From the Archives: Eminem, Dr. Dre & 50 Cent: “Triple Threat” [Originally Published on February, 2003]

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As we proceed to give you what you need! XXL‘s Get Rich or Die Tryin celebration continues today, and what better way to acknowledge both 50 and our own accomplishment than to put on one of the best hip-hop cover stories to ever grace the newsstands? The blockbuster feature that is Em, Dre, and 50—”Triple Threat.” Published a decade ago, right around the release of 50′s now classic debut, check out the current giants of hip-hop in their slightly younger days discussing their then quarrels with Ja Rule, The Source, and much more. 

Marshall’s home! And he brought along hip-hop’s greatest producer, DR. DRE, and its next big star, 50 CENT, to discuss all their bickering beefs. Shady/Aftermath season has begun, crumbs. You can hate them now.

Words: Noah Callahan-Bever

Ladies and Gentlemen, Children of All Ages

Rap is a circus. Step right up and witness the three-ring spectacular. Clowns, jugglers, acrobats and strongmen, everybody competing for the spotlight. But it gets hot under that glare. And not just from the wattage of the bulb. It’s the burning stare of a million jealous eyes. It’s knowing you’re a target, as bit-players jockey for your position. Success breeds envy. It’s just the penalty of leadership. The top dog is just who everybody wants to be, an’ shit. Let’s call this the All-Eyez-On-Me Principle. Word to 2Pac.

Currently, there’s no question as to who is hip-hop’s main attraction. Having sold more than 20 million records over the past four years and generated over $100 million at the box office with a hit movie loosely based on his life, Eminem has simply blown a hole in the big top. He is now a global pop-culture figure. He is Elvis, Madonna, Michael Jackson. Of course, this would never have been possible without the contributions, tutelage and partnership of the greatest producer in hip-hop history, the most important musical figure of the last 25 years (Yup. We said it)—Dr. Dre.

So just when it looked like things couldn’t get any better for Em and Dre, they made a move that seemed to put a lock on the future. In a joint venture between Em’s Shady Records and Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment, the pair signed the fastest-rising name in the rap game: 50 Cent.

Now, 50 Cent has a unique talent for making people feel uneasy. The brash, fearless Jamaica, Queens rapper (who first ripped through the industry back in ’99 with the stick-up kid anthem, “How To Rob”) was stabbed in a March 2000 brawl with Ja Rule’s Murderers crew, and shot nine times in an unrelated incident two months later, only to emerge this past summer as the streets’ hottest commodity. New York has been steadily pulsing with the sounds of 50’s syrupy hooks, sharp tongue and memorable drawl. There hasn’t been a buzz like this since the Notorious guy from Bed-Stuy.

Invoke the aforementioned principle right…now. First, in a magazine interview published this summer, Ja Rule said he was going to try and “take down” Em and Dre for signing 50. In November, on the airwaves of New York’s Hot 97, Ja and his Murder Inc. boss Irv Gotti accused 50 Cent of snitching to police.

Things got even weirder in November 2002. Quite out of the blue, longtime Boston rapper and “co-owner” of The Source magazine, Raymond “Benzino” Scott, began publicly disparaging Eminem—first on a radio freestyle, which targeted the superstar for his use of professional security, then on a three-verse mixtape exclusive, “Pull Your Skirt Up,” which attacked him for not representing the streets, not respecting his own mother and generally for being a fraud. Eminem responded with two songs of his own: “The Sauce,” a vicious dig at Benzino and The Source publisher Dave Mays which questioned the integrity of the magazine, and the more damming, more personal “Nail In The Coffin.”

Never one to roll over, Benzino retaliated with “Die Another Day.” Flipping his beef into one about skills to one about race, he labeled Eminem “the rap Hitler” and called for his death and that of his daughter.

Although in radio interviews Benzino maintains that he keeps his relationship with The Source and his rap career completely separated, he has nonetheless brought the magazine into his war or words (“Sayin’ that I’m broke, you must be crazy/Every time you’re in The Source your label has to pay me”). Likewise, The Source issued a press release that asserted the magazine’s objectivity, then went on to say that Eminem represents a “dangerous” machine that threatens to take hip-hop out of the hands of the Black community that created it.

Here’s where things get tricky for XXL. As if anyone needed to be reminded, the magazine you now hold in your hand is in direct competition with The Source. By involving itself in a musical dispute between its co-owner and a rap celebrity, our rival publication has made itself a part of a story it’s our job to cover. Our goal is to document one of the more bizarre episodes in rap music history, not merely provide a forum for the biggest starts in the business to slam our competition. (Our editor-in-chief does a fine job of that in his editorials.)

Furthermore, XXL would like to stress that, while we believe rap battles are an integral part of hip-hop, and animosity often fuels artistic brilliance, we’d like to make it very clear: We are against the escalation of words into violence. Everybody knows controversy and conflict sell, and a good amount of the posturing and posing is for dramatic effect. We’re all for keeping it that way.

As the various parties align themselves strategically—finding unlikely partnerships with those that share common beefs—Eminem, Dr. Dre, and 50 Cent are in Los Angeles putting the finishing touches on 50’s Get Rick or Die Trying. XXL catches the treacherous three on the set of the video for the first official single “In Da Club,” where they take a moment to sit down and discuss the situation that they find themselves in.

Rap is a circus. Welcome to the greatest show on Earth.