50 Cent on the 10-Year Anniversary of ‘The Massacre’
50 Cent is bleeding. Or at least that's what it looks like on first glance; the G-Unit general is taking a break from filming a fight scene for the second season of his Starz TV show Power and the fake blood on his mouth and cheek indicate some of the blows found their mark. It's a Thursday night at the end of February and the brutal New York winter is making the air in the Queens warehouse where the set is located drafty and thin, but 50 doesn't seem to mind. A green barn coat covers thick arms and a quick smile is never far from his face as he sits at a low wooden table eating dinner from a take out container. Even during his break, 50 stays working.
Ten years ago today, on Mar. 3, 2005, 50 Cent released his sophomore album for Interscope/Aftermath/Shady Records, titled The Massacre. At the time 50 and his G-Unit crew were in the midst of a nearly unparalleled run in terms of popularity and impact set in motion with the titanic release of Fif's debut LP Get Rich Or Die Tryin' in February 2003. In just two years, 50 Cent, Young Buck, Lloyd Banks, Tony Yayo and new addition The Game had sold millions of albums, topped every conceivable Billboard chart, released dozens of mixtapes and cultivated a reputation as hip-hop's most dangerous—and successful—crew, with 50 at its head. With a film and soundtrack on the way for the end of 2005 and Game's The Documentary kicking off the year that January with a No. 1 debut, the stage was set for 50 to devastate the industry again.
The Massacre delivered on that promise, moving 1.14 million copies in its first five days—trailing only Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP for the highest first-week sales of any hip-hop album ever—and spawning four Top 10 singles in the U.S., including 50's third No. 1, "Candy Shop" featuring Olivia. But the album's 21 songs also painted a broader picture showcasing more than 50's snarling, grinning persona that he rode relentlessly on his debut. Songs like "God Gave Me Style" and "Ryder Music" were 50 opening up on record and showing a slightly softer side under that bulletproof exterior. "A Baltimore Love Thing" is one of his best extended metaphors, telling a story of addiction through the eyes of the drug heroin. "I'm Supposed To Die Tonight" has him sneering at his haters, laughing off their shots at his throne. He's more versatile, even if the same number of gunshots litter the album.
As with everything, and especially when 50 Cent is involved, the real story of The Massacre emerges through context. Following Get Rich Or Die Tryin' Interscope had shifted their new artist The Game into 50's camp, creating an uneasy alliance that nonetheless proved fruitful with the release of The Documentary six weeks prior to Fif's LP. But a week before The Massacre, 50 kicked Game out of G-Unit live on the radio. Game showed up at Hot 97's offices in Manhattan while 50 was still on the air and attempted to enter the building, leading to a scuffle in which a man was shot in the leg. Despite attempts at reconciliation, the incident sparked a war of words and diss tracks that was never resolved, adding Game to a list of 50's enemies that at that time included Ja Rule, Fat Joe, Jadakiss and Nas, among others.
Now, a decade removed from that time, very little is the same. Interscope is in the past for 50, while his film career has shifted into the television world with Power. G-Unit is back together after an extended hiatus, pared down to the core four members and one new addition, New Orleans MC Kidd Kidd. The mixtapes have slowed but the money has grown; in the past 10 years Fif has made so much money with his partnerships and side hustles that, if he wanted, he would never have to work again. But that's not in 50 Cent's DNA, which is why he's squeezing in an interview while eating dinner, multi-tasking and making sure every hustle is handled.
At the 10 year anniversary of The Massacre, 50 Cent sits down with XXL to talk about the making of his sophomore LP, the songs and moments that made the album possible and why he's never gotten the recognition he's deserved. Hate it or love it, this is 50. —Dan Rys
XXL: The Massacre was your second album, coming off the biggest debut for a rapper in history. What was your mindset when you got back in the booth to start working on the followup to Get Rich Or Die Tryin'?
50 Cent: The first record that I wrote that was supposed to be my second album, I did it so fast. It was like three days, over a weekend. I recorded 12 records, but they were all two verses. They were incomplete songs and I knew I had to go back to come up with something to bring the lyrics all the way to standard, but I got what I was trying to get out. The concepts where there, the choruses were playin', the outline for the album was there. But it had happened so fast that I was like, maybe I should just keep writing. It's always good to keep writing until you actually meet the deadline, but I ended up flying to Los Angeles because [Interscope boss] Jimmy [Iovine] wanted to meet with me. They wanted to see if I would work with this other artist that Dre was working with, which was Game. And they said, "The kid can rap, but he's not a great songwriter."
My song structure is the strongest portion of my writing habits. I learned to count bars and write music under Jam Master Jay. And because he was a producer, it was a consistent thing; it was like, training an artist to be a songwriter for other people, the way a songwriter would approach the studio like, "Every night let me write a few songs, two or three songs." But I'm doing it for myself as an artist. A lot of the time the songwriters who are really talented get more excited about the person they're writing [for] than they are about themselves. So they can write a hit record for Beyonce or for Usher but they ain't gonna write that when it come time for them to write for themselves. And I was always intending to write music for me. So it just locked in.
When Jimmy called for me to do it I was like, "Alright, cool, I'll fix it," and I gave it [to Game]. I only worked with him for about, I think, four days. 'Cause I had this album already planned so I was like, "Yo, just do this." And one by one he went through, 'cause he can rap; he wrote the verses and stuff. And when I got back the only one that wasn't done was "How We Do." 'Cause Dre produced that one, and when I got the record I made "How We Do," but I was making it for me. And Dre, he got a problem with pushing the button; like, he won't push the button for his artists for Lord knows how long they've been sitting there. He had Joe Beast, he had Brooklyn, Bishop Lamont, Rakim, Busta Rhymes, Raekwon. Slim The Mobster. None of them got out. He was in love with "How We Do" and I was like, "Yo, I'll give him that if you put it out right now." And we just put it out. Put it together. Sold about five million records for Game's album [The Documentary] and then I came back.
I had to go re-write The Massacre, too. I was approaching The Massacre initially without writing anything sexual on the record. I was giving them "Hate It Or Love It" and these other things that didn't have any sexual energy to them. Before I Self-Destruct was aimed at the street; I was making a street record. I wanted people to embrace it, but I'm making what I want to make, creatively. So that record is harder. The Curtis album is more like my actual personality. I did things creatively, I collaborated with people, worked with them. Me and Justin, No. 1 records, "I Get Money" and different things.
G-Unit was expanding at that time, too, with Mobb Deep, M.O.P., Olivia...
Right. G-Unit was already built, but those new additions were coming. I was building the aura of a company instead of 50 and his homeboys, you know what I mean? Like, D-12 grew up and was around Em prior to his career; those were his friends, so they received the opportunity based on them being friends. And the same for the St. Lunatics, and I point out Nelly because Nelly sold seven million records. That wasn't no chump change, that was a big album, Country Grammar. The largest debut album prior to [Get Rich] was Snoop's Doggystyle. And coming off of Get Rich Or Die Tryin', the first record that I wrote, I didn't give it to Game. It was "God Gave Me Style." And I wrote that record because in 2003 if you asked me to make a wish, the only thing I'd ask for was for that record to be a success. Get Rich Or Die Tryin' meant everything. You see what I'm sayin'?
And as it were, I actually went to my grandmother. I played my grandmother the song. It was the first time I was able to play her a record without kind of cringing. My whole life I had to be two people; I had to be 50 Cent outside and then I had to be Curtis inside with my grandmother. Some of the stuff that I say on the records are 50 Cent lines, and my grandmother looks at me and goes, [Pauses] "Where'd that come from?" So when I played that one she was like, "I like that one. Wow, you done made one for me." [Laughs] Then she said, "Don't forget why people like you." She said, "I know what you're doing, I know why you're writing it, but don't forget why people liked you to begin with." And I was like, "Oh, shit," and then next record that I wrote was "Curtis 187." It was back to the darker [side]. And this is what they always want from 50 Cent.
You could get a "21 Questions" from Drake right now. He'd give you a dope one, some really dope shit. You can get that kinda content on other artists' albums that we know do that particular style very well. And predominantly they're that. And for me, there's things that will get a little darker or harder, now a little more business-oriented, different things that you wouldn't get from that other guy, you know what I mean? And it's cool.
At that period... This is what people don't know. I had a conversation with Jimmy Iovine. Jimmy said, "Wow, fuckin' amazing. I don't know how this has so much magic." Talking about when music connects like that, to that level where everywhere you go, you can spin the globe and anywhere you stop you could say, "50 Cent," and people would say, "Hell yeah, I like that." It's just worldwide. Everybody just likes the idea or the concept of the creator.
Now, you know, the climate has shifted so dramatically. I was hustling before the music started. And when I stopped hustling [the neighborhood] didn't really understand. They were like, "What? You gonna rap? Whatchu gonna rap about?" I said, "'Bout what we be doin'." And they like, "Ugh, I don't know if that works." 'Cause the rappers that they knew in the neighborhood were career rappers like [Mr.] Cheeks. He rapped since we knew him, period. We knew him for rapping, that's it. So they were like, "Are you sure you can do that shit?" Like, they'd go in the spot and rap until you'd want to ask them, "Please get off the microphone, please go back and sit your ass on the side with everybody else and let's just party. Play the records." And they'd just keep kind of going and going and going. But I was already at the roof of what I could get out of the neighborhood. And I knew what come next, 'cause they gotta start trying to get you after that.
There's only two ways that can go after that.
Yeah. So I'm lookin' at that, and [rap] was a thing that I had passion for that I could put all of my energy into. And it worked. Particularly [with] The Massacre, I had a lot of fun on that record. I had "Ryder Music." This was my way of doing a soulful song without actually... Like, now the artists are singing. I'm so happy I can say this now; that shit that they're doing now is singing. What I was doing back then was holding melodies, and it's all flat monotone in my speaking voice; it's Donnell Jones, "Oooh, say what say what say what," it's not muthafuckin' Keith Sweat cryin' and singin'.
These niggas hittin' notes now. It's a whole other thing going on. I enjoy it. They're using street content. Our formats are merging. Nobody's paying attention to it, but R&B and hip-hop are one thing.
That's why we had R&B on our Freshmen cover last year; the line has blurred more than it ever has.
Yeah. And when you got artists like Chris [Brown], young male solo artists are hip. So they're writing content that matches the lifestyle. It's coming in and it's actually effective, it's working. The shit Trey [Songz] is doing is dope. Jeremih is one of those guys, he's the sleeper, he's the one who's gonna get there whether people want it or not. "Down On Me," there was no reason for me to do the record, they couldn't pay me. I did the record because I knew what he was gonna be. Ask YG; I did his first record, "Toot It," because I knew what he was gonna be. You see what I'm saying? It takes time for an artist to develop.
A big window of time, if you was in love with hip-hop, you know who you saw right at the head of it with no confusion at all. I don't think [new artists] can be like 50 Cent. I don't think they've been forced to be under as harsh circumstances as I've been under. So they can't beat me at what I was doing at that point. That was me being me; there's people who can be better at you than things, but not better than you at being you.
So the initial basis of The Massacre was given to Game for The Documentary.
Right; that was my first shot at The Massacre. And then I came back around and I wrote "Ryder Music" and I wrote pieces that I felt like were... I make music that's personal and then the depth of the storytelling becomes next level. Like, some of those things Drake is telling you on those records, he experienced. Some of it is good writing but the other shit is part of his experience, because he wouldn't have those details he has in it in his process.
And that leads to somebody finding the girl who worked at the Hooters on Peachtree in Atlanta.
Right, that he knows. Yeah, it's real shit. The process is a beautiful thing when you can look at it and see it and appreciate it. 'Cause I had the opportunity to take a step back and watch it. And I see where it's going. It kind of got to "Kumbaya, my Lord," like everybody was trying to be friends by the fire. Our culture is competitive, it's not everybody friends by the fire. You haven't even heard artists have a dispute. If they do, it's a couple punch lines and then they disappear, everybody fades; it's so subtle. Don't think they all like each other, 'cause they don't.
For you, on a song like "Piggy Bank," you made it real clear who you were going after.
Well, those records had already established to people that I couldn't make it up. After Biggie and Tupac, it was almost taboo to mention someone else's name on a record. And that was there until I put out "How To Rob." And that was desperation, that record. I was approaching a release date, the company didn't understand me as an artist at all and they was just gonna release the record. And that would've been the end of it right there. [Laughs] The game is cold, man, so sometimes you gotta maneuver and make shit happen on your own. The record company ain't gonna do anything for you but arrange nice photographs, get you a nice picture, a nice music video and put you on out. And then see what happens from there. Before you know it, your budget'll run up; they don't even let the budget run up no more. [Laughs] They'll pull that bitch down.
So you started over after giving those 12 songs to Game for The Documentary. At what point did The Massacre really start to take shape for you?
When I start my process, there's one song that kinda defines the whole record and then I know how to build the pieces around that song. Like, say I made records and I got four or five records where I feel like I got good songs there but there's nothing to write home about, it's just cool music. But when you find that song that kinda sets itself apart, it starts to shape the album. For Get Rich Or Die Tryin' that song was "Many Men." For The Massacre, funny enough it was "Position Of Power." That song made me understand what else I wanted to do with the record. And because I followed the same format that I used the first time, it was a maximum playing time with  cuts, the most you could fit onto a CD at that time. I didn't really deal with a lot of features. Now when an artist comes out it's a compilation. My records had maybe one or two features with artists that I brought around to support.
When it came to rap features you only had Em and Yayo on it.
Mhmm. I kept it down to that, because by then the artists had already had their solo projects out. So I didn't have that whole, "I gotta have a verse from Banks." At that point, the guys had established themselves and they had their own niche, their own wave. There was no reason to not put my idea on the record, to put something that was a collaboration that could possibly help their career. There was no reason to make that sacrifice at that point.
If you looked at what my temperament is with artists versus the way Jay [Z] would orchestrate things, you would see that I do a lot. A lot more than anyone would actually do, really. Jay's not doing the wrong thing, he's being a company head and not allowing the artists to utilize him as a platform to market themselves, it's just, "I'll catch up to you when you get in position." Ain't nothin' wrong with that, you know? I just get so passionate about the artist while I'm listening to [them] that I believe it speeds the process up for me to associate myself with it.
You had a lot more Eminem production on the album, Dr. Dre is only on two tracks. Scott Storch had three cuts, "Candy Shop," "Build You Up" and "Just A Lil Bit" and they became some of the biggest songs from the album.
Storch was in Florida. Funny enough, [Fat] Joe was working with him. One of those records ["Just A Lil Bit"], I think he was producing with him. Joe, he can produce records. He just... If I'm fighting somebody, if I'm beefing with somebody, if I got issues with them. If they drowning and you throwing them a life preserver, then my problem's on the dock. It's with you, throwing them a life preserver, you know what I'm saying? None of our issues were me and his issues, or me and Jadakiss' issues, it was the record and it was me controlling what was going on at the moment.
So it was like, before that can shift and be anything special, let me jump on this and make this a bigger issue to our culture than the record itself. But it never was anything personal with him. It's just a move. When you see, Nas'll beat Jay when it's the music, but not necessarily maneuver as good as he did following that. So it doesn't really feel like there's a loss when you can maneuver properly.
The Massacre dropped March 3. The Documentary had come out January 18, like six weeks before. A week before The Massacre you kicked Game out of G-Unit live on the radio, that whole incident happens outside of Hot 97. A lot of people had chalked it up at the time to a publicity stunt for the album. Was it?
Nah, you don't usually shoot people to sell records. But it was a surprise. See, at points if you're on Interscope Records, you have to identify Interscope Records as meaning the West Coast. Interscope was the West. And I just happened to be an East Coast artist. So even though I'm signed to the label and down with everybody, they had these other codes or things they wouldn't do because of their loyalty to the West or whatever. So to this day, you never heard Dre say anything the entire time Game said what he said, 'cause he's not sure if it's okay to say it. "I mean, this is the West." Oh, okay.
So there's points that you'd find yourself in the L.A. Lakers locker room with a New York Knicks jersey on. You see what I'm saying? It's supposed to be the team you signed up to play with, but everybody else got on a different uniform. And it kinda went that way all the way through. It's different shit, they function on different things. It's funny that they were all there though to watch the boy get punched upside his head at the awards show and didn't do nothin'. Then the boys from the East Coast were there to save the day. [Ed. Note: Dr. Dre was assaulted at the 2004 Vibe Awards and in the ensuing melee the man who attacked Dre was stabbed. Young Buck would plead no contest to "assault likely to produce bodily harm" and was given three years' probation.]
And Buck caught that one.
Naw, actually Buck didn't.
They gave him probation for it.
Yeah, they don't usually give you probation for attempted murder. [Laughs] Right? You puncture somebody's lung, they don't give you probation. They got the wrong person.
The album opens with a Valentine's dedication and a whole bunch of gunfire.
'Cause it's February—St. Valentine's Massacre. That was the theme for the record. It was St. Valentine's Day Massacre, then it became The Massacre.
Then the first record that opens the album is "In My Hood." What did that record mean for you?
It's a description of the way it is in the neighborhood. It's a defense mechanism to kinda have that energy, moving around with that energy like you 'bout that shit, like you with it, whatever. You'll see people do it and you'll look but they don't really want no problems, they just wearin' that in they face to prevent a problem, so you'll avoid them. Because usually people who don't want confrontation or any conflict will avoid someone who looks unhappy or got some shit goin' on that I ain't got nothin' to do with. So I ain't fuckin' with him, he look like he got somethin' else goin' on. So they'll throw that on, and that's what I was sayin' in the very beginning, "Niggas screw they face up at me/On some real shit, son, they don't want beef/Cock that, aim that shit out the window, spray/There ain't a shell left in my heat/Y'all niggas better lay down, yeah I mean stay down/You get hit with AK round, your ass ain't gonna make it." That'd be a hit record for Dej Loaf right now. [Laughs] You know how she be singin' some gangsta shit. [Sings] "Try Me, Try Me."
That was the first [album] to shoot a video for every song. They were low budget music videos, but the deluxe package had a video for every song in it. I started early. Just lookin' at what was gonna happen next, and if you look, ThisIs50.com. I'm the only one with a functional site out here. The rest of them using everybody else's platforms.
"This Is 50" is the next track on the album, too.
Yeah. All of this stuff already was creating content and working on these things at different points. It was early. It just changed, even the approach on different things. Like, the most awkward position you can be in while competing with an artist, if your messaging points is off, you hit a point where... What I started running into was, the music was preventing me from making the corporate moves. Like, every time I did the music we would market it like crazy. So it went off and it was so unpredictable that the companies were afraid, that Interscope wasn't even having nothing that they could do for me outside of what they was providing with the marketing dollars for [the album]. So I'm like, "Yo, fuck are they doin'?" My marketing campaign was hard labor; how hard can I work between this window and the next window of making notoriety? But everybody else would have additional finances from little things that they would go on and do.
Side hustles, things like that.
Yeah, like fuck this. I'm responsible for the 360 deal. The year Vitamin Water went was the year it [became] damn near mandatory that artists give up... You know the contract is saying, "If you ever make it to a point where you can make a deal, we want a piece. But we have nothing to facilitate you making a deal." Huh? Get the fuck outta here. They saw that Vitamin Water money come in and it pissed them off. Jimmy was going, "I'm Frank [Lopez, from Scarface]. You're supposed to give me a piece." I'm like, "Yeah, you give me a deal I'll give you a piece." There ain't no deal, there ain't no muthafuckin' piece, boy. I made a lot of money for Interscope, you feel me?
I mean, The Massacre sold over a million in five days. That's Eminem territory.
Yeah, but you gotta shoot a nigga. You gotta shoot a nigga at the radio station on the week of release. [Laughs] Or you gotta die like 2pac to do some shit like that.
But also, there was a soundtrack that came out around that time, too. And the G-Unit album.
Listen, I never received the accolades connected to the success of my material. The soundtrack got nothing. We sold three million copies, millions of singles, each one of the singles that came out. No Best Song [nomination] in the film, no nothing. Artist that I worked with on Get Rich Or Die Tryin', that was my co-star, he had a film that was coming at the same time. Originally, my title for Get Rich Or Die Tryin' was A Hustler's Ambition, and I changed it because his film was Hustle & Flow. Terrence Howard's Hustle & Flow. Three 6 Mafia got "Hard Out Here For A Pimp," a big song that didn't sell three million records.
There's a politics that goes on within the music structure that I wasn't a part of and I would consistently get shuffled around. Best New Artist, I didn't even get Best New Artist [at the Grammys]. For the largest debuting hip-hop album there's no Best New Artist.
But you went up there.
I did, I had on my good clothes so I walked up to the front. I didn't take the award or nothin', I just stood there so people could see me. [On the Get Rich Or Die Tryin' film] Film is art imitating life, right? Acting is the study of human behavior. So when they look at a film that's based on a true story, how could you not appreciate it in ways? But there's genres, and they'll look at it as a black action or a gangsta film. The director, I had Jim Sheridan. Director was big as a muthafucka. Quincy Jones did the score. We didn't spare no pennies, made $36 million on that film. It was the same team that created 8 Mile with the same expectations. There's lines there; they're blurry, but they're still there. When they say White music or Black music, it's just urban or Top 40 and those artists do end up to a bigger audience. Their music connects there.
Tell me about "I'm Supposed To Die Tonight." What does that song mean to you?
It's like Biggie's, "Damn, niggas wanna stick me for my paper." That is what happens when success starts to happen for you—it affects people in different ways. It bothers them at their core because it shows them their imperfections, or that they're insignificant at that point. And when people don't understand, when they got confused, a lot of times they get angry. And I'd hear things, different guys from the neighborhood, because they couldn't really stand not being able to go nowhere and have me be the hottest thing happening anywhere they go. So they was like, "Yo, fuck that nigga, he ain't all that." There'd always be different energy because they were sick of hearing so much about you. They love it at first and then they hate it because it's not them, or they're not a part of it. And then you start to hear, "What? Killa that nigga." And the industry, they out there. Certain things you act on, certain things you don't.
Pick your battles.
Yeah. And a lot of times I'd watch and I'd use it. I'd write the song that matches it and they'd have to feel those feelings again when the music comes out, 'cause it's there and it's like, "He talkin' 'bout you!" [Laughs] They'd hear the song and it'd hit them.
The biggest song on The Massacre, it was your third No. 1 single at that point, was "Candy Shop" with Olivia.
Yeah, "Candy Shop" was a big one. Usually when a record is that big it works twice. So you get, "I'll take you to the candy shop/I'll let you lick the lollipop." And then later you get, "L-L-L-Lick you like a lollipop." And it popped again. Like "Ayo Technology" with me and Justin, now Chris got one, "Ayo!" That shit poppin'. Usually those joints come back around.
A lot of people said at the time that it sounded like "Magic Stick."
"Candy Shop"? I don't think so. I think the metaphor, having it be a metaphor... We played with how we wrote music a lot different. Everybody had to offer something to our culture, had to make something that was kind of groundbreaking or fresh and new. That was the task all the time. Now I don't see that. I see them just trying to find something that works, get into the trend of things that's happening at the moment and not make something special. We got to the point where we was telling stories backwards. I just did it on "The Funeral"; I started at the end, I'm in the funeral and then I rap to you about how the nigga got to his funeral. It's like the films we watch, we would write a song that captures that energy and do it in four minutes.
I'ma bring some of that back, I know that. I'ma bring that back on this next album. Whether they embrace it or not is another thing, but I got some real stuff I've been workin' on, man, I think people will appreciate it. Music, it's definitely timing, it's definitely... You know, there's points where people's ears turn off. When you've been having so much success in front of them that they just go, "Please, just get away from us." I saw them do it to Wayne a little bit, you know what I mean? Like the younger kids sayin' things that wasn't so cool about shit that I'm listening to and I'm like, "Why you don't like it? Hold up, what's not to like about the joint? It's not that it's whack, the beat wasn't garbage." And they'd be like, "Ahh," 'cause they put you up against your own work.
You have your street records, you have your records for women. The Massacre seems like a balance between the two.
Yeah. I mean, those things aren't that far off. Musically, instinctively, I go different directions when the production will take me there. When you're building your album, you can listen to it and say, "What completes this record? What makes this a solid effort?" And when you get down close to the end you say, "I need two records like this, I need the second single, I got my first single I need the second." And then you envision what that is and what time frame. What's happening now is interesting because radio is so fucked up that the nightclubs are dictating what's gonna be next.
It's like, you hear a beat, you're like, "I could hear that in the club," and then the record goes.
Right, it plays in the nightclub and the mixshow DJ takes it back to radio and starts to play it there 'cause of the response he got in the nightclub. Then it catches, different things and everybody gets a chance to rock out to it online. But radio is losing its power 'cause they're not able to make decisions and put things in.
There are corporate ownership issues there, too; they can't always choose their playlists.
Yeah. It's terrible. When it takes fuckin' 14 weeks to do what you used to do in six to eight? It's crazy. You can't even really get the records into... I can't put another record out. I gotta put a record out and let it sit and work that record. Because if you put out the other one they go, "Oh, yeah yeah, that new joint?" And they'll start playing the new song and it starts to cut into what they're doing with the one you already put out that's already on the charts and then it looks like a decrease in some areas, but it's not. It's actually them playing your other record. Everybody is oranges and apples anyway, so if you put one out they'll go here, and the other one is gonna go, "Oh, I like the other one." They never can agree across the board unless you give them one record to listen to.
You got a couple of those records for the ladies at the end of The Massacre; the one with Jamie Foxx ("Build You Up"), "So Amazing" with Olivia. Were those the types of records that you were putting on thinking about, "Okay, I need a couple records for the ladies"?
Well at that point I had put a lot of music out, so it was like, 19 cuts, technically that's a double CD. That's two albums. But you put 19 cuts on a project and say, "How do I balance it out?" It has to be double; you're doing two albums at once, you know what I mean? To keep someone's interest for that long, that's a lot. When you see an artist put out a mixtape and they got 19 cuts on the mixtape, I think they've lost they mind. You know, no one has the time or the energy to listen to 19 street records that you made. It has to be a balanced to be effective. The content has to be weighed out where a person can listen to it and say, "I like this whole tape."
The intention's to go the hardest shit possible, but if I was doing that I'd do a whole body of work like War Angel. That is specifically a thought. That's why it took a weekend for me to do the tape. It's like, I'm telling you to do it. Whatever you thinking about doin'? Do it. It's interesting; I always get with that one, sometime I'll play it when there's nothin' goin' on. The energy connected to it, it's just raw.
Tell me about "Disco Inferno," the album's first single.
"Disco Inferno," you know what? That record, Dre didn't understand it. Dangerous LLC, he did the joint. I had gave him a song deal; he produced the record, I liked it and I wrote the lyrics that you hear on that song to a track that Dre gave me. So maybe, I don't think Dre liked it 'cause I moved it, like I moved the lyrics off a beat that he made to that song 'cause I was done. I was like, "Yo, I like this track, this'll work." The way the drum fell on it, it was dope. I was like, "Dre, you gotta mix this." And I got him to mix the record for me.
He is Dr. Dre, man. That muthafucka, he used to make records—by accident that muthafucka'd make a hit. [Laughs] Don't sleep on him. It's ill, 'cause I don't think hip-hop now really appreciates that. But Dre is 50 [years old] now, right? So his kids should actually be poppin' in hip-hop right now.
You had the track "Gatman And Robbin'" with Eminem, too. How'd you come up with the concept for that record?
Well with me and Em it's like, we've always played the two villains. And instead of Batman and Robin, it's "Gatman And Robbin'." You know, 'cause the beat was movin'—dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun. We were in Detroit; most of the time when you hear me and Em together we record it in his studio. Em's a complete lab rat. He can do anything else you can think of; if he wanted to be in movies, he could do movies.
He liked the Southpaw script; he was gonna play Gyllenhaal's role in Southpaw at one point. And you seen what Gylenhaal did with that shit. I think Paul [Rosenberg] was supposed to direct it. Em is really a boxing fan, heavy. And can fight, too, he can fuck you up. He can really box. He had real, professional trainers come to his house and train him to box. That's how he got back in shape after his drinking and everything. 'Cause he spent a lot of time watching boxing and shit, big Roy Jones fan. He's my patna, I love him. Outside of my grandmother, I don't really know anyone else who has been [as] consistent. A lot of other people it's business; we're associates, not even friends.
Like, "We're here because we're both getting money together."
Right, that's it. Em really was there because he said so. When you're sellin' 23 million records of The Marshall Mathers LP, everybody wanna do what you wanna do, trust me. So I never get confused about that shit, I don't care what he did. He can come to your video shoot and run you over and then back up over you and I'd be like, "Goddamn, why that guy get up under that car while Em was tryna drive? That guy got under the fuckin' car!" It would still be your fault that this shit is happenin'. [Laughs] That's just the way it is.
Were you spending a lot of time with Em during that period? He's got four production credits on the album.
I spent more time during that album with him than usual. And I spent some time in Florida, that's why I did the Scott Storch records. I'd go to Detroit, chill at the hotel, come to the studio, we'd work, over and over the same shit until something special comes out. And then not be pressed, because certain records I'd be like, "Em, I need you to mix this record for me." Em mixed "On Fire" for Lloyd Banks; there are certain records that were different, they were bare, there were samples that had this and that, strings, I'd be like, "Yo, let Em hear it, let him do it." 'Cause he had a crew, he was really going after producing. Like Dre, you know what I'm sayin'? He was doing that shit too. It was like a whole other thing, and they were lookin' at it like, that's astronomical numbers. His ideas were selling for multiple reasons, you know what I'm sayin'?
You worked with Hi-Tek, too, and he kinda laced up some of the more soulful shit on the album.
He had some shit. Like, I watch certain artists and they do different things. Hi-Tek, Kweli, the shit that they would do, they had some ill joints. So I was like, Yo, let me see what you got for me. Him, Denaun [Porter], they sleeping on Denaun, he's nice. He really did "P.I.M.P." He did some shit, he worked. There's a few other guys out there that I like to check because I know they be havin' some shit and it might be what you need. That piece that makes the puzzle.
You never know where that's gonna come from.
Yeah. Like I'll take Apex, [who produced] "I Get Money," first track. "What Up Gangsta," Rob Reef, first track. Nitti Mafia. These guys had runs following that, but who the fuck knew them when I picked the beat?
Tell me about "A Baltimore Love Thing."
That's my favorite song. I had spent time in a youth drug treatment program 'cause I had cocaine possession cases. One of my god brothers, he had had several cases and was on his third time as a felon on the case we were on. And the guy Charlie Rock from my neighborhood—God bless him, Charlie died, he's not in the neighborhood anymore—but he got picked up. And I got arrested for telling my god brother he couldn't tell people where to go get it. He had went to jail, he did about five years, and while he was gone the laws changed. So somebody had asked him something 'cause he was standing there. He didn't know, so he said, "Nah, go see my man, go see my man." And I was like, "No, you can't do that," just tellin' him he can't do that [with the new laws]. You know what they arrested me for? Saying, "You can't do that." That meant I had knowledge of the sale.
But it was a case where they actually had us all [down there]. And because he had just did five years [my god brother] wasn't ready to cop out. And it was one of those situations where we should cop out, because Charlie had like an eighth on him across the street, you know what I'm sayin'? So it was like, "Yo, we gotta cop out now or Charlie gonna be up the river." And I'm callin' home like, "Yo, I'm tryna tell this nigga we should cop out right now." And then I ended up in an in-patient drug facility for some time while I was there. That song was really the only thing that I've written that was a reflection of that experience, so I could kinda use the relationship between the drug heroin and a female addict and then make it human. Make it love. 'Cause it's H, I'm makin' it human.
[Like] if you're in love with a female addict and she tries to leave you and she starts to listen to people who constantly tell her that you not the right one for her, but every time she come back you make her feel good and you start to feel like she's using you. So you kinda get angry and pull her further into addiction.
There's a lot of different levels to that metaphor.
Right, a lot of layers to it that made it something that I always looked at it and was like, "Yo, that's my favorite joint on that album." 'Cause I got so far into how, even your sister, she bi, she fuck with that girl, [with] cocaine as that girl. Everything you hear means something else. It's twisted, there's double meanings to things that are there. "I got you barefooted on glass, chasin' a dove/That monkey on your back symbolize my love."
Did it take you long to pull that song together?
Nah, it just came. 'Cause like, sometimes you'll hear some writing and you'll be like, "Damn, how you write something like that?" And it was nothing, it just came out. Writing is like fitness; when you doin' it and doin' it and doin' it, you get more comfortable, you can put bigger weights on, you can do more weight—
It gets easier.
It gets easier and easier and easier. And it's just that, you gotta go in that mode. That's why I usually release mixtapes before I release an album, because that will define whether I'm in pocket with my ideas. That's the simplest way to put it, the best metaphor for it: it's like fitness. It will get easier and easier and easier. You know? You'll see some guys write and you'll be like, Damn, that was crazy, that was amazing how you put it together, and it just came out that way. You know what I mean?
Sometimes you get one and it just feels right.
Yeah. Even the rhythm to the, "You're addicted to me/We got a love thing." That was one of the joints where it still felt like I was doing something melody-wise without me leaving those tones. And it says what I want it to say. Like, you know how you can start something and it'll be a big collage of lines that just came and it's just cool, it feels good? That's one thing. And then if you have something that has real depth to it and it comes out the way you want it [you're] like, "Ooh, you hear this shit? Listen to that second verse." Like, when you feel like the second verse might be better than the first verse and I don't know which one should go first. [Laughs] You feel what I'm sayin'? And you like hold up, nah, I'ma leave it like that because then it's goin' up, it's getting better as it goes. And you just sit there to yourself and you're like, "This is hot."
Two of them, they the same tempo, "Baltimore Love Thing" and "Ryder Music." That's me being in that creative space that made those records take place. I usually pick faster tempos or harder joints. I like when that record hit. Like, a lot of times Drake will pick records that when you hear 'em live it sound like a straight R&B record 'cause there's really strings playing under that joint and at that time you don't really pay attention to it. Then you hear it live and you go, "Damn, this shit is like..." That OVO Fest I heard it.
Ask a person a difficult question. "Do you know what you want?" They be like, "Huh? Whatchu mean?" [Laughs] 'Cause they ain't quite put that much thought into that. People don't know. Personally, do you know what you want? It's a tough question, think about it. Do you know exactly what you want?
I think I have a vague idea of what I want. A general idea.
But vague. Vague.
It's not specifically laid out.
Vague. Look, in general people don't. And if you learn yourself enough to know if you've got any ambition then you know you're going through an endless tunnel. Do you see a few months from now? Talkin' about the anniversary of some other shit and you be like, "So whatchu doin' now?" And you like, "Ah, some other shit, I don't know, I'm movin' in and out of things." But you have to have people around you who are on the journey also. Like, my son's mother, she not like that. If it was up to her, we would have just went home with the money from the first record and lived like we lived at that point off that money, you know what I mean? Fuck that, that's not who I am. I can't do that for her or for anyone else.
I think what most people want is success in some way, but I think that's the hard thing to define.
Success. Very hard to define. And then when we look at what you consider your success, what are we weighing that up against?
Right. And how high is that bar, and where do you set that bar?
Right. It's like, guy feel like he got a hit right now, what is that? Shit, so your record did what? 100,000 pieces? My worst record did that. [Laughs] My worst record, ever. You know what I'm saying? It's crazy.
A song like "Ryder Music," you talk about that come up, that feeling like, "Fuck it, I'm gonna make this, I'm gonna do it." You have that line at the end, "In '99 I had a vision and I made a decision/Being broke is against my religion." It seemed like you had that vision at that point.
Always. You can't really think, "I'ma do it if they make room for me." You gotta say, "I'm comin', I'd like for you to open that door so I can come in. If not, I'm gonna kick that fuckin' door off the hinges and you still have to deal with me." You know what I'm saying? Because no one's just open arms for new things that may shift what happens next in the culture. 'Cause after you get in, your idea may change what works next and they may not be good at that, that thing that you say happens next.
When I got in there, they didn't really have artists like me around. That's why I stood so far out in front at that point. It's different. There was no one who was actually seasoned as a writer, a writer who could actually really write and was still involved in the lifestyle at that time. So it was like, the timing allowed me to come straight off my corner into the business. So I'm looking at them going, "What? What are they sayin' they gonna do? They sayin' they gonna do this and do that? Alright, so go get the pistols, get 'em out of the car and let's see if he sayin' that right now." 'Cause we didn't know no better. You see what I'm sayin'?
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