50 Cent, “Popular Thug” (Originally Published August 2003)
God couldn’t have planned it any better. There’s still half a year to go but 2003 has already been certified the year of 50 Cent. And it’s only right that Mr. Excitement should reunite with the writer and mag who showed him love. Early!
Words kris ex
Images Jonathan Mannion
You love to hear the story again and again. Our Hero, a ghetto bastard and a motherless child, traded the crack game for the rap game, pissed off half of your favorite artists with his first single and became embroiled in an everlasting squabble with Ja Rule. He got shot up, but he got up and got back at it again. With Southside Q-U tattooed around his gun wounds and everything to gain steady on his brain, he ran a shock and awe campaign that put more shit out on the streets than evicted tenants. Eminem said he liked his style; Dr. Dre said he liked his style. He got a mil out his Shady/Aftermath deal, but he stayed on the grind. Flanked by Dre and Em, he turned the game into mayhem—assaulting both the underground and the corporate music industry in a way that has never been seen before: the Biblical plague-like presence of his independent G-Unit CDs; the mind-numbing sales of his debut, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, followed by his Top-5-debuting CDVD, The New Breed; the seven simultaneous entries on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles chart. In spite of this—or more likely because of it—many men still wish death ’pon him. So he customized his Hummer with bulletproof windows and doors. See, ’Pac got shot in the passenger seat, Big got shot in the passenger seat, and now, 50’s riding around in the passenger seat.
Or rather, the proverbial driver’s seat. Sitting in a deluxe suite at Las Vegas, Nevada’s Venetian hotel, behind the heavy-breathing, thorough pat-down-giving wall of muscle that serves as his personal security detail, our Hero talked about the trappings of fame, the road behind him and the path ahead. Squeamish kids, get the fuck outta this interview. It’s about to get so obscene in a minute.
Why do you think you’ve been able to sell so many records?
The reason people buy 50 Cent records is the same reason they buy the newspaper every day. It ain’t nothing good on the muthafucka. Ain’t nothing good in the newspaper. Niggas don’t want to hear that good shit. Their life is not in that state. You got a country in a state of war. Everything is fucked up—and you want to tell me some positive shit? I don’t think niggas want to hear that shit, in all honesty.
When did you first hear that your mother had passed?
I think my grandmother told me. They didn’t explain it. They just told me that she wasn’t coming back, that I was gonna stay with them permanently. I always been with them, but my moms would come get me from time to time. She was hustling, so she was out. You don’t really have time to be up under the kids much when you grindin’. She always took care of me, my mother, but she wasn’t, like, present a lot.
As I got a little bit older, they started telling me the details. They never actually sat down and told me. I got it in pieces. When I had all the pieces and I asked my grandmother, she told me everything. My moms got killed. They put something in her drink and they turned on the gas, they cut off the circulation [of air in her apartment by closing the windows]. That means that it was somebody who was close enough to her to do that. Somebody that you don’t know will kill you by shooting or stabbing. It’s simple. What’s not simple is to gather who, because I didn’t spend much time around her.
How did her death affect you?
I was eight. You know what it is when your parents ain’t coming back at eight. I think that was the beginning of a cycle for me. She was the first person around me, in my life, that wasn’t there anymore. From there it happened rapidly. Like, one minute it’s a homie that you know. He kicking it with you and then tomorrow, you come out and they say, “Yo, Son got hit last night. They say he ain’t gonna make it.” And you don’t ever see him again. Or these guys went out of town and one ain’t come back. And you never see him ever again. After my moms passed, that shit started. Ahead of that, I was totally into regular kid shit. It wasn’t until like four years after that I started doing other shit. Like doing shit she used to do—hustling and all that other shit.
In 1994 you were arrested twice. The first time, they found 36 vials of crack and 12 packets of heroin in the panties of a girl you were with, Taiesha Douse. Three weeks later, they went into your crib with a search warrant and found a safe, a starter pistol, 10 ounces of crack, packing materials, heroin and $695. What can you tell me about that?
What I can tell you is, when you get arrested, don’t ever say anything. Don’t say one word. They ask stupid questions. Me, having the personality that I have, I’m responding in a way that’s making them feel like I’m arrogant. They asking questions like, “Whose is this?” I’m like, You found the drugs in her underwear—you gonna ask me whose is it? I’m like, Where you get it from? But this is while we’re getting arrested. Afterwards, they separate us. And the cops tell the girl, “He already told us it was yours. He looked you right in your face and said, ‘Where’d you get it from? It’s hers.’” I never said it was hers. But they turned it into that once they got her in the room, talking to her for hours. And then that led to me coming home. Bitch musta told in that whole situation, ’cause they ran up in the house afterwards. They found 10 ounces, 280 grams of crack, a lot of paraphernalia. But they caught us on the end of it, we was finishing up. They ain’t tell you how much money was there, did they?
In my pocket. They ain’t tell you exactly how much money was in the room, because it probably ain’t even add up by the time it got [to the precinct]. I wasn’t mad it wasn’t there neither. It makes the judge think it’s so much more of a serious situation if they tell them that it was $15,000 in the room. Cops get paid $30,000 a year, maybe. But you don’t add the 15 that doesn’t make it to the precinct. How the fuck you got 280 grams of crack, bagged-up heroin, utensils to bag up everything and you [only] got $600 in the room? Does that add up right? A safe with no money? It’s simple, though. What has to be there in order to make a conviction was there. I was convicted. It’s not absolutely necessary for that money to be there, so it wasn’t there.
Instead of the three-to-nine, you took seven months of shock treatment at the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Beaver Dams, NY. What was that like?
That shit, it keeps you a little disciplined. I been through all kind of therapeutics. I been though drug programs, all kinds of shit. If you look at my record, I’ma drug dealer. Even ahead of that, my first arrest was in high school. I got arrested for going in the school [with drugs]. Really, I was hiding the drugs from my grandmother. I had put the pieces in the shoe and picked up the wrong pair of shoes when I went to school. When you from where I’m from, your school has metal detectors. No alarm goes off in my head, ’cause I’m not even thinking what sneakers I got in the bag. I done put pieces in front of my sock. This nigga searching my bag so thoroughly, he pulled the sock down and pieces come rolling down the bottom of the shoe. The next thing you know, I’m off to the fuckin’ precinct and I end up spending two weeks out of school. That’s when my grandmother and them got notified that I sell drugs. I start really feeling, like in my head, that I only got caught because I was hiding it from them. My grandmother always tried to do everything she could for me. It’s just that she brought kids up when sneakers cost $10. How do I ask her with a straight face for a pair of Air Jordans for a hundred dollars? I can’t, man. I gotta go get it. You try to tell a kid that’s 12, that’s having a hard time in school, that if he could do school for eight more years, he could get a job, then work and get the car that he wants. And that kid’s curiosity leads him through the neighborhood and somebody in his neighborhood that got it in six months, hustling. It doesn’t seem like one of the options, it seems like the only option.
Did you leave high school after the arrest? Did you go get your GED?
It was a fashion show for me after that. I popped in when I had new clothes to wear. “I got some shit to wear? I’ma go to school on Thursday.” I got my GED in a program while I was locked up. But that’s because there was time to kill. I could do anything I put my head to. I think I studied for like a month. Once I said I’ma go ahead and get my GED, I did it. I pick up fast when I wanna learn something.
What’s really real with you when you write lyrics? How much is what you really believe and how much is just shock value or just sounds good? You’re not really, as your song says, “High All The Time.”
As far as “High All The Time,” niggas around me constantly be high, constantly get high. I don’t get high, ’cause it affects my judgment to the point that I end up in jail all the time. You know how some people smoke and then they get a little paranoia to ’em. That paranoia is enough that—with prior situations that happened to me, shit that has been happening in my life—it makes me react to it. If it’s anything that’s gonna happen, if some shooting’s gonna get done, if somebody’s gonna get stabbed, whatever it is, I like to be the one to do the shooting first or the stabbing first. ’Cause I don’t like to be a victim. Usually the people that sit there and hesitate is the victim. So I don’t fuck with [weed], ’cause it really had me tripping offa little shit, like people looking at me.