Five years removed from his highly-publicized solo debut Thoughts of A Predicate Felon, G-Unit's Tony Yayo has fully transitioned into independence. Earlier this year, Yayo released Gunpowder Guru, a digital album available on iTunes and Amazon. The six dollar release features popular street single "King Of The Pyrex."
Speaking with HipHopDX this week, Yayo spoke about the transition to independence and full creative control. "Everybody all knows, me and [Lloyd] Banks are not on Interscope anymore. We're not on a major anymore. Me and Banks are dropping two albums in the summer independently, through a deal that 50 [Cent] is conjuring up for us. It feels good to know that I have no red tape put on anything." After waiting half a decade to release a sophomore solo album, Tony appreciates the speed at which he can put out music. "I had [Gunpowder Guru] put up in five days. If I had to deal with Interscope, I'd have to deal with the label and they'd have to sign off. Now I can do what I want. It's exciting to work with new guys. Some of these kids shooting video are [teenagers]. It's new energy. A lot of these labels need new energy - people who are willing to bust they butt, go in and do what they've got to do."
Although Gunpowder Guru might not enter the mainstream, Tony Yayo appreciates giving the fans exactly what they want from the Queens veteran. "I put out a record called 'Obama.' People loved that record; I made that record in about five minutes. When I'm in the studio scratchin' my head for a hit, thinkin' of something that y'all will like sonically, it takes me forever." Additionally, the thirty-something rapper can use the new media approach to reach new, younger fans. "Soulja Boy, he called up and got on the 'King of The Pyrex (Remix).' You can catch that on ThisIs50.com. Wacka Flocka Flame is supposed to be doing something with me, Hell Rell. I might do a whole remix project to Gunpowder Guru. It feels good, no bullshit politics."
With an emphasis on digital releases and viral video, Tony Yayo says that the whole G-Unit Records family is prepared for technological evolution. "The times have changed. Everybody's downloading; everybody's on the Internet. When I dropped Gunpowder Guru, my whole thing was a viral campaign. I don't want to drop it on the street first, I want to put it out on the Internet first," admits the often street-stuck former Queens hustler. "The Internet is so amazing to me, like in putting videos out. 'Candy Man' and 'They Hate' from my Swine Flu mixtape, I put those out. 'They Hate' got 2.3 million hits. 'They Hate' got 1.8 million. So I was seeing the reaction I was getting from the Internet, and it was better than [submitting videos] to a broadcast network on TV."
With plans to head to Europe for touring with 50 Cent this weekend, Yayo also recognizes the web as a critical way of reaching G-Unit's worldwide fans. "When I first got out of jail and got into the game with 50, you'd see people spend $500,000 on a Hype Williams video. Now it's to the point where you can spend $500 and get a good video. It's just about a good camera, a good visual, a couple of girls and throw it on the Internet. Once it hits the Internet, it hits all kinds of markets - Germany, France, New York, L.A., at one time."
In conjunction with his desire to market himself and the brand to the youth, Tony Yayo has begun hosting The Hit Lounge with G-Unit A&R Tony G, Thursday nights on ThisIs50.com. "That's a cool thing. Tony G came up to me and he introduced The Hit Lounge [concept] to me. Tony G and another [G-Unit Records employee] Dre and I, what we do is we get a lot of beats from a lot of producers from all over the world. Italy, Peru, it could be Africa. We don't care where you're from, 'cause it's not about a name, it's about the beat and production."
G-Unit Records, since its earliest days with Sha Money XL, his long been about creating a lane for rising stars on hit singles. Yayo explains, "It's about giving other producers a chance. The perfect example was one of 50's biggest records, 'I Get Money.' That [beat] was sent to the office. It actually got stolen. Somebody was actin' like they made it - a young kid. I seen him at the video shoot. I said, 'Why don't you look happy? You just made one of the biggest records in world history.' He just looked unhappy. Come to find out, the record [was originally produced] by Apex. Apex, now his name is out there; he did a couple of things for Swizz [Beatz] and a couple of things for me. He was fairly new."
At the same time, G-Unit's production philosophy has been more embracing to veteran beat-makers than most of the mainstream imprints. Producers such as Havoc, Buckwild, DJ Khalil and B-Money have gotten key placements on major projects. Tony Yayo's own 2005 debut was true of that, and the rapper knows it. "When you hear [Thoughts Of A Predicate Felon], I have producers like Domingo on there, who, a lot of people don't even [realize], worked with KRS-One and Big Pun." Balancing between veterans and fledging producers, Yayo says that good music wins out. "Of course I appreciate the veterans. At the end of the day, it all comes down to who makes the best beat. It could be new blood or a veteran, but I'm not the type of person that just grasps onto a name. I love Dr. Dre, I love Swizz Beatz, I love Just Blaze's beats, but some people just go for the name, but what about the new Just Blaze? What about the new Dr. Dre?"
Yayo continues, pointing to both the veteran East New York producer, as well as Dr. Dre's mid-'90s assistance and Hit Squad disciple, Sam Sneed. "I respect the vets 'cause their names are their brands now. Dr. Dre is a brand. Just Blaze is a brand. But there's a lot of kids out there that got fire, and a lot of dudes that are under the radar that make make beats for dudes that people don't know, like the Domingo's and the Sam Sneed's and stuff like that, that are hot." He goes on to use an example from his own career. "Punch produced 'So Seductive.' That was the record that changed my life. Shout to Punch; I'm working with him on my new stuff."
Tony Yayo's next album will be released this summer. Label details are expected sometime soon.