50 Cent, War Games 2.0 [XXcLusive Outtakes]
[Editor’s Note: These are the outtakes to the edited interview that appears in the December/January issue of XXL.]
Photography by Clay Patrick McBride
XXL: Before I Self Destruct was supposed to come out back in 2007, before Curtis; how much different is the album now from then?
50 Cent: It’s a huge difference—production changes, and me being able to reevaluate what I was trying to say. Like, there was nothing the matter with what I created the first time; it was just, to me, I don’t have a really strong attachment to my music. I’ve learned to create and move forward.
XXL: So you don’t really fall in love with one song and…
50 Cent: Fall in love with it? Nah. I’ll listen to the music, enjoy it, and it’ll be around for a while, and then I’ll be like, “Aight, let’s do something else.” Because, when you feel like you have a hit record; do you know what you do? You go and write another one, and then another one after. While you’re in that right mind state and mindset to create good music, you should just keep creating it as much as possible instead of just sitting there and listening to the same song over and over again, like, “This is it right there! This is it!” Sitting there forever. Instead, I write it, and then move to the next one and move to the next one and move to the next one.
XXL: Who does 50 Cent listen to for inspiration?
50 Cent: You’d be surprised by what I listen to. When ain’t nothing going on…. [KRS-One] did some shit with Buckshot, and I listened to that. I still listen to the Black Moon record.
XXL: Enta Da Stage?
50 Cent: Yeah. I’ll put that shit on. I was hustling at that point, in the street in the street. Then I’m able to get in that zone, and write something that comes from that actual time period. Music marks time. There will be a point when somebody older than you hears an old song and starts bopping their head, like, “You don’t know nothin’ about this, young buck.” They were actually in the nightclub when that music was actually poppin’. I wanted to make a record that had the whole aura. You see my Forever King mixtape? I went back to those songs because that music was inspirational music. “Let’s keep rising to the top; don’t let nobody stop us.” And, the things that they had there was blatantly inspirational. That was hot.
XXL: What other projects besides Black Moon from that era did you go back to for inspiration?
50 Cent: I just ran through [my stash]. I had, like, a lot of the material there for my personal pleasure. I used to make CDs before I made the album. I’d take my favorite records, my favorite 14 or 15 records and put them on a disc, and then play them while I’m running and feel like my album would have to top that, to me personally. I feel like I did it this time. This is the album where, they’re gonna hear it and say, “This shit is better than Get Rich of Die Tryin’.” That’s what I set out to do when I started this record.
XXL: How do you top a classic debut?
50 Cent: It’s not my curse—we’re all cursed with the same curse. Nas, Illmatic. Jay-Z, Reasonable Doubt. So many artists, their first projects. Because you don’t get a second shot at a first impression, and fans can’t top that intensity again because you were new at that point. A lot of those records didn’t actually connect as well as Get Rich or Die Tryin’; those shits were gold records. They had a specific core; if you ask Nas or Jay-Z, they’ll probably tell you that they wrote those records for their hood. And they didn’t sell a lot of their records at that point because it was specifically for their hood. Mine’s happened to be fucking aggressive but it had those big-ass hit records on it. It felt darker because I had already wrote all those [mixtape] records for my hood before the first album actually came out.
XXL: Before the album dropped you did VH1’s Behind the Music. Was that something that they’ve been pushing on you for years, and you felt like now was the right time for it?
50 Cent: This is the first time I really considered it, because of where I’m at in my career, and as a result, I now allow my aunt and my grandparents to speak from their perspectives on me. A lot of times, we pick and choose. I think they forget that there’s an art form, and that… We use the tools of the art form to expand upon ourselves, and there’s times when the record is skipping and we’re repeating things. Doing it again. Like, a lot of aggressive content on my first project, I’m sure that that’s what translated the strongest. I’m giving them something that’s so normal to me in my presentation.
XXL: What is it about this point in your career that you feel makes this the right time?
50 Cent: You have to be very strategic. I wrote five songs for this project before the Curtis album, under the Before I Self-Destruct concept, before I wrote Curtis.
XXL: What made you pump the brakes and switch from BISD to Curtis?
50 Cent: I stopped and I started Curtis because I felt like it was the perfect idea at that time period for me creatively. And what I did was… My grandfather is Curtis, Sr., and his firstborn is Curtis, Jr, and I’m his first grandchild. So, I’m Curtis Jackson III, and that was my third album. The concept for me was to make the Curtis album feel human.
XXL: Do you think people got that?
50 Cent: Because there were moments that were soft, or weren’t as progressive as the things I did in the past, because there was a shortage of artists that could create the harsh realities from a G-Unit space, people resisted that album. They got upset with me because of the Curtis album, but if I play it for you right now and you hear “Curtis 187” and you hear “My Gun Go Off,” you go, “Wow, that shit was hot.” It had “I Get Money” and “Ayo Technology.” It just didn’t feel like the same 50 Cent that they met during Get Rich or Die Tryin’.
XXL: Was that a response that you anticipated?
50 Cent: That’s what my intentions were—to make something different. See, from an artist’s perspective, you don’t want to be put in a box, where you gotta be one thing and just be that one thing until they’re tired of you. You wanna venture off and do something creatively that makes great sense. My first family, I wouldn’t have wrote “I Get Money”; I wrote, “I was broke and now I’m rich,” like, “Poor Lil’ Rich Nigga.” That project… “I Get Money” was actually written because of the Vitamin Water deal and that success. I said, “I took quarter-water and sold it in bottles for two bucks/Then Coca-Cola came and bought it for billions, what the fuck?” I had to write that record. It was interesting, because I wrote the song and then played it for Jimmy Iovine and he looked at me and said, “Are you sure that’s what you want to say?” And I said, “Hell, yeah. That’s what I want to say to them.”
XXL: Where was he coming from?
50 Cent: I guess they wanted to find something that was heartfelt, or warrior music, like “Many Men,” that kind of feels like a war chant and that wasn’t on Curtis. And I think Jimmy was like, “Where is that song?” I was like, “If every album has that record, every album is the same.” I can’t make the same thing over. Put me in competition with another artist—you know what I do? I analyze my opponent, I find weaknesses, and I tear them apart; put me in competition with myself, and I’ve worked all my life to be stronger in times when I’m weak. So I don’t know quite which way I’m supposed to go to beat me. It just gets complicated at the points when people put me up against my material. Put me up against somebody else’s material, and then you won’t call 700,000 in the first week a failure. It’s just, my worst project sold 700,000 in the first week. That’s the all-time high for people. If you do a million in the first week, then you still have to top the masters. I’m the largest debuting hip-hop artist, period—and it doesn’t look like anyone is going to ever top it.
XXL: The interesting thing about your career is that you entered the game on a level that it takes most other superstars—the T.I.s and Lil Wayne’s, for examples—three or four albums to achieve. How do you think that’s factored into the changing public perception?
50 Cent: Yeah. Well, you know what it is? I’m on album four and it feels like album 11 because I’ve put out so much material, I’ve spoiled the shit out of my fans. People who love 50 Cent really love 50 Cent. And then, it’s interesting because even my system offers the anti-50 after they offer you pro-50. So the same guy that delivers my record to radio, turns around and delivers the fuck-you-50 record. This publication, you can find times where after a 50 Cent cover comes someone who’s anti-50 Cent on the cover, because 50 Cent sells the publication, and the general interest of the hip-hop culture sells it, and then after that does well, they go to the other guy who’s anti-50 Cent so I can sell the cover again. So, it’s interesting. I just watch it and go, “That’s good business on their part, because they’re interested in this, so give it to them.” Hip-hop culture is now pop culture, so it’s good business.
XXL: Will we ever see another G-Unit group album?
50 Cent: Yeah, there’ll be another G-Unit album, and [Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo] could expect their solos. Like, Lil Wayne—when you don’t see an artist as a temporarily good, then you can continue to invest in him until he actually has his moment. Right now, what he is on, album six? So, that’s a father’s love for his child, to allow him to continue to invest in him until he has his moment.
XXL: Do you see yourself ever opening the doors again for G-Unit, where you’ll bring in outside acts again, like you did with M.O.P., Mase, and Mobb Deep?
50 Cent: Yeah, I’m getting ready to bring in a whole batch of new artists.
XXL: New artists, or just guys who will be new to G-Unit?
50 Cent: New talent—I’m excited. My parameters will be different on what I do to support the actual artists, but as far as artist development and grooming them to the point when I feel they’re ready, that’ll be excellent. I’m excited about it, because I don’t feel like I’ll ever be as big as I want to be based off my own success. It’ll be based on my success and the success of others around me. I’ll provide those opportunities again. Like, Em can go home all the time and just chill. Not bother working, but I’m still here, and if he decides not to travel, I’m out there. I make [moves] everywhere, so it creates something that they can make reference to as why they’d have that interest.
XXL: What will it take to get Banks and Yayo back in the spotlight?
50 Cent: Just the presentation. Just the project, to put an album out. When you say… Really, how do you fall out of the public eye? Because you don’t have any material that’s being marketed and promoted. See, they didn’t lose their base we initially created, G-Unit; when we go touring, you see the three of us consistently. It’s just the relaunch, and to reestablish those albums that don’t have no holes in them. We have to work on those projects as hard as we work on the 50 Cent project.
XXL: They’re not longer singed to Interscope, right?
50 Cent: Well, no. And it’s a blessing that it’s not still yet, because the building has changed. Interscope is a system that’s in a different space. A lot of companies are in different spaces, they got rid of 60-percent of their staffs. So you don’t know exactly what all those things are. But we’ll put their projects together and find a way to put them out.
XXL: There was a record on the last project called “Smile (I’m Leavin’)” that goes at Jimmy Iovine directly. What was his response when he heard that record?
50 Cent: Well, see that song never actually made the record. I wasn’t sure the world knew who all those people were, so I left it off the album, but it meant something to me. And I was kinda writing to other artists, not to Jimmy. He didn’t have a problem with it. It’s business. Really, I was writing, “Smile, nigga, my next album might be my last,” to other artists.
XXL: You still feel that way?
50 Cent: I was saying that to them because they still gotta watch. Rappers are like fighters—they go in the gym for the first time and they might not be prepared. And they’ll come at me prematurely and I’ll spank them. I’ll win, without it even going 12 rounds. These things happen because they’re conditioned. They walk into the studio like they’re the champ; they watch the tapes and they study the champ, and they get ready to beat him, just like the fighters. And they never quite know when to quit, and they stick around like fighters until they’re not as good as they were. —Matt Barone