50 Cent


Interviews


Interview with 50 Cent

By David Friedman

Like rap fans everywhere, I’ve been hearing all the hype about you since you signed with Shady/Aftermath. But based on the songs I’ve heard from you so far, it’s clear that you’re as good as people say you are. How do you feel about being cast as rap’s next big star?
Thanks. I appreciate you saying that. But, I mean, I’m excited about my whole scenario right now. And I also think it’s sustained off the consistency. I’ve been putting music out. That would make sense, you know? Because first it’s like they ain’t lookin’ at pluggin’ you. It’s just like, ‘Get that record away.’ But I make music for the mixtapes because it’s important. I feel like that’s the largest form of promotion.
Your brand new album, "Get Rich or Die Trying," is your first official release since signing with Shady/Aftermath. How have you liked working with Eminem and Dr. Dre so far?
It’s dope. It’s the best experience I’ve had making music, period. The process is different with the two of them. With Dre, he’ll play the music and I’ll pick whatever I want. And he’s got a whole heap of music — a bunch of shit. You pick what you want to work with and then he’ll leave you, let you write it and then come back and listen to what you do. And he’ll say, ‘Yo, you know what? I think it would be iller if you said this one part like this or made this like this.’ He’ll take your words and come up with a way to record it. And it sounds different. After you record it, it’ll be the same words that you wrote. But it’ll feel different. Dre, he’s one of the illest producers I’ve ever worked with.
How have you liked working with Eminem?
Em is cool. He usually likes to watch me do what I’m doing. He lets me just do what I want. You know what he’ll do? He’ll send a skeleton — like the track won’t be finished when I get it. I’ll rap to a beat that’s not even 50 percent done and I’ll put the concept down. And then he’ll build the record around what I did.
Do you like the way the tracks come out through that process?
At the end of the day, it’s not until he actually mixes the record that you’ll hear what it is for real. And I’ve been happy with everything that we’ve done so far. He mixed a lot of records on this album. He produced and mixed his two records and then he mixed, I think, about five or six other records on the album. He can expand the record. He can make it something that, if someone else has already produced the base of it, he can put what it takes to make it go over the top.
You’ve been shot nine times, including a .9mm bullet to the face. Now, after years of hustling and trying to get the right record deal, it seems that you’ve succeeded. Would you say that your new album’s title, "Get Rich or Die Trying," is autobiographical?
It’s universal. It’s the hustle. When you say it with the aura that’s around me, it feels negative—get rich or die trying. But if a working class person tells you they’re gonna get rich or they’re gonna die trying, it just means they’re determined.
What has kept you so determined to succeed as a rapper despite the obstacles you’ve faced, which have included growing up in a rough neighborhood and being dropped by Columbia while you were recovering from gunshot wounds?
I ain’t got no Plan B. I ain’t never had no job before. My plan wasn’t working. I’ve never even had working papers before. So it was either this or hustling. So I had to do my thing.


Money to burn

-- by Shaheem Reid, with additional reporting by Sway Calloway, SuChin Pak, Heather Parry and Curtis Waller

A Playstation 2 system, DVD player, speakers loud enough to make your ears bleed, tinted windows, stash box and 23-inch rims are all must-haves for any A-list MC who's not traveling the road by tour bus or limo. But when you're Curtis Jackson, a.k.a. 50 Cent, your SUV has a little something extra.

"That's level four right there," 50 said while sitting in the backseat of his Jeep Cherokee, en route to Miami's Cristal Night Club. "It's bulletproof and bombproof."

Yes, bombproof. As in grenades won't stop it. K.I.T.T. from "Knight Rider," bow down.

"Bombproof," 50 said again with a chuckle. "The president be riding around in sh-- like this."

50 may not yet have as much juice as old Dubya does around the country, but for hip-hop fans, the Queens heavyweight is the chief that all hail. There is no one else.

Really. No one. 50's debut, Get Rich or Die Tryin', was the only album to be released the day it came out, February 6. Despite having to be moved up from its original February 11 street date because of bootlegging the week prior, and despite that fact it was only on sale for four days rather than the usual six before the SoundScan tally came in, the album marauded its way to the pinnacle of the Billboard albums chart, selling a staggering 872,000 copies. No debut artist has ever sold more albums their first week out.

"50's got the biggest buzz in a long time, as far as on a street level," DJ Clue said of the mania surrounding the MC. "He's got people going crazy. It's the same kind of feeling as when [the Notorious] B.I.G. first dropped his stuff."

"I love the 50 Cent album," Diddy said at his recent New York fashion show as cuts from Get Rich ... blared through the venue. "I've never really felt anticipation on an artist like that and I've dealt with Biggie and watched Dr. Dre and Snoop. This is a new type of beast."

50's mass appeal is not that much of a mystery. At a time when many MCs are obviously rhyming fairytales, hip-hop fans believe 50 when he spits those vivid life narratives and love him for having the audacity to talk about them.

"To me, rappers are liars until I see that their actions coincide with what they said through the music," 50 explained. "Me, I put my situations down and I make fun of them. Like I say, 'I gotta dimple on my face .../ I can go after Mase fanbase.' I got shot in the face. That's not a funny thing. It's not a joke, you could die. I make fun of those situations 'cause I'm not in control of these situations and I feel like to be upset or down about something I can't control is just being weak and wasting energy."

Add the realism (often delivered in a southern twang) to those beguiling melodies and catch phrases that stay in your head, throw in the humorous punch lines — such as when he compares his longtime nemesis, Ja Rule, to the Cookie Monster on the dis record "Back Down" — and you have that rare artist who gets love from both the 'hood and the 'burbs. Nowadays you can't buy a mixtape that doesn't include a cut from 50 Cent or his group the G-Unit. And 50 hit #1 on MTV's "TRL" faster than any debut artist, ever. Yet the chiseled wordsmith sees room for improvement.

"I'm almost the hottest rapper," he insisted as his Jeep pulled up to the club. "I signed a deal with the hottest rapper."

That would be Eminem, of course. While 50 rides around with more armor on his vehicle than the pope, wears a bulletproof vest for added protection, has already been shot nine times and talks about constantly being watched by the police, the only people the world's most-talked-about MC fears are those who believe in him the most — his bosses, Marshall and Andre.

"I fear not fitting in with Eminem and Dr. Dre," 50 explained earlier in the day while sitting in a Miami studio. "That's what counts to me. That other stuff [the threat of violence] has already been a part of my life, none of that is new. They signed me, so I'll never be equivalent to Eminem or Dr. Dre. If Em says I'm the future of music, then what he's saying is he's the future of music because he signed me."

"I didn't know it was going to be this big of a problem," Em, hiding a smile, joked about 50's notoriety while on the set of the "In Da Club" video.

Maybe if Em and Dre hadn't caused their own media maelstroms throughout the years, the controversial duo would've been alarmed by now. Since Shady/Aftermath inked their newest signee in September, 50's been in the headlines repeatedly, though not for his music. Reports erroneously linked him to the murder of his former mentor Jam Master Jay. 50 and the G-Unit were arrested on New Year's Eve in New York for gun possession (although 50 and the G-Unit's Lloyd Banks made bail, the third member, Tony Yayo, is still in jail for prior charges). A few weeks later, the offices of Violator, the company that manages the beefed-up Queens MC, were riddled by bullets, by gunmen who are still on the loose. Most recently, a 50 club date in San Francisco was canceled because thousands of ticketless fans were congregating outside and stopping traffic.

The rapper shrugs it all off. "I don't get worked up or excited about situations I can't control because it's not in my power, so I might appear crazy to some people," he said.

Those working with rap's Next Big Thing aren't labeling him certifiable yet, but they do want the 26-year-old to keep his priorities straight.

"[Interscope CEO] Jimmy Iovine will tell me, 'I hope you're smart like Dre,' " said 50, who admits he now has to have meetings with executives at Interscope because of his run-ins with the law. "Dre will pull me to the side and tell me to stay focused. I told him in the beginning that my intentions weren't to be trouble. Nobody wants to buy a problem. And with my background, there's a possibility that they'd be purchasing the biggest problem that they've ever found. But because they believed me when I told them I wanted to make music, we were able to progress."

As committed as 50 is to Shady/Aftermath, he has a greater allegiance to the streets and the mixtape circuit. Working from the ground up is what made him. Last year, he created huge buzz for himself by incessantly releasing new songs, freestyles and his own versions of other artists' cuts via his own G-Unit CDs and DJs' mixtapes.

"Right now, maybe not all over the world but in New York, [50 Cent] has the streets on fire," Jay-Z said last year when asked whose music he was feeling.

But 50's music didn't just stay regional. It spread like a virus, and pretty soon cuts that were heavily rotated on the underground, like "Wanksta" and his duet with the Notorious B.I.G., "The Realest," made their way onto radio across the country. One of his tapes eventually landed in the hands of Eminem, leading to 50's storied big-money deal with Shady/Aftermath. The Queens MC took home $500,000 and as a gift from Em and Dre, was given a watch worth the same amount of money.

If you ask the iconic beat technician, he'll tell you he has no regrets about his investment.

"50 came out here to L.A. for a couple of days and he seemed like he was cool as sh--," remembered Dre, who cranked out seven songs in five days with the MC. "50 is one of the most incredible artists I worked with as far as writing, basic performance and vibing. He came in, and every track I put up, he had something for it. He wrote to it. He got in the booth and did his thing. 50's album in my opinion is gonna compete with all the classic hip-hop LPs that came out in the last 10 years. It's right up there. Sh-- came out hot."

Obviously one of the hottest outcomes of Dr. Dre's teamwork with Cent is Get Rich or Die Tryin''s first single, "In Da Club," which is also the first song 50 recorded with the Doc. Not only has it become a club staple, but if you roll down your window at a red light these days you can almost count on hearing "Go shaw-tee it's your birthday" coming out of a nearby car.

"The first record I start with is 'In Da Club' and the last record I play is 'In Da Club,' " said DJ Kid Capri, who produced "Rowdy, Rowdy" for 50 in 1999. "When I play that sh-- [at the club], I don't care who's in there, whatever nationality, male or female, muthaf---as step to the floor and people be rockin'. The record is played four or five times in a row and they never get tired of it."

"It's so universal that the whole world can rock to it when it comes on," Snoop Dogg said of the cut. "I dance to 'In Da Club' onstage. When we perform, we got a little section called the 'Smoke Break' where we let everybody dance and groove a little bit. We play that song and they go crazy for it."

"Dre, he'll play dope beats ... they're automatic," 50 described of the studio process. "[He'll say], 'These are the hits, 50. So pick one of these and make a couple of singles or something.' The very first time he heard [me rap on] 'In Da Club' he said, 'Yo, I didn't think you was going to go there with it, but, you know, it works.' He was probably thinking of going in a different direction with that song. Then he expanded it into a hit record. [Dre and Em] made me a lot better, fast."

"There's not much fixing involved, which is a beautiful thing," Em said about 50.

50 came to Em and Dre with 30 songs, enough for almost three albums. According to the Queens MC, they had a difficult time choosing which songs to keep. Among those that made the grade were 50's first big hit, the blissfully simplistic "Wanksta," and sonic hurricane "What Up Gangsta," where 50 shouts out the gangs: "What up Blood/ What up cous/ What up Blood/ What up gangstaaa."

Of course, an album coming out on Shady/Aftermath is going to have the production stamp of the head honchos. 50 shuttled back and forth for a couple of months, securing Em's vehement, grisly melodies in Detroit and Dre's piano and bass-driven g-funk in L.A.

Among the four soundscapes Dre masterminded on the album is "Heat," which blends piano chords, the sound of a gun being cocked and gunshots. On the cut, 50 uses a conversational flow to inflect his threats: "I'll do what I gotta do/ I don't care if I get caught," he rhymes. "The DA could play this muthaf---in' tape in court/ I'll kill you."

Meanwhile, Em, who produced two beats and co-produced a couple of others, grants his signee's wish on "Patiently Waiting," where 50 uses another of his myriad of flows, this time slithering across the track and rhyming about how long he's been yearning for a dope beat.

"Em is so talented it becomes annoying," 50 said with a laugh. "Every time we go to the studio, he's got something new to play and it's like, 'Oh man, I gotta have something new to play, too.' Em is the rapper's rapper. He listens to everything. Every word, every slang, if you change something he's going to hear it all."

50 says that he and Em have formed a friendship outside the studio, but haven't had too much time to hang out because of their rigorous schedules. Among the things they talk about when they do touch base are raising their children and those hip-hop haters.

"More people hate Eminem than 50 Cent because Eminem is number one," 50 explained. "It's just a different class of people that hate Eminem [than hate me]. People that hate Eminem get a headache every time they see his face because he's so good. You got actors out there that still don't have films that break $100 million, but Eminem [did that on his] first go around."

Those that have problems with 50 have entirely different reasons for hating him. And they're entirely different people.

"I come from the bottom so the people that dislike me have nothing to lose. I got to be prepared for a knucklehead," the rapper said.

50 wasn't prepared in 2000 when he was assailed with bullets as he sat in the backseat of a car outside his grandmother's Queens residence. He was shot several times in the leg, in his right thumb (that shell exited through his pinky), his arm and in his mouth. The latter wound shaved off part of his gums and left a hole in between the top and bottom rows of his teeth, and would cause a small, but permanent, change in his voice.

"It happens so fast that you don't even get a chance to shoot back," he said about the attack. "You can't move. Your first reaction is to move and then the shots is going off and you jumping around the backseat. I was scared the whole time. Ain't nobody gonna tell you they ain't scared in that situation. It's a hit, man. You supposed to die in that situation. They're not playing.

"[After they finished shooting] I was looking in the rearview mirror like, 'Oh sh--, somebody shot me in the face!" he continued. "It burns. Burns, burns, burns. The adrenaline is pumping so fast that the pain is not really that bad until the doctors finish with you. Then that morphine wears off and then you're introduced to the pain."

He spent 13 days in the hospital, and it would take him close to five months to rehabilitate himself. During part of that time he had to use a walker to get around. The physical therapy and workout regimen, though, helped him attain his current fit physique.

50 first encountered life-changing distress almost two decades ago. When he was 8 years old, his mother, who used to hustle in their neighborhood, was murdered.

"My grandmother and them told me, 'Your mother's not coming home,' " he recollected nonchalantly. " 'She's not gonna come back to pick you up. You're gonna stay with us now.' That's when I started adjusting to the streets a little bit."

As young Curtis became a little older, he delved further into the streets, and by the time he was 12 he was already following in his mother's footsteps.

"Yeah, she did her thing," he stated, showing no emotion. "That's what made it easier to get involved with selling drugs, because all of the people that I had met when I was young were all people who sold drugs."

50's narcotics peddling caught up to him, not while he was standing on a corner serving some addict, but during a regular day at Andrew Jackson High School.

"At that point I was hustling, so I used to hide [the crack] pieces from my grandmother," he recounted. "I had it in a pair of gym shoes and I picked up the wrong gym shoes [to wear to school]. I went to school and at the time at Andrew Jackson we had metal detectors. So when we went through the metal detection at the high school, [they ended up searching me and] they found the pieces and they locked me up. I was out of school for a few weeks.

"I was embarrassed that I got arrested like that," 50 continued. "That's the worst way to get arrested. After I got arrested I stopped hiding it. I was telling my grandmother [openly], 'I sell drugs.' "

Those that have problems with 50 have entirely different reasons for hating him. And they're entirely different people.

"I come from the bottom so the people that dislike me have nothing to lose. I got to be prepared for a knucklehead," the rapper said.

50 wasn't prepared in 2000 when he was assailed with bullets as he sat in the backseat of a car outside his grandmother's Queens residence. He was shot several times in the leg, in his right thumb (that shell exited through his pinky), his arm and in his mouth. The latter wound shaved off part of his gums and left a hole in between the top and bottom rows of his teeth, and would cause a small, but permanent, change in his voice.

"It happens so fast that you don't even get a chance to shoot back," he said about the attack. "You can't move. Your first reaction is to move and then the shots is going off and you jumping around the backseat. I was scared the whole time. Ain't nobody gonna tell you they ain't scared in that situation. It's a hit, man. You supposed to die in that situation. They're not playing.

"[After they finished shooting] I was looking in the rearview mirror like, 'Oh sh--, somebody shot me in the face!" he continued. "It burns. Burns, burns, burns. The adrenaline is pumping so fast that the pain is not really that bad until the doctors finish with you. Then that morphine wears off and then you're introduced to the pain."

He spent 13 days in the hospital, and it would take him close to five months to rehabilitate himself. During part of that time he had to use a walker to get around. The physical therapy and workout regimen, though, helped him attain his current fit physique.

50 first encountered life-changing distress almost two decades ago. When he was 8 years old, his mother, who used to hustle in their neighborhood, was murdered.

"My grandmother and them told me, 'Your mother's not coming home,' " he recollected nonchalantly. " 'She's not gonna come back to pick you up. You're gonna stay with us now.' That's when I started adjusting to the streets a little bit."

As young Curtis became a little older, he delved further into the streets, and by the time he was 12 he was already following in his mother's footsteps.

"Yeah, she did her thing," he stated, showing no emotion. "That's what made it easier to get involved with selling drugs, because all of the people that I had met when I was young were all people who sold drugs."

50's narcotics peddling caught up to him, not while he was standing on a corner serving some addict, but during a regular day at Andrew Jackson High School.

"At that point I was hustling, so I used to hide [the crack] pieces from my grandmother," he recounted. "I had it in a pair of gym shoes and I picked up the wrong gym shoes [to wear to school]. I went to school and at the time at Andrew Jackson we had metal detectors. So when we went through the metal detection at the high school, [they ended up searching me and] they found the pieces and they locked me up. I was out of school for a few weeks.

"I was embarrassed that I got arrested like that," 50 continued. "That's the worst way to get arrested. After I got arrested I stopped hiding it. I was telling my grandmother [openly], 'I sell drugs.' "

50's implacable willingness to say what's on his mind, combined with his dark humor, served as the catalyst for his industry breakthrough, "How to Rob," which came out on the Trackmasters' label in 1999. Before he signed a deal with Columbia Records, 50 found his first alternative to selling drugs by signing a production deal with Run-DMC's Jam Master Jay. Although Jay never wrote any of 50's lyrics, the late great record spinner would drop jewels on his protégé about the art of making songs.

"50 is an artist who actually hung with Jay when he wasn't in the studio," said DMC, who features his fellow line thrower on his first solo album. "It was like, 'Yo, Jay taught me about bars, Jay taught me how to write hooks and what was the purpose. And Jay taught me how to write and make rap records. He made me want to really rap and do this.' "

Jay remained 50's close friend even after the two parted ways on the business end, and always offered advice.

"It's weird because I saw Jay two days before he got killed," 50 said. "He was telling me about some film opportunities that he had and he wanted me to be involved in it. He was like, 'Yo son, you can really blow up. It's gonna be crazy.' Then he was telling me, 'Yo, you got to watch [your back], you can't be out in the 'hood. You can't go back. [You have to] act like you used drugs and this is [narcotics] anonymous — you have to change your people, places and things.'

But 50 will never leave the 'hood if he has anything to do with it. No matter how huge of a star he becomes, no matter how tightly the mainstream cradles him in its collective bosom, he says he'll remain in the streets, even if he's not there physically.

"I'm never gonna give up my presence in the streets, because without that I wouldn't have the opportunities to do what I'm doing now," 50 said about continuing to flood the mixtape market. "I can't allow that. That's my core base, so if that's gone I don't think I'll exist long. It might be one day [the masses] decide, 'Oh 50's not hot no more, this other guy is,' and I'm gone. If your original base is not there, how do you expect to stay?"

For now, 50 doesn't have to worry about losing any love from anyone, especially his biggest fan, who may have just slipped down one notch on the "hot boy" ratings.

"Undoubtedly 50 will be the hottest rapper this year," said Eminem. "I wish my first album was this hot."


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