At this point, it’s a well-known story. A Southside Jamaica, Queens, native, orphaned as a child, who’d taken nine bullets and lived, 50 Cent exploded onto the scene in 2002 via a series of mixtapes and a public feud with rap star Ja Rule and his label, Murder Inc. 50 signed to a joint deal with Eminem’s Shady Records and Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment (both subsidiaries of Jimmy Iovine’s Interscope Records), launched his own company, G-Unit, and sold 7.5 million copies of his debut, Get Rich or Die Tryin’—effectively ending Murder Inc.’s viability along the way.
But there’s backstory. Lots of backstory. Murder Inc. was tight with Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff, a legendary Queens gangster who ran the infamous 1980s crack cartel the Supreme Team. McGriff, who’d been released from prison in 1995 after serving eight years on racketeering charges, had gone into business with Murder Inc. principals Irv and Chris Gotti and another partner, Chaz Williams, and his Black Hand Entertainment, in hopes of making a movie out of the Donald Goines novel Crime Partners.
In December 2002, though, McGriff was arrested on federal weapons charges. The next month, the Murder Inc. offices were raided on suspicion that the Gotti brothers were laundering McGriff’s dirty money. (The Gottis would go on to beat a federal case in court.) Supreme started serving a 37-month sentence at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center in mid-2003. But in the time since, Feds have accused him of ordering the famed May 2000 hit on 50, and officially charged him with a slew of crimes ranging from drug distribution to orchestrating murder. He now faces the death penalty.
Early in his career, 50 recorded “Ghetto Qu’ran,” a song about Southside Queens’ notorious gangsters that mentioned McGriff in the first verse. While 50 says he intended it as a tribute, some cite the song as an example of snitching. (According to court documents entered in the Murder Inc. trial, when Federal investigators questioned 50 about McGriff, 50 told them to read his lyrics.) Last year, 50 played a character named Marcus in a movie, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, inspired by his life story. Another character, a drug kingpin named Majestic, is loosely based on McGriff. The film suggests that Majestic killed Marcus’ mother, had something to do with Marcus being shot and may have actually been Marcus’ biological father.
Last fall, New York magazine writer Ethan Brown released Queens Reigns Supreme: Fat Cat, 50 Cent, and the Rise of the Hip-Hop Hustler (Anchor Books), a book detailing the Q-borough’s crime lords and their connection to hip-hop. (XXL featured an interview with Brown in our March 2006 issue.) More recently, Brown visited McGriff in prison to conduct an interview for Vibe magazine. In the article, McGriff disparaged 50—“Kid,” he said, “you’ve never been through nothing…”—insisted he’d tried to squash beef, and again raised the matter of 50’s alleged snitching.
50 now presides over an empire, having expanded into the worlds of fashion, film, video games and Vitamin Water—but this year has been a bumpy one for G-Unit. Tony Yayo’s name was repeatedly mentioned in reports surrounding the February shooting of Busta Rhymes’ bodyguard Israel Ramirez. On the business front, after six straight platinum releases, sales are slowing. Last year’s high-profile recruits (Ma$e, M.O.P., Mobb Deep) have thus far yielded more headaches than rewards, and dismissed California rep The Game—the crew’s only multiplatinum artist besides 50—will most definitely not be releasing his second album through G-Unit.
Still, financial independence allows certain luxuries. 50’s going back to his roots this summer—the mixtape. With the help of his longtime DJ, Whoo Kid, he’s dropping three full-length collections, dozens of new songs, just for the streets. He has high hopes for joint ventures he’s entered with Jay-Z and Lil Jon, and for a new artist, Phoenix MC Hot Rod.
So 50 Cent has a sly smile on his face when we find him sitting in G-Unit’s Manhattan offices. Clearly, he’s got a lot on his mind.
XXL: Were you surprised by the article on Supreme in Vibe?
That’s something I think would be in F.E.D.S. or Don Diva. He’s fuckin’ on trial. He shouldn’t be talking. He should be keeping his fuckin’ mouth shut. I’m sure if he had a lawyer his lawyer would tell him not to have that fuckin’ article.
What did you think of the Queens Reigns Supreme book?
The reason why 50 Cent is in big bold letters on the cover of the book is for marketing purposes. Whoever this Ethan is, I never had a conversation with this guy [for his book]. This guy’s assuming that he knows what’s going on. He don’t know nothing that’s really fuckin’ going on outside of what these monkeys done went and told this nigga. Individually, they sat down with this nigga, ’cause according to this article and in the book…
A lot of things in the article were not said by Supreme directly, but were in the words of the writer based on his reporting.
Yeah, but it still was said to the writer by them. The writer ain’t in South Jamaica, Queens. That’s why he don’t understand nothing he talking about. All he doing is saying back what niggas said to him… And he’s putting himself in the middle of a world where everybody ain’t going to be happy about it.
Do you think this is stuff that shouldn’t even be talked about?
None of it should be out there. It’s all illegal activity. Everything that you mention when you talk to these niggas, they can’t make reference to nothing but breaking the fuckin’ law. That’s it. We talking about career criminals.
So you make a movie loosely based on your life story, and there’s a character named Majestic that resembles Supreme. The movie made it look like Majestic killed your mother and that he could have been your father…
He’s not my father. I can’t stand that nigga. There are other things there, but he know that I didn’t think… I wasn’t accusing him of fuckin’ killing my mother. That’s the way they make the character darker… In the article, he said he has relationships with people that I used to be cool with. Lil’ Troy, the nigga that robbed Ja, is in my era. We did shit in the street together. While ’Preme’s always talking about the nigga that took the jewelry from Ja was raised under the Supreme Team, under him, that’s true. I was raised under the Supreme Team.
What does it mean to be raised under the Supreme Team?
They came at a time—early ’80 into the ’90s. Everybody that was from that area fall under that umbrella at some point. If it wasn’t under ’Preme, it was under Cat [Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols] and Corley or somebody down there. You looked up to all of them niggas that ring them kind of bells, ’cause they doing what you doing and they count so much more to the streets at the time based on their reputation, what they accomplished. I came up under all these niggas. Not necessarily the Supreme Team in Baisley, but everything that was going on in that era. Those niggas are the niggas that actually got the money when it was there to get. Initially, I didn’t know ’Preme like that. I knew ’Preme through Black Just. Blackie was cool with me. He was calling me Curt when everybody was calling me Boo Boo or 50. He financed the boxing program. Blackie, he was that nigga to me. He paid for it, but… He was under this nigga and this nigga was in jail at the time…
Seems like Supreme bothers you more than anybody.
Yeah. I like him. We’re married. ’Til death do us part.
What does that mean?
I love him more than anybody alive on this planet. We have a special bond. He cannot go to sleep without me on his mind.
But married? That sounds deeper than…
Listen. They was supposed to fuck with me. The old heads in my hood… Why? Because they know I’m authentic.
They were supposed to get behind you as a rapper?
Period. Any move I decided to make, they were supposed to roll with me because I’m actually from the same fuckin’ cloth. I’m an offspring of them. I’m not a relative. I’m not a brother or sister to these niggas. I’m a distant cousin. I’m from down the road. Everything that’s fucked up about me comes from these muthafuckas. The behavior…
’Preme’s telling me, “Chill.” And then the nigga goes and says something new. He came down there to me several times and said, “Yo, leave these niggas alone. These niggas is my food.” To tell me to leave Irv and Ja and them niggas alone.
I went to see this nigga on the Coliseum block. They was shooting a video back there. Nigga called me from the barbershop, told me them niggas was up there shooting the shit. I walked up to see what was up with the nigga, and the nigga acted real funny the time that I did see him.
Ja. So I went got the pistol. I went there on the motorcycle ’cause I wanted to see what it’s about. The nigga see me. They had the mailbox joint right across the street, the post office box. [Supreme] see me from across the street, walking down there toward the shoot, and says, “Ehhhh, hey. Come here, don’t even do it. I see you.” Pulls me to the side, and I’m like, “Yo, what’s up with this nigga?” And he’s like, “Nah, nah. I told you, leave them alone, man. You know they ain’t gonna do nothing.”
He made it the way it is right now. If I said he had something to do with me getting shot, it means nothing, ’cause everybody in my hood knows that’s what time it is. But that’s not the problem. It’s ’cause he didn’t see that I don’t just listen. Nigga just don’t tell me what to do, and it’s okay.
Whatever same type of shit he has running through him, is running through me. And he can’t see it enough to give me room to coexist with him. He wanted me to submit, and that’s just not in me. A nigga would have to kill me to stop me from doing what I want to do. That’s what they tried. It’s not gonna happen with a halfway mark. You really have to kill me to stop me from doing what I want to do. ’Cause all I believe is what I think. All I believe in is me. My thoughts and the way I see things are my truths. It has to make sense to me. And then I’m with you.
So you wanted to decide for yourself…
I took a meeting with DJ Clue and Skane [Clue’s manager, Rich Skane], respectfully, to do a deal. [This is around 2002.] You know the first thing he said to me when we got in there? Skane, he said, “Yo, I spoke to the wolves. Niggas told me it’s all right to sit with you, do business.” ’Cause ’Preme thought I tried to kill him at the gas station. Somebody shot at him and tried to kill him at the gas station. So Skane’s saying, “I spoke to ’Preme, and he was like, Yo, it’s okay to fuck with you. He thought you tried to kill him, but he found out it was something else…”
Either way, he’s a wrap now, because the changes they don’t see is the financial transition. Same way the nigga that shot me wasn’t an in-house for them—he was just a shooter. I have access to that now. I have the finances. The shooters shoot as soon as the bag is dropped. So now, either they give him life, or they let him go and I give him life. They don’t understand the difference. The first album I was trying to explain it, Power of the Dollar. They had money when I didn’t have money, so I had to take bullets.