel like anybody was going to back out.
What was the energy like backstage, before they came out?
Everybody was in the front, so it was cool. It was like, “This is it.” It felt like a heavyweight fight. Respective boxes were in their corners and ready to go.
When Gucci played “Truth,” the mood of the entire Verzuz shifted. Were you surprised at Jeezy’s reaction?
It went the most poised way it could go. I think the only other outcome could have been Jeezy following up with “Stay Strapped.” But I felt like he took the higher road and Gucci said right there, “If we’re going to do this, we’re going to keep it street.” So I think he was obviously prepared for him to play “Truth” and he handled it the best way he could in that moment. I feel like at the end, when Guwop said, “You extended an olive branch and I accepted,” that moment was what it was. They moved on from it. None of us knew, per se, how Jeezy was going to respond. But I knew it wasn’t going to be more than just music. Niggas is 40, dawg. Not to say that it can’t happen at that age, but I just feel like he wouldn’t come this far to take those steps backwards.
How did you feel when they played “So Icy” together?
Shit. It was a moment, man. You got to think, that shit came out in 2005 and that was probably the third time they’ve ever performed it. That song means a lot. Just watch it back and see how excited Jeezy got performing it. That was probably the first time he’s performed that shit since 2005. It was just a dope moment, man, to see that they really came full circle. It just shows a lot of hope and progression. We all know the real shit, what happened between them. So for them to stand up there and do that was like, it was definitely a proud moment.
What was the afterparty like?
It was cool. It’s Atlanta, so there weren’t that many masks. But the energy was dope.
When you think back on the whole day, what memory is going to stay with you?
Probably them performing “So Icy” together.
Your Generation Now imprint has had a huge year in 2020, with all of Lil Uzi Vert and Jack Harlow’s successes. How does it feel to watch it all come together?
It feels great. I mean, just sitting here discussing Jeezy and Gucci and thinking about where I’m at with my label and my artists and the successes, and just really still putting out quality work for the culture is like when people say, “I couldn’t have asked for more.” For me, it was always a goal to go from them days of making tracks and still be here now. Like, now that I know that I got here, how do I maintain? The answer is that you maintain out of love and passion and hard work and dedication. That’s what we like to show. And it was exciting. Harlow’s debut album is still on the way. Uzi just put another stellar project out with Future. And we got some more shit coming. Seddy Hendrinx is up next, so I’m looking forward to 2021.
What should people know about Generation Now’s plans for next year?
If you were to get your own Verzuz match, playing records that you’re a part of, who would you want to face off against?
That’s not really for me to decide. I mean, if you’re talking mixtape catalog and records and motivational speeches, I must say that I’m unmatched. I don’t know if that’s a fair match for anybody. Gangsta Grillz is a pretty classic mixtape series, probably the best of all time. I’m down for whatever. If anyone wants smoke, I can put the hand emoji up right here.