50 Cent, “War Games” (Originally Published December/January 2010)

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You’re keeping a prominent presence with ThisIs50 these days. In your eyes, how big of a priority is the Internet?
I think it’s cool. That’s where we’re headed. Instead of fi ghting it, I’m just embracing it.

Were you resistant at first?
Yeah. As far as the Internet is concerned, it’s so new that the younger kids can take better advantage. Soulja Boy is one of the guys that is more open-minded to the Web, and he’ll go there immediately. But it’s more natural for him, because he worked his way from there… I watched and learned from people like him.

What was the first thing that made you realize you had to get more in touch with the Internet?
From my perspective, what the mixtape circuit was is now a viral video… When I make material and I see it be viewed a million times, I know that I pleased a small demographic that watched it so often that there’s a million views. Or a broad demographic of people are drawn to it. I feel good either way… As [the Internet] changes and there’s new applications and new things involved with the site, I learn that right away. That makes me comfortable. I’m in a comfortable space.

I think the majority of us, well, the demographic that’s conditioned to go and do things the old-fashioned way. Like, I’m conditioned to go buy a record out the store. Even if it’s an option to buy it off the computer, I still buy it out the store, in the actual case. The kids, the new age group, the new kids are more perceptive of computers. They don’t have to have the experience of going to purchase your CD or going to see your movie.

CD sales figures certainly reflect that. What’s your barometer for success today?
I mean, it’s different. I won’t even gauge it like that. I’ll pay attention to the response of the public, how they feel about the actual record. You’ll know generally how they feel. I wanna hear it bumping out of the cars when they ride by. The magic of music is that everything feels right when it feels right, and
you can tell that you’re in pocket when that happens. They were giving me resistance—they didn’t want me to win during the Curtis project, because of the success I had prior to that. But it’s interesting, because they made me successful. And when I say “they,” I mean the general public. It’s a cycle where you can’t control it. There’ll be a point when they decide that they don’t want you to be the center of attention anymore and they want somebody else to be there, even without you losing the ability to do what it is you’ve done to get there.

How do you see things moving in hip-hop musically? Do you sense a shift back toward the streets, with an artist like Gucci Mane breaking through?
We’re gonna get people from different walks of life, and that’s because the art form is expanding. Like, you got a Gucci Mane at the same time you’re getting a Drake. And he’s obviously a rich kid who ain’t been exposed to…what? That’s Drake’s part. And then you got Gucci Mane, who’s from the South, and he’s been exposed to it all. We have Little Jeezy… It’s cool to see people actually have their own identity. The same thing that they would be upset with me for is what they accept from Drake. The Kid Cudis, too. Wale. These people are necessary. They were there when I fell in love with hip-hop, but they were Q-Tip, they were Andre 3000.

You’ve been working on Before I Self Destruct for a long time. How has the tone of the album changed over the last year?
Well, the album is darker. It began darker, because I wrote the prequel to Get Rich or Die Tryin’. This album is the things that I missed that happened before. Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is really me writing my environment and my experiences in a nutshell, and it was a shorter time period. On this one, I went further back. To give you an example: When I did “Hate It or Love It,” I said, “Coming up, I was confused, my mama kissin’ a girl/Confusion and cursed, coming up in the cold world.” And my mom passed when I was eight. So that’s me reflecting on myself when I was maybe seven years old. So, for that fact, to write those pieces of my actual life and the things that wouldn’t be the coolest thing to say from a rapper’s perspective… Rappers kind of create these superheroes. They create these guys who have all the finances and the beautiful women, the nicest cars, the best jewelry. And when the director says “cut,” they go home. You know? And that’s just the reality of it. But for me, I wrote imperfections on this album, because I’m in a secure enough space to do that.

Was that hard to do?
Well, you gotta make it to a certain point in your career. Some artists never choose to do it. They stay in the safe space because they feel like another artist may use it to be competitive at some point, try to use the personal things they put out. Mine’s will only give people reasoning for my behavior. They’ll listen to this record and start to understand more. The mainstream audience really first met you through “In Da Club,” which essentially means that they didn’t see the struggle beforehand. They only know you as a megastar.

They understood the struggle. At that point, it was impossible for anybody to be harder than 50 Cent. Because these artists had made their hit songs with the intention of reaching the masses. And then I took those same songs and made them for just my neighborhood. So when I do a CD that’s aimed at my core, I get a hell of a response. Like, War Angel. You don’t get nobody to say anything negative about that project. They go, “I’ve been waiting for that!” And then the artists you have out here now who are generating interest, they don’t have the same ability.

You’ve seen 50 Cent before—his name was DMX. Before 50 Cent, there was X. X was there. And then it got lighthearted, after X came. It was Ja. It was Nelly. And Nelly was saying some aggressive shit on them records, but they wasn’t hearing that, because the melody was so soft. “They goin’ down, down baby!” It just made it easy to dance to. To me, Nelly’s crew reminded me so much of the Lost Boyz, and they were so much fun because they didn’t really feel threatening, even when Nelly was saying, “Boom, boom, with the street sweeper, ready to let it go.” I’m listening to the words, and I’m thinking, He just said some shit on them records, but the melody made it feel safe.

You refer to “aggressive content” a lot. Is it hard to keep that accessible but still keep it real?
Well, it’s harder to balance it. Kanye can make a straight pop record because he doesn’t embody aggression. There’s not an aggressive bone in his body. So he can go and just work his pop record at Top 40 radio and have a huge audience. He can start with his hit. I gotta deliver “I Get Money” before I deliver “Ayo Technology.” So my core is like, “Yo, you heard the new 50 shit? That shit’s hot.” Because, if I deliver the straight pop record first, they’re gonna go, “What the fuck is this?”

The album’s title, Before I Self Destruct, has been public for so long, since before your last album came out. You’ve really stuck with that concept for a long time. Why?
It’s about success, in general, from an artist’s perspective. The general public will offer you success by supporting you and purchasing your material, and then grow angry with you for not bearing the same pressures that they bear. By you having the comfortability and stability of the finances. Because you’re different. I mean, your clothes never really look bad, if your style is in check. Everything is there. Your presentation is pretty sharp. Somebody will go, “Hey, look, you have something on your face.” So you don’t look crazy at any point. I think they begin to want to see your imperfections or see you under confusion, which would be the most vulnerable state for an artist. And then, if something goes wrong, it’s the greatest show on earth for them. It’s like that point when Em is getting really high. It’s the point where Britney Spears is at the turmoil point, where she’s shaving her head. That is the greatest show. That’s why it has so much coverage. They want to see the artist fall apart, after they’ve built up.