The Making Of… 50 Cent’s “How to Rob”

Photography by Clay Patrick McBride

Some say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. 50 Cent was on that train of thought when making his debut single, 1999’s “How to Rob.” Then, the grimy Jamaica, Queens, MC was signed to TrackMasters/Columbia Records and prepping his solo debut, Power of the Dollar. Although the LP never came out, “How to Rob” dropped on the In Too Deep movie soundtrack, in August of that year. It wasn’t a hit, but it did become a staple on NYC’s late-night mixshows, gaining much industry and street notoriety for its threatening content.

Recorded in the spring of 1999 at three New York City studios (the Hit Factory, The Cutting Room and The Lion’s Den) and released to the streets via New York’s Hot 97 soon after, the fiery debut single took aim at more than 25 established celebrities, relieving most of them of their cash and jewels. A jab at Mariah Carey, who was divorcing her then-husband, Columbia Records president Tommy Mottola, stirred so much controversy before the record’s release that it had to be pulled from the original version. (“I’ll manhandle Mariah, like, ‘Bitch, get on the ground/You ain’t with Tommy no more, who gonna protect you now?’”)

The Madd Rapper, a comedic act and MC alias of former Bad Boy producer Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie, was added to the song’s hook for levity, saying, “This ain’t serious/Being broke can make you delirious/So we rob and steal so our ones can be bigger/50 Cent, how it feel to rob an industry, nigga?” That helped cushion the blow, but folks still caught feelings. Several rappers fired back, most notably Jay-Z, who spit his response onstage at the 1999 Hot 97 Summer Jam, rapping, “I’m about a dollar, what the fuck is 50 cents?”

Still, the track hit hard and sparked both love and contempt for 50. While he eventually achieved mega rap stardom with his real solo debut, 2003’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’, hip-hop heads will always remember the first big 50 Cent song. To mark the 10th anniversary of his official arrival, XXL took a trip down memory alley to reminisce on one of hip-hop’s greatest heists.

“How to Rob”feat. The Madd Rapper

50 Cent: Writing the song was my idea. I wrote the lyrics in pieces. It wasn’t just random. People came to mind based on what rhymes. Once I was able to say it in different orders, I said the verse to Rich Nice. Before I brought it to him, I’d been doing it over a Beanie Sigel beat, other tracks. I was just playing with the concept in my head… It wasn’t hard to come up with the concept of robbery, when you’re not in a great financial space. It kind of felt like I was being rejected during that time, while I was trying to make music. And after it got even worse. I was doing what [rappers] were afraid to do at that point… They were actually afraid to mention each other’s names, because Biggie and Tupac had kinda gotten out of hand… [When] Rich heard the lyrics, the whole song was done. I laid both of the verses, and then it was time for us to record the chorus. He got D-Dot…to create clarity, to show that it wasn’t a dead-serious attack at them. Without D-Dot, it was straight robbery lines. There was nothing that said whether you dead serious or you ain’t… I kinda went after everybody who was relevant, and it was really like doing my own [version of Biggie’s] “Dreams of Fuckin’ an R&B Bitch.”

Rich Nice, A&R for Columbia Records, for Power of the Dollar: The label had no idea about the record. [We had been] trying to do it under the radar, ’cause, at the time, I kinda felt that the building would be against it and be like, “Nah, don’t make that kind of song… We want him to be serious rapper.” [But] the song was intended to be lighthearted, [not] to go at everybody and piss everybody off.

Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie, Brooklyn beatmaster, former member of Bad Boy’s Hitman production team, MC known as The Madd Rapper: I didn’t even know 50 Cent. We both were on Columbia Records… One night, I get a call from Rich Nice… He said he had this record that he really needed my help on. I was like, “Man, I’m about to go home… You gotta get here in a few minutes.” He got there real quick, put on the record, and I was like, “Man, this shit is hot.” It reminded me of Big, but his angle was perfect. I definitely wanted to get on, and I told Rich, “Just tell son that he gonna have some problems, though. But I’m with it.” I felt like, if I got on it, it would lessen the blow. Plus, if I make it funny, it’ll almost look like he’s my artist, even though he wasn’t. I did the hook right then and laid it down. Rich loved it and took it back. He called me up two days later, like, “Everybody loved it,” and they were putting it out.

Rich Nice: One day I was in the office, and I got a call from Donnie Ienner [then Chairman of Sony/Columbia]: “Come to my office right now… It’s about the 50 song.” I go up to the office, and they’re just like, “You gotta take Mariah’s name out.” And I’m just like, “Ooohhhh, shit!” Cory Rooney called and was like, “The name has to come out. They’re really upset about it.” I’m like, “It’s just a line, one line.” I call Fif, and Fif says, “See, that’s that bullshit.” But he changed [it]. I’m being nice when I say how upset [Mariah] was—like, absolutely enraged.

Cory Rooney, former senior executive vice president of Sony: The whole bane of [Mariah’s] existence is to be accepted by Black people…because she’s half-White, half-Black. She looks White, and everybody felt she was White, but she never really could gain acceptance… So when she heard that, she went off, and she called and threatened to sue the label… She demanded that Tommy did something about changing the record… [She and Tommy] were basically legally separated. 50 was a Columbia artist, but she was the Columbia artist. So they had no choice… Mariah was still a very valid artist, and Tommy was still in power. It’s funny. Mariah had a similar problem with Biggie, when he said, “Mariah Carey/Kinda scary” [in “Just Playing (Dreams)”]. She hated him so much.

D-Dot: I was in one of the meetings when Donnie Ienner told us that Mariah wants the thing out… So 50 went back and changed it to Case and Mary.

50 Cent: I was mad to make any changes [to my lyrics]. I didn’t want to change anything. You had more artists that were more effective not being changed… You had Big Pun on there, the best Latin rapper ever. Master P was an explosion at that point. They was, like, the hottest thing out of the South ever, No Limit, at that point… Mariah’s been a star since as far back as I can remember. I was signing to the label; she’s the biggest thing on the label. And married to the guy who runs it. It’s a different thing, man.

Cory Rooney: [When the record came out to the public,] I remember people listening to [it] and going, “I hope he don’t say nothing about me.” Even me… It’s like, “Oh my God… We let this nigga in the industry, and we have an animal amongst us.” And nobody felt safe anymore. He was really direct [in what he was saying]: “I would rob you, and I would rob you, I would rob all y’all.”

Rich Nice: Chaka Zulu, was doing radio at the time at Columbia and was taking 50 around backstage at Summer Jam, introducing him to people, on some cool, like, “Let’s put a face with the name, and everybody be easy.” When he met Jay, Jay said, “You know I gotta get you back for that, right?” And he was like, “No doubt, no doubt.” But he didn’t know he meant right then. When Jay went onstage and said his rhyme…I called [50] and said, “You on, kid. You on right now. It’s on and poppin’. You got the biggest dude in the game sayin’ your name.” And that wasn’t the intent. We did it more to make him an individual, to separate him from everybody.

50 Cent: That song had momentum. It had impacted where the hip-hop culture was aware of it, and me, based on it… A lot of people didn’t [respond to] it. The ones who had the egos had to respond. Because they weren’t used to somebody openly putting them out there, and who was I to say it? They all battled with each other, had stuff to say about people subconsciously. They always wrote subliminal shit. That’s the sucker way to do it. Just say it, if you got an issue.

To read exclusive responses from 10 artists 50 name dropped on “How to Rob” give their reaction to the record when it first dropped, be sure to pick up the December/January double issue of XXL on stands now.

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  • Curtis75Black

    If you responded to the track being that he said your name, so be it, I was down with it. The only person I didn’t feel at the time of the “How to Rob” phenom was Raekwon and his disguised voice on the Ghostface cd. That was wack as hell !! I expected more from him.

    • OG Matt Herbz

      What? I loved that shit…

      “You think you gonna try to do that little Tom and Jerry shit on me? And have my fingers smashed on the ceiling? Never…Never, duke. I’m telling you…I’m a snatch you out that little Iceberg t-shirt you got on and that little platinum bullshit ass chain you got. Straight up. And your haircut game is fucked up. I toe-tie them niggaz. That nigga’s a duh-duh duh-duhnt nigga. Straight up…”

      –OG Matt Herbz–

    • pac man

      Go Fif

    • that nigga

      @ Curtis, I thought that was Method Man. But anyway that song was hot and niggas shouldnt have caught feelings. It just rap people.

  • GO-Getta’

    What the track did then won’t be relevant 2day as most rappers these days r struggling 2 even go gold.

  • http://-- gaddic

    Classic track
    Haters can diss Fif all they want
    But few rappers are as skilled with mixtapes and underground music as him
    His mixtapes are better than albums
    His influence and the whole revolutionizing of the mixtape genre
    Face it even if he’s flopped like a slipper
    Dude is an underground legend


      ^^co-sign. i liked his mixtapes more than the albums.
      this track was funny as shit though. i remember putting that shit on like 5 diff. cds. that shit always gave me a good laugh, & the lyrics n shit was on point. he did a good ass job (pissing people off).

      “… i’ll rob Pun w/out a gun, snatch his piece & run/ that nigga weigh 400hunned pounds how he gon catch me, son…”

  • Enlightened

    The person who took the worst end of that “How to Rob” shit was Sticky Fingaz.

    When he said “I’ll whoop yo ass like that white boy did on MTV,” that shit had to be heartbreaking to Sticky because he really did get his ass whooped.

    Did any of y’all see that? They must’ve tried to destroy all the evidence that it happened but it gotta be floating somewhere.

    Me and my niggas was smoking good, high as hell, laughin our ass off like, “hell yeah. Sticky finna whoop this dude ass, ah hah hah.”

    Man, he was getting tagged. He was fighting with his head all sideways, closing his eyes getting hit like little kids or niggas who ain’t never fought.

    Shit was depressing.

    • Blakout615

      Lol yeah I seen that shit on youtube awhile back. Word is, 50 knocked out Sticky at the Vibe awards like in ’03. Sticky is proof that just because u got muscles & shit,it dont mean u can throw down.

      • Curtis75Black

        I just got finished watching the fight again with adult eyes no less. That shit was sloppy all around !! More of s street fight than anything but back in the day, I felt bad for Sticky !! Luckily for him he dropped “Black Trash”.

    • GregSIDE

      I remember that shit. It was like skaters against rapper in different competitions. That sk8er fucced him up. That shit had to be embarrassing. His career was over after that.
      Fif just put the fork in ‘em. If only Fif could get back to spitting how he did back then…

  • E

    “…and to the 50 cent rapper/very funny, get ur nut-off/cause in real life/u don’t know, I’ll blow your muthafu***n head off!/Ooohh yeeea/
    (spoken): I don’t make songs about rappers I dont like. If I make a song, its gonna be how I had to beat your muthafu**n ass. That’ll be the name of the muthafu**er. ‘That’s why I had to beat your muthafuck**n ass’ featuring Tony Sunshine, T-Squader’s T-Squader’s…”

  • Vic De Zen

    I just remember that track coming out at the perfect time. When the biggie/tupac debacle came to an end, nobody was saying anything. The hardest rapper in the game was DMX and he wasn’t saying anything about anybody. At least not overtly. Then BOOM! This stranger comes on the scene and laces everybody. I loved Jay’s verse to retaliate though. He was always good with those one liners that would damage a crew.

  • ed-hova

    The song was a classic, it was risky, but different, but different stands out, it was a young 50 against the world, the song made 50 who is today. I love 50, but I hate to say that the movies are fucking with your music 50, look what happened to DMX, please go back to being the artist that you once was. We need Fif the world needs you, hip hop needs, show us again how to rob these cowards…

  • Enlightened

    That Jay-Z response is the most overrated one-liner in history.

    Yeah, he got people all amped because he responded, but let’s be real: even he has hundreds of one-liners better than that.

    “I’m about a dollar, what the fuck is 50 cent?”

    Pales in comparison to shit like

    “Put a quarter in your ass cause you played yourself” and thousands of other lines

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  • Shawty J

    How To Rob, is easily one of my favorite 50 Cent records. I like how much thought he put into the making of the song. It’s so innovated compared to the stuff he’s put out in recent years.

  • random

    i remember this. shockingly, hot 97 played this joint. too bad he didn’t release his album.

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