50 Cent on the 10-Year Anniversary of ‘The Massacre’
50 Cent is bleeding. Or at least that's what it looks like on first glance; the G-Unit general is taking a break from filming a fight scene for the second season of his Starz TV show Power and the fake blood on his mouth and cheek indicate some of the blows found their mark. It's a Thursday night at the end of February and the brutal New York winter is making the air in the Queens warehouse where the set is located drafty and thin, but 50 doesn't seem to mind. A green barn coat covers thick arms and a quick smile is never far from his face as he sits at a low wooden table eating dinner from a take out container. Even during his break, 50 stays working.
Ten years ago today, on Mar. 3, 2005, 50 Cent released his sophomore album for Interscope/Aftermath/Shady Records, titled The Massacre. At the time 50 and his G-Unit crew were in the midst of a nearly unparalleled run in terms of popularity and impact set in motion with the titanic release of Fif's debut LP Get Rich Or Die Tryin' in February 2003. In just two years, 50 Cent, Young Buck, Lloyd Banks, Tony Yayo and new addition The Game had sold millions of albums, topped every conceivable Billboard chart, released dozens of mixtapes and cultivated a reputation as hip-hop's most dangerous—and successful—crew, with 50 at its head. With a film and soundtrack on the way for the end of 2005 and Game's The Documentary kicking off the year that January with a No. 1 debut, the stage was set for 50 to devastate the industry again.
The Massacre delivered on that promise, moving 1.14 million copies in its first five days—trailing only Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP for the highest first-week sales of any hip-hop album ever—and spawning four Top 10 singles in the U.S., including 50's third No. 1, "Candy Shop" featuring Olivia. But the album's 21 songs also painted a broader picture showcasing more than 50's snarling, grinning persona that he rode relentlessly on his debut. Songs like "God Gave Me Style" and "Ryder Music" were 50 opening up on record and showing a slightly softer side under that bulletproof exterior. "A Baltimore Love Thing" is one of his best extended metaphors, telling a story of addiction through the eyes of the drug heroin. "I'm Supposed To Die Tonight" has him sneering at his haters, laughing off their shots at his throne. He's more versatile, even if the same number of gunshots litter the album.
As with everything, and especially when 50 Cent is involved, the real story of The Massacre emerges through context. Following Get Rich Or Die Tryin' Interscope had shifted their new artist The Game into 50's camp, creating an uneasy alliance that nonetheless proved fruitful with the release of The Documentary six weeks prior to Fif's LP. But a week before The Massacre, 50 kicked Game out of G-Unit live on the radio. Game showed up at Hot 97's offices in Manhattan while 50 was still on the air and attempted to enter the building, leading to a scuffle in which a man was shot in the leg. Despite attempts at reconciliation, the incident sparked a war of words and diss tracks that was never resolved, adding Game to a list of 50's enemies that at that time included Ja Rule, Fat Joe, Jadakiss and Nas, among others.
Now, a decade removed from that time, very little is the same. Interscope is in the past for 50, while his film career has shifted into the television world with Power. G-Unit is back together after an extended hiatus, pared down to the core four members and one new addition, New Orleans MC Kidd Kidd. The mixtapes have slowed but the money has grown; in the past 10 years Fif has made so much money with his partnerships and side hustles that, if he wanted, he would never have to work again. But that's not in 50 Cent's DNA, which is why he's squeezing in an interview while eating dinner, multi-tasking and making sure every hustle is handled.
At the 10 year anniversary of The Massacre, 50 Cent sits down with XXL to talk about the making of his sophomore LP, the songs and moments that made the album possible and why he's never gotten the recognition he's deserved. Hate it or love it, this is 50. —Dan Rys
XXL: The Massacre was your second album, coming off the biggest debut for a rapper in history. What was your mindset when you got back in the booth to start working on the followup to Get Rich Or Die Tryin'?
50 Cent: The first record that I wrote that was supposed to be my second album, I did it so fast. It was like three days, over a weekend. I recorded 12 records, but they were all two verses. They were incomplete songs and I knew I had to go back to come up with something to bring the lyrics all the way to standard, but I got what I was trying to get out. The concepts where there, the choruses were playin', the outline for the album was there. But it had happened so fast that I was like, maybe I should just keep writing. It's always good to keep writing until you actually meet the deadline, but I ended up flying to Los Angeles because [Interscope boss] Jimmy [Iovine] wanted to meet with me. They wanted to see if I would work with this other artist that Dre was working with, which was Game. And they said, "The kid can rap, but he's not a great songwriter."
My song structure is the strongest portion of my writing habits. I learned to count bars and write music under Jam Master Jay. And because he was a producer, it was a consistent thing; it was like, training an artist to be a songwriter for other people, the way a songwriter would approach the studio like, "Every night let me write a few songs, two or three songs." But I'm doing it for myself as an artist. A lot of the time the songwriters who are really talented get more excited about the person they're writing [for] than they are about themselves. So they can write a hit record for Beyonce or for Usher but they ain't gonna write that when it come time for them to write for themselves. And I was always intending to write music for me. So it just locked in.
When Jimmy called for me to do it I was like, "Alright, cool, I'll fix it," and I gave it [to Game]. I only worked with him for about, I think, four days. 'Cause I had this album already planned so I was like, "Yo, just do this." And one by one he went through, 'cause he can rap; he wrote the verses and stuff. And when I got back the only one that wasn't done was "How We Do." 'Cause Dre produced that one, and when I got the record I made "How We Do," but I was making it for me. And Dre, he got a problem with pushing the button; like, he won't push the button for his artists for Lord knows how long they've been sitting there. He had Joe Beast, he had Brooklyn, Bishop Lamont, Rakim, Busta Rhymes, Raekwon. Slim The Mobster. None of them got out. He was in love with "How We Do" and I was like, "Yo, I'll give him that if you put it out right now." And we just put it out. Put it together. Sold about five million records for Game's album [The Documentary] and then I came back.
I had to go re-write The Massacre, too. I was approaching The Massacre initially without writing anything sexual on the record. I was giving them "Hate It Or Love It" and these other things that didn't have any sexual energy to them. Before I Self-Destruct was aimed at the street; I was making a street record. I wanted people to embrace it, but I'm making what I want to make, creatively. So that record is harder. The Curtis album is more like my actual personality. I did things creatively, I collaborated with people, worked with them. Me and Justin, No. 1 records, "I Get Money" and different things.
G-Unit was expanding at that time, too, with Mobb Deep, M.O.P., Olivia...
Right. G-Unit was already built, but those new additions were coming. I was building the aura of a company instead of 50 and his homeboys, you know what I mean? Like, D-12 grew up and was around Em prior to his career; those were his friends, so they received the opportunity based on them being friends. And the same for the St. Lunatics, and I point out Nelly because Nelly sold seven million records. That wasn't no chump change, that was a big album, Country Grammar. The largest debut album prior to [Get Rich] was Snoop's Doggystyle. And coming off of Get Rich Or Die Tryin', the first record that I wrote, I didn't give it to Game. It was "God Gave Me Style." And I wrote that record because in 2003 if you asked me to make a wish, the only thing I'd ask for was for that record to be a success. Get Rich Or Die Tryin' meant everything. You see what I'm sayin'?
And as it were, I actually went to my grandmother. I played my grandmother the song. It was the first time I was able to play her a record without kind of cringing. My whole life I had to be two people; I had to be 50 Cent outside and then I had to be Curtis inside with my grandmother. Some of the stuff that I say on the records are 50 Cent lines, and my grandmother looks at me and goes, [Pauses] "Where'd that come from?" So when I played that one she was like, "I like that one. Wow, you done made one for me." [Laughs] Then she said, "Don't forget why people like you." She said, "I know what you're doing, I know why you're writing it, but don't forget why people liked you to begin with." And I was like, "Oh, shit," and then next record that I wrote was "Curtis 187." It was back to the darker [side]. And this is what they always want from 50 Cent.
You could get a "21 Questions" from Drake right now. He'd give you a dope one, some really dope shit. You can get that kinda content on other artists' albums that we know do that particular style very well. And predominantly they're that. And for me, there's things that will get a little darker or harder, now a little more business-oriented, different things that you wouldn't get from that other guy, you know what I mean? And it's cool.
At that period... This is what people don't know. I had a conversation with Jimmy Iovine. Jimmy said, "Wow, fuckin' amazing. I don't know how this has so much magic." Talking about when music connects like that, to that level where everywhere you go, you can spin the globe and anywhere you stop you could say, "50 Cent," and people would say, "Hell yeah, I like that." It's just worldwide. Everybody just likes the idea or the concept of the creator.
Now, you know, the climate has shifted so dramatically. I was hustling before the music started. And when I stopped hustling [the neighborhood] didn't really understand. They were like, "What? You gonna rap? Whatchu gonna rap about?" I said, "'Bout what we be doin'." And they like, "Ugh, I don't know if that works." 'Cause the rappers that they knew in the neighborhood were career rappers like [Mr.] Cheeks. He rapped since we knew him, period. We knew him for rapping, that's it. So they were like, "Are you sure you can do that shit?" Like, they'd go in the spot and rap until you'd want to ask them, "Please get off the microphone, please go back and sit your ass on the side with everybody else and let's just party. Play the records." And they'd just keep kind of going and going and going. But I was already at the roof of what I could get out of the neighborhood. And I knew what come next, 'cause they gotta start trying to get you after that.
There's only two ways that can go after that.
Yeah. So I'm lookin' at that, and [rap] was a thing that I had passion for that I could put all of my energy into. And it worked. Particularly [with] The Massacre, I had a lot of fun on that record. I had "Ryder Music." This was my way of doing a soulful song without actually... Like, now the artists are singing. I'm so happy I can say this now; that shit that they're doing now is singing. What I was doing back then was holding melodies, and it's all flat monotone in my speaking voice; it's Donnell Jones, "Oooh, say what say what say what," it's not muthafuckin' Keith Sweat cryin' and singin'.
These niggas hittin' notes now. It's a whole other thing going on. I enjoy it. They're using street content. Our formats are merging. Nobody's paying attention to it, but R&B and hip-hop are one thing.
That's why we had R&B on our Freshmen cover last year; the line has blurred more than it ever has.
Yeah. And when you got artists like Chris [Brown], young male solo artists are hip. So they're writing content that matches the lifestyle. It's coming in and it's actually effective, it's working. The shit Trey [Songz] is doing is dope. Jeremih is one of those guys, he's the sleeper, he's the one who's gonna get there whether people want it or not. "Down On Me," there was no reason for me to do the record, they couldn't pay me. I did the record because I knew what he was gonna be. Ask YG; I did his first record, "Toot It," because I knew what he was gonna be. You see what I'm saying? It takes time for an artist to develop.
A big window of time, if you was in love with hip-hop, you know who you saw right at the head of it with no confusion at all. I don't think [new artists] can be like 50 Cent. I don't think they've been forced to be under as harsh circumstances as I've been under. So they can't beat me at what I was doing at that point. That was me being me; there's people who can be better at you than things, but not better than you at being you.
So the initial basis of The Massacre was given to Game for The Documentary.
Right; that was my first shot at The Massacre. And then I came back around and I wrote "Ryder Music" and I wrote pieces that I felt like were... I make music that's personal and then the depth of the storytelling becomes next level. Like, some of those things Drake is telling you on those records, he experienced. Some of it is good writing but the other shit is part of his experience, because he wouldn't have those details he has in it in his process.
And that leads to somebody finding the girl who worked at the Hooters on Peachtree in Atlanta.
Right, that he knows. Yeah, it's real shit. The process is a beautiful thing when you can look at it and see it and appreciate it. 'Cause I had the opportunity to take a step back and watch it. And I see where it's going. It kind of got to "Kumbaya, my Lord," like everybody was trying to be friends by the fire. Our culture is competitive, it's not everybody friends by the fire. You haven't even heard artists have a dispute. If they do, it's a couple punch lines and then they disappear, everybody fades; it's so subtle. Don't think they all like each other, 'cause they don't.