50 Cent and G-Unit: Heroes and Villains
When HipHopDX enters 50s large office, a lot is going on. The lights are dimmed for the presumably tired eyes of Fif, Tony Yayo and Lloyd Banks. G-Unit is shooting another video in 12 hours. They've just spoken to MTV, and the trio leaves - with Whoo Kid for an international tour within 72 hours, as you read this. Seated on a couch and a chair, the group that's making the kind of music that made them so edgy five years ago, looks hungry. They lean forward. They look and sound alive. If they're tired, nobody's saying it. If they're angry, it's quiet as kept. Instead, the three men labeled villains that challenged the status quo of Hip Hop so abruptly in 2003 and 2004 are back to do it again, only this time they might plausibly be deemed heroes.
HipHopDX: Everybody that you talk to today is hounding you about what happened earlier this month. Out of respect for the music, I only have one question on the matter how much is the media to blame?
50 Cent: With Buck?
50: Its not their fault.
DX: Why? People seemed to be trying to get this to happen
50: Look, Young Buck has been around long enough to know how to respond to the media. He knows what their intentions are, so he knows how to not make the mistake. Hes choosing to make the mistake. He can say he was high, but he wasnt high four times in a row. We know that. Ill just say this to you: I accepted more from Buck than Ive accepted from Game. I didnt have a relationship with Game. With him, after he said what he said, it was, Okay, get him the fuck out of here. Thats just that. I only worked with Game for six days. I worked on Game a lot longer than I worked with Game. Because I made the records that he actually sold five million albums off of before he came anywhere near it. He didnt know what the fuck his first singles were or what was gonna be his presentation to the public. [Dr.] Dre was getting ready to drop him. Thats why they provided the opportunity for me to share on the profits. [They said,] If 50 can fix it, lets let him do it. [The Game] has been in the studio for a year. Hes a good rapper, just not a great songwriter. He isnt coming with the type of shit thats making Dre feel like hands-down, this is it. I delivered How We Do, Hate It Or Love It, "Special," Church For Thugs, Get You Higher and Westside Story. From there, Dre was like, We ready. We good. This shit is it. And we gave birth to Game. He wanted to be the number one person. For as much help as I gave him being around, he [wanted] to be in the position Im in, so he felt he had to go against me and win in order to achieve that. Thats a big difference from what Buck did.
Buck felt like he was validating himself by going against what I was saying. He was wanting to be his own man. Im my own man. Just cause 50 got beef with you, dont mean I got beef with you. That comes from him being in a southern based market where they like, Yo Buck. We fuck with you Buck. But what it like being around them niggas? They New York boys; you from the south. He gets that [everyday]. Theyve got that type of mentality going on where the crew that youre a part of, youre really separate as soon as you leave. We do everything together everything. As soon as you go to the ville [Nashville], you feel like youre dolo. You start spending all your money to create that boss hog presentation for them. Then you start to spend so excessively that it hurts you. Thats when you start making comments like you didnt receive royalties cause youre not comfortable with where youre at.
DX: Doesnt the media ---
50: They do, but its their job. Its their job to make a moment for themselves. If they can get you to say some shit that you aint supposed to sayits not right, but we not talking about right or wrong, we talkin bout what their job is. If they can get you to say something out of pocket, that sounds crazy, now your article is better than the other guy cause you got him to get crazy.
Tony Yayo: Perfect example: the Alicia Keys thing. She said something about gangsta rap and Hip Hop and all this bullshit [click to read], then she realized what she said, and tried to take it back later on, but it was [everywhere].
50: I enjoy Alicia Keys. I fall into that [gangsta rap] category. I aint ask to experience the shit that I experience, but thats the harsh realities that I write and they classify me as [gangsta rap]. They classify fuckin Mos Def and Talib Kweli as if theyre conscious, but I know exactly what the fuck Im sayin, so I think Im conscious. Its just certain categories that they place you in. Now its hard for me to like the shit that she doin now cause Im actually tryin to like the piano, the Classical vibe. She got style to her, but then that statement takes me away from her, and makes me feel like she aint got so much style.
DX: In the last four years, G-Unit has grown to mean a label, a vision, a clothing line. How much of this album from the three of you has been about taking it back to the core of G-Unit, what it meant on mixtapes back in 2002 and 2003?
Lloyd Banks: I feel theres a real urgency. The mixtapes are actually what gave me my career, to grab 50s attention to begin with. I was doing local mixtapes, and always knew the importancethats what put me in position to be with 50. When I got into his movement, I went from the point of putting out a new record, and it would say new 50 Cent. I went from those stages to the stage where I won Mixtape Artist of the Year, the year after 50 won it. [G-Unit] took [that award] home in 2003 and 2004, which was a great achievement. Rest in peace to Justo the guy who was behind everything.
The mixtape market is important. I treat that plaque just as important as another award Ive received just because its a direct link to the street; the street [that] put us there. There was a point where we didnt have no major deal, and freestyles from the mixtape, people would call into the radio, Hot 97, demanding to hear that freestyle. Why? Because it was free.
DX: You mean because they knew it, from being almost free in the street?
LB: Because for anywhere from five dollars to two-for-five they even had a dollar spot on Jamaica Avenue. The access was just so easy; you could get your hands on one en route to school or en route to work. We fell back on the mixtape market a little bit. Everybody gets to the situation where you [meet with] the big execs and everything, and they pitch you bigger ideas. They dont understand the significance or the importance of what put you there, which is the mixtapes. They feel like the mixtapes are giving away free stuff [which could] make finances for them. If you hang around big money, you start to want more money, and you start to take heed to those conversations, because theyre here for a reason. But everybodys formula doesnt work for everybody. I think that in our absence, people look at the era and how it changed. It went from baggy pants and hoodies and Timbs to tight pants, funny looking shoes and glitter belts. I think the game right now is in desperate need of aggressive content not just what they consider gangsta rap. You dont wake up in a good mood everyday. You might get into an argument with your girl. You might not want to hear an I Love You song; you might want to hear Fuck That Bitch, and we deliver both things. Thats whats important right now. Thats why the industry has taken onto the Revenge of the Bodysnatchers [click to listen] and Elephant In The Sand [click to listen]. Its a breath of fresh air even for me and Yayo, because we started off with this [music]. Its funny. God works in mysterious ways, cause its right back [G-Unit being] me, 50 and Yayo. Just like a basketball player might start in the park and go to the NBAevery so often, youve got to go back to the park.
DX: Making the first album, Beg For Mercy, there was talk that you guys were never in the studio with each other. With these mixtapes, from the choruses to the sequencing, it sounds as if you made them together. How imperative was that to the craft and to bringing you three closer together?
LB: Ima tell you why it was chopped up like that on Beg For Mercy [click to read album lyrics] we had several tour buses. That was along the course of the Rock The Mic Tour. We would fight to get into the booth. Whether we stopped at a food stop a food stop might take an hour cause theres 40 some people with us. Id go in and record, Buck would go in and record, 50d go in and record and I was recording The Hunger For More at the same time. Buck was recording Straight Outta Cashville. Fif was coming with a majority of the ideas for Beg For Mercy, because he had so many ideas left over from Get Rich Or Die Tryin. You have your whole life to make your first album, but only 16 cuts make it, so the rest of those cuts turn over to the next project.
50: Everything was mobile. We had to multi-task and everything. It's like that again now too.
DX: As I waited here today, I heard Rider Part 2 [click here to listen] three times in the last hour on Hot 97, thats not even an official record
50: Rider Part 2, I wouldnt have made that record that way that it is if I knew I had to make it for the radio, cause I wouldnt have been having as much fun as I do when Im making the mixtape. Thats why you hear Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa whoa! Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! [imitating the chorus]. Thats me playing. I do it [because] it feels good. I never escaped the real important part of Hip Hop culture and thats being able to maintain being a fan.
You know what it is? Its something that happens organically. Hip Hop, as an artform, is slowing down. Its slowing down because they cant actually position the records. It takes six-to-eight weeks to position a record as a hit in the minds of Hip Hop music consumers at radio. Its now taking 12-16 weeks. Its tougher for you to get a song to them, cause its taking them twice as long to get a song in their face. Theyre not sure that thats the record they got to have. Its there as a gradual process. What happens isnow weve got other ways to expose ourselves to entertainment. If it comes on the radio, go to YouTube, if theres not a video, theres a slideshow. Youve got to figure out a way to get in their face and really perform for them.
Its almost like, Okay, Im not getting the response I want. Lets just start over. Lets re-evaluate the situation and see what we would do, right now, if we were launching for the very first time. We do the mixtape circuit, cool. Lets take it up a step and do videos for every single song on the entire first mixtape. I shot the Make Me Feel Good video in my house, cause I have a green screen room now. It had a lot of girls in it; females are no problem getting them to come. We shot and edited it, and it was done for $500 and I owned everything: lights, cases, cameras, everything. We got that out of the way, then I realized it had been viewed over a million times. This is more effective than all of the other shit weve been doing.
DX: Perfect segue. Looking at the massive success of ThisIs50.com, do you think in a year or two from now, every artist who can, will try to have their own megasite?
50: Theyre gonna attempt, some of them, and not actually have what it takes to keep the site functioning. They look, and they make the false start, and then nobodys really into you anymore on that level. The majority of the time, your first impression is your last impression. If its a strong enough impression the first time, you can become someone respected. If not, then who cares about you?
I didnt come to destroy someones business. My attitude with ThisIs50.com was to create a platform that allowed me to market and promote myself to the world in one time. Everything that I released commercially, like Rider Part 2, those would reach my international markets three months later. When I leave this week and I go to New Zealand, Australia and Africa, that stuff would be random material that they didnt get their hands on. Because of ThisIs50.com, the LEDs is gonna play ThisIs50.com, and theyre gonna have access to Elephant In The Sand and all those things, for free, now.
DX: It sped everything up.
50: Right. It takes the guy in Germany, Kosovo, Dubai, India, Croatia theyre already aware of it. When you put the tape up, you watch the site activity just jump through the roof.
DX: I look at N.W.A. and The Geto Boys. Both groups had internal controversy. Both groups thrived without radio play. Both groups gave identities to regions. Does G-Unit fall in line as the east coast evolution of that kind of group?
50: Hell yeah. Even if you look at those groups, from The Geto Boys and N.W.A., N.W.A. would be the best comparison not only because of their aggressive content, but because of the success of the artists as individuals, away from the actual group. Theyre actually the only group to have multiple artists from it become platinum artists, consistently. The Geto Boys are respectfully The Geto Boys; we love Scarface, but there were other people involved in that group that have yet to have projects [reach the kind of solo success seen by N.W.A.].
LB: Willie D and Bushwick [Bill].
50: On a personal level, with artists as individuals, G-Unit has accomplished something that only N.W.A. has. Thats because of greatness. You had Ice Cube. You had Dr. Dre. You had The D.O.C., you had some shit goin on! It was ahead of what was actually goin on that time. They actually created gangsta rap, pretty much. They came with that type of content. It was dangerous.
DX: Individually, you guys are platinum, global superstars. As a group, how much is G-Unit, although successful worldwide, intended for Queens?
50: It is. But you know what it is? Its the mentality. Weve got to reflect on something in order to create the movie or the actual record. What excites us musically, is what would have excited us then. Descriptions in music come from the experience where we come from. Even the word choices are gonna come from the environment. If youre somewhere where they say, What up, dun? Queensbridge say dun. The Bronx say moe. Philly say bol. In the A its shawty. Theres certain slang thats gonna come from that actual environment. We may use pieces of different slang just to be different, but youll find that those [word] choices [largely] reflect where we come from. Im the mechanic, I use the hammer to fix shit / I be on that sick shit / Come close, spit clips. [In Queens], theyll say, Yo son, I got that hammer on me now. Thats where Im from. The mechanic was the perfect metaphor. Or Ill make a movie outta him. That was slang that was goin on within our circle, in the street.
TY: Oh, this niggas a movie, son!
50: You see? They started shooting, they made a movie, they tried to killed him.
TY: Some Jet Li shit. Some shit youll only see in the movies. [Laughs]
50: See, were taking what we have and introducing it to a song structure. The [listener] might not have it, cause they dont come from where we come from. [A guy we grew up with] was Face. Face was cousins with Treach from Naughty By Nature.
TY: Gray door.
50: [50 says address in Queens] had a spot with a gray door. It was a little party house. We all had shit we would do. [50 Cent and Tony Yayo wave their hands back and forth] Ho! Hey! Ho! Hey! It turned into Hip Hop Hooray. When he played it for Treach, he heard it [and borrowed it]. At the time, there was no real music savvy to us; we wasnt writing anything. That was just some shit we was doin in the nightclubs. But when [Treach] got exposed to it and heard it, he was already in a position to where he could take something like that and turn it to an anthem. He added to it. He made that energy from right that. That shit came out of the gray door on 109.
DX: On one hand, G-Unit is perceived as bullies, say-anything, do anything contenders to the throne at any given time. On the other, G-Unit has the throne, you guys stuck together, give careers to others, and are always elevating yourselves as role models. Between the two worlds, do you guys see yourselves as the bad guys or the good guys?
TY: I see myself a bad guy. I think everybody just comes up differently. You see artists like Kanye West hes the college dropout; I dropped out in high school. I dont think Im a bad guy, but I think people look at me as the bad guy. The bail-jumper. The crack possession. The passport fraud. The gun possession. Everything. They look at where we from. If you get pulled over by police, and they jump out and search you, youre gonna feel violated right?
TY: Me, its nothing to me. Two minutes later, Im good. The Hip Hop Police know me; they [recently] pulled me out [of the car] by my waist like this. [Tony Yayo grips his belt and throws himself around]. In front of the street, in front of everybody. I dont argue or nothing cause we used to it.
50: I deal with it; its a harsh reality. I personally feel like I have a darker aura than I actually achieve, based on my actions. Thats just peoples general perception of me, based on what my experiences have been prior to me being provided the opportunity to do the right thing. I dont spend very much time doing something that I can actually get in trouble for. So I consider myself a good guy. I look at it like everything that goes on once you become an entertainer. Nobody actually cares what is the realno one cares exactly what your intentions are. They want what they want and thats it. If you can deliver what makes them happy, cool. If not, bye. Youre done. Thats just the actual way the games set up. For me, I see things for what they are and try to consider myself a realist. My philosophy on this is: its a great trade. I traded not having much not being sure how Im gonna pay the light bill in order to be judged by the masses.