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.
How are you adjusting to all of the attention?
I’m in a new environment. I am just as uncomfortable being around the people that I am around now as they are being around me. When I come around, people get scared. ’Cause they feel like something can happen. Every article that you read on me, they talk about possibilities of me being killed, or me killing somebody. But I’m just as uneasy when they around. I don’t know whether if they was sent to be a fuckin’ writer, a photographer, or if you a federal fuckin’ agent. ’Cause you got so much type of police watching a nigga that it’s incredible at this point.
Do you have any type of relationship with the police?
The fuckin’ cops’ll tell you themselves that I don’t cooperate with them. Read the fuckin’ newspaper. [After Jam Master Jay was shot] they tell me that there’s a hit on me, and I won’t accept police assistance. Cops make me uncomfortable, honestly. Usually when they’re around, they’re around to take us to jail. It’s not a positive thing to see them present. I get uncomfortable just like you do when you see somebody that might not like you. The Police Department is not there to de-escalate situations. They’re there to clean up the mess. After somebody’s shot dead and killed, they wanna find out who shot the guy dead and killed him and pick him up. They don’t want to get information before it happens and stop it from happening. I never heard of that shit. If you tell me that, that’s a special, special case.
If a police officer tells you, “We know from valid sources that there’s a hit on you,” and they don’t tell you that they made an arrest, they’re only there to talk to you for information. If you telling me from valid sources you know I got a hit on me, then your next statement should be, “and we picked the guy up.” So you telling me that and you looking at me to see what I’m gonna say, and I’m like, “Excuse me. I gotta go.” It don’t matter nothing to me anyway. It ain’t nothing I ain’t been dealing with.
You’ve repeatedly been accused of being a snitch.
In The Source magazine, this guy from Houston said something about me. I never met J. Prince. [He put out the record “Snitch Nigga” by Z-Ro featuring Scarface and UGK’s Bun B]. But Bun B and Scarface both called me ahead of the record coming out and told me, “Those are old lyrics. The topic was ‘snitch,’ but they built that record around us and made it feel like we was talking about you on the whole record.” And [J. Prince] put a new nigga on the record that I ain’t never met before [Z-Ro]. I don’t even know this nigga name to even call it now. It’s a bunch of bullshit. It’s an attempt to generate some interest.
Out of all the insults that can be levied at you, why the snitch thing?
I think that me having a street-based situation, me being underground, my lyrical content, is what made them go towards me being a “snitch.” If there’s one thing that’s not cool to be, that’s a snitch. In certain places, you sentencing a nigga to death, calling them that.
Did you ever file a civil suit against Murder Inc.?
No. [In the 2000 stabbing incident at the Hit Factory] they ran in a room full of people. I’m not injured bad in that situation. Other niggas in that room felt like they just hit the jackpot. They took it in their own hands to do what they did. I never personally filed no nothing against them. And they didn’t say a civil suit, they said an order of protection, like I need protection from Ja Rule and Irv Gotti. And these niggas are bitches. Flat out. These niggas are not a threat to anyone. You can rub elbows with niggas that may possibly do something, hoping that they do it for you ’cause they feel like they your homie. But that’s all you can do. I haven’t really discussed how I felt. I felt like when they started that campaign, they didn’t think I was gonna take off. They was attempting to stop me from even being able to get money in the street.
What was your reaction to seeing Irv Gotti and Ja Rule on the cover of a recent issue of XXL?
Irv Gotti and Ja Rule make over a hundred references to me. First question is, “How does it feel to have beef with the hottest rapper?” So now that I know that it’s about me, I don’t have anything to say about Ja. Let him crawl out of that hole I just crawled out, ’cause that’s gonna be the hardest thing he ever did in his life. And I don’t think he got it in him to make people like him again. We gonna see how well they bounce back, ’cause they in a compromising situation at this point.
I’m winning ’cause, emotionally, I’m not uptight. I got him all out of character and he’s screaming and yelling. I could decide whether he has a nice day or if he don’t. I could put out a mixtape right now that bothers you. Now that I know that I’m in control, that’s enough. You gotta know your mark. If you don’t know when you won—What, then you just keep going? There’s nothing left for these guys. It’s a wrap for them.
When’s the last time you were scared?
I was scared when I was getting shot. I knew I was supposed to die, it was a hit. I was scared ’til the car pulled off and I know I’m alright. [Laughs] ’Cause this nigga shot nine times. This muthafucka that was driving the car [I was in] froze up, man. How the fuck this nigga got nine shots off? Man he shoulda got about three or four off before [the driver] peeled out, right? He froze up. He looking back this way, [I’m like,] “This nigga shooting me, nigga. Pull off!” That really was my last time feeling like that.
About a week from now, it’ll be three years since you were shot. What happened when you came out of the hospital? Did you have to go through psychiatric evaluation?
Nah. I think people that haven’t been in those environments, they might ask you to go to counseling. But that shit is not really necessary for me. I did shit, too—and got away with it—so it’s kinda like what goes around comes around. When I got out of the hospital, I was out of town for a little bit. I wouldn’t let people come see me in the hospital because I was bent up a little bit. I’m the strongest nigga from my section. The niggas around me, they look to me for answers to things. I can’t let them see me in a compromising space. I wouldn’t let them see me in the hospital while I was shot—Tony, none of them.
Tony Yayo’s locked up for jumping bail and weapons charges right now. When’s he getting out?
Yayo is gonna come out in the middle of promotions for the first single for the G-Unit album, which comes out in October. I had so much material recorded from Yayo prior to [his arrest] that he’s on the album. He’s excited about what records he’s been placed on when he hears it over the telephone. I still communicate with him a lot. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it was the best possible record. I’d let him miss the record before I would put a record out that didn’t have him looking like this was the best material he could possibly put out at that point.
Will the G-Unit album come out on G-Unit Records, distributed by Interscope?
Yeah, it’s the same kind of deal that Shady or Dre have with Interscope. I just gotta find my 50 Cent. But I’ma keep selling records. I’ma put another album out next year, in February. Following the G-Unit album, I’ll release my album and then we’ll be putting out Lloyd Banks’ solo, then Young Buck’s solo, and then Tony’ll be the third album that’s released. But when I go on tour with my second album, we gonna stay on tour ’til all three of those albums is released.
You must be the hardest-working cat in the rap game. How do you keep your schedule?
I get up at seven o’clock in the morning. When most artists is on tour, they up all night, ’cause they fuckin’ groupies and doing other shit. I’m in the bed asleep. And while I’m up at seven and there’s nobody around to bother me, I’m thinking about what do I do next to enhance myself. How do I go to the next level? I know how much room there is for me to improve, and I’m working on improving every day. I’m gonna make it difficult for artists to come behind me. It’s gonna be harder for them to make money. If they’re not conditioned to put mixtape material out and have album material waiting at the same time, they better get conditioned to doing that. You gotta do it like you do what you do for a living—from nine to five. It’s a fuckin’ luxury to be in this business. Three months before the album came out, I was touring. And I been in a different city performing every night since. Look at how much you getting paid. If I was standing on the corner and you tell me that I could make $100,000 every night? What do you mean, I need a rest? On the corner we don’t need rest. We don’t even stop sometimes to change our clothes. There’s been times I slept outside on the fuckin’ bench. It’s a big difference. Eventually, I’ll take a break just to give them a break from seeing me.
When’s the last time you spoke to your son or saw him?
This summer, I told him when he finishes school, that I’ma get him a nanny and bring him out for like a week or two. He be throwing tantrums and shit now that I ain’t around a lot. ’Cause my son always been with me all the time. This shit is big to him. But the fact that he sees me on TV as often as he does, it’s exciting to him. “I seen you on TV! Why you was climbing up that thing?” He’ll tell you I’m at work. That’s the only reason I would take time to stop.
What are your life’s priorities right now?
My son is the biggest priority. My priorities is all business-oriented after him. I watch other people’s success and know that I need to be working hard in order to progress. One time I did 10 cities with Master P. We sat down and we had a conversation and P was like, “Yo, you got it right now. I think you could fuck around and sell 10 million records this go-round, but I sold 75 million records in my career. And I ain’t never had one record that sold 10 million. Now, you say you a hustler, let me see you hustle.”
Certain shit that I see within Master P is the same thing that I see when I bump heads with Jay-Z; it’s the same shit I see in conversations with Puffy. They all still got that same shit that’s on my corner. They still hustling. That shit is still there.
Do you have any special plans for your first royalty check?
I’m cool. I live on the bus and in hotels right now. It’s just me and my little nigga, my son. Ain’t no need for no big-ass house or nothing like that. I think that’s a part of the perception of hip-hop, when people look at you: The bigger artists have the bigger diamonds and the prettier cars and nicer houses. And they may think that an artist is crazy. They watch Baby from Cash Money and he got 50 fuckin’ cars. They don’t realize that this guy was on the curb watching them fuckin’ cars go by and he ain’t have nothing. That’s why he’s splurging on those cars. And then you gotta think if you got 15 or 20 million dollars in the bank, on interest alone you could buy one of those cars every month. So he should have those cars. If that’s what makes him feel better, I feel he should have every one of those cars.
Lyrically, you’ve taken a step back from your older material. You’ve gotten less complex.
Yeah. I’ve wound down a bit. I feel certain areas, like the Southern markets, they just want to understand what you said the first time they hear it. You hear artists like Lil’ Flip—every fuckin’ word that come out his mouth you know what he just said. There’s no way you could not understand the clarity cause he’s rhyming slow. New York City is complex hip-hop. These niggas’ll do a story backwards in New York, like a film. Or do shit that a nigga in the country does not understand what the fuck you’re talking about when you start the rhyme. I make records that say, “I love to pump crack/Love to stay strapped/Love to squeeze Gats/But you don’t hear me, though/Whoo!” And you know what? If you approached me while I was on the corner and asked me what I was gonna do, I woulda told you I was gonna sell crack. That’s all I knew before music. I ain’t never had working papers, a job, none of that shit.
What do you say to someone who wants to be 50 Cent?
OK, you could be me. But you gotta start on May 24th , ten o’clock in the morning. By 12 [noon] you going to get shot the fuck up, nigga. And then we could take them back to other days. They don’t want to be me. I feel like when I meet people, they already have a perception of me—“This nigga’s crazy”—because of my outlook on things. If you not where I’m from, you really can’t understand it. You gotta look at it and be like, “This is how they think in the hood.” That’s what I’m the poster child for. And I’d like to be nothing else.
How close are you sticking to that hood mentality?
I don’t want to turn my blessings into something so negative that I could never come back from that after life. If you believe in a higher power, you have to believe in something. That’s the difference between right and wrong. I could take my influence now and turn New York City into Vietnam, World War III, ’cause there ain’t a nigga in the hood that ain’t come to me propositioning me to shoot niggas. But I don’t want to be the asshole that got in position and still jumped out the window like it didn’t count. [I don’t wanna] be the same way [as I was] out there. Everything that could happen to me, happened at once. I don’t think people take that into consideration. I’m the same person. I think the police take that into consideration. That’s why they follow me and watch everything we doing. They going, “Now he got the money, he could do anything at this point. He’s got people that don’t have nothing to lose [that hate him].” So, it’s more bulletproof vehicles involved, bulletproof vests and shit like that. ’Cause a nigga might decide to bust a shot just so it does something for his reputation.
How is the reversal of fortune treating you?
People have ups and downs. For some reason I’ve had more downs than ups. And now it feels like everything is going my way. I see new obstacles coming. I see new heads sticking up like they wanna have a problem with me. And I’m game. I’m all for it. I haven’t backed down before, I’m not gonna back down now. Even if I’m famous for killing somebody that was notorious in this game, they ain’t gonna forget me.´