Sha Money XL Talks Meeting 50 Cent, Forming G-Unit & 50 Cent Is The Future
Earlier this week XXL presented "Artists Speak On Their Songs Remade for 50 Cent Is The Future," commemorating the mixtape's 10-year anniversary. In addition to artists such as Prodigy and Tweet who had nothing but positive statements for the mixtape's creation, XXL was able to speak with one of the original founders of G-Unit—Sha Money XL. Though he's currently a Def Jam executive overseeing acclaimed artists such as Big K.R.I.T., the Queens native once worked alongside Jam Master Jay, and molded a solid relationship with 50 Cent in the late '90s. Their bond eventually formed G-Unit and soon 50 Cent is the Future was created, which brought massive attention to the clique that led to 50's signing with Interscope that skyrocketed his career. In addition to contributing as a producer for 50 Cent is the Future, Sha Money XL broke down his role as an engineer, friend, distributor, and A&R behind the celebrated mixtape. —Jaeki Cho (@JaekiCho)
XXL: How did you first link with 50 Cent?
Sha Money XL: Well, through Jam Master Jay. I’m from Hollis, Queens. [Jam Master Jay] was my mentor—I used to produce in his studio, hang out with him all the time, and he used to play me all his artists from Onyx all the way down to 50. 50 was his new artist, he was playing 50 for me in his studio. I was like, “Yo this kid is nice, man! I want to meet him, I want to work with him.” Jam Master Jay saw me get real excited about 50, so he was like, “Hold up, he lives right up the street.” You know we was in Southside, so he was like, “I’m going to get him!” So he went and got 50 and hopped out—Jam Master Jay had a green Land Cruiser. He hopped out of that shit and said, “Come outside.” I walked outside and I seen a kid with a cross chain. It was an ill unique chain I have never seen someone have. It was some nigga that I ain’t know rap, and had a dope chain on so I liked that. I seen him, he was a little chubbier looking and shit, but you could tell he was a street nigga and that’s when I met him.
Okay. How’d y’all link back together?
After he left Jam Master Jay as an artist, he went with the Trackmasters. Coincidentally, Steve Stoute is my neighbor—you know I live on the same block in Queens, and I used to ask him, “Yo, you know I do beats, man. Set me up to where Trackmasters working at.” He was like, “Aight, man. I’m going to call Polk so he could hear your beats.” So I drive up an hour to a studio in Bearsville, New York by myself.
Didn’t Kool G Rap record 4, 5, 6 over there?
Everybody. Classics were recorded up there. So I drive up there dolo and I’m nervous. I’m young as fuck. You know what I’m saying? And as soon as I get there I see Polk, but the first familiar face I see is 50. I’m like, “Yo, you here?” He’s like, “Yeah, man. I’m trying to get signed, they got me here working, so I’m going to work everyday ‘til they sign me.” So Cory [Rooney] had sent him out there to work with the Trackmasters. So [50 and I], we’re two Queens niggas. He seen me—I’m on my energetic young nigga shit, I’m eager for it. I start playing him one of my beats; he wrote “Power of the Dollar” right there. The first track we recorded was the title track to his album Power of the Dollar over my beats! I seen him knock two songs out a day for 18 days, had 36 records at the end of 18 days, mostly produced by Trackmasters and two or three of them done by me. “Be a Gentleman,” everything that we put on Guess Who’s Back. That was on Power of the Dollar, “Ghetto Qu’ran,” all those records were recorded 18 days, 2 records a day. Motherfuckers were there for 18 days and had 2 songs. This nigga 50 had 38. He said, “There’s no way I’m going to leave this place without a record deal. If I don’t have a record deal, I’m going to have 38 Trackmasters’ tracks.” That’s what I remember him telling me. I said, “This nigga smart.” That’s when I realized he was smart comparatively early, so he was right! Do the math. Either they’re going to sign you or you’re going to walk away with these records, but either way you walking away with some shit!
Right, that’s smart.
He got shot. So all those records just kind of went to the wayside, so I put it out on Guess Who’s Back. That was the first thing that came out a month before the actual mixtape that we’re talking about came out.
Where was 50 Cent is the Future recorded?
I had a house in Westbury. It was in my basement. It was the first house I owned when I was 24 years old. When I moved out of Queens from the hood and I got some money. Every mixtape G-Unit did from 50 Cent is the Future until his first album came out. We recorded everything there. I was the engineer. I self taught myself engineering, I never even knew what I was doing. Those mixtapes were done on decks. This is right when people were being able to get Pro Tools. Then I got Pro Tools Digital 1—this is all kind of technical shit people don’t even understand like this is before MP3s, this is before iTunes and all that. We were doing this in ’02. That mix tape came out when? May 2002, right?
Yeah, right around Banks’ birthday, man. The crazy thing is [Lloyd Banks] got shot and the mixtape came out and it changed his life.
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How was 50 Cent is the Future conceptualized?
[50 Cent] did freestyles for every DJ. That was our whole model; we’re going to be on everybody’s mixtape. And those mixtapes had one artist on all their songs as a tradition at that time, which is what we changed. 50 and I collected all the freestyles that were individually given to Doo Wop, Cut Master C, Clue, Envy, Enuff, Flex, and Kay Slay. Look at all of them; they’re all different freestyles for each one of those DJs I just said to you. Collectively they played mad different niggas shit. So I said I want everybody to hear this collectively as well as this “Bad News” record I did and this new record I did with UTP. Add few new songs and do a photo shoot. I had met this dude Don Morris. He works for The Source right now; he was the Creative Director for XXL at the time. I met him at the photo shoot, had his number, and homie hooked it up. We did another photo shoot we paid for, and he did the whole layout with me in his apartment in Manhattan. The whole shit with the stars around it, the picture of 50 with the custom-made wife beater, Yayo and them with the Air Forces—the whole coordination. 50 took his time to think about it. The artwork with the red, white, and blue, that whole shit was conceptualized, thought out, planned to perfection.
That G-Unit logo was done by Don Morris?
No, 50 designed that G-Unit logo. He had the tattoo on his hand, so we took it from his hand and created it digitally.
G-Unit remaking tracks for a mixtape revolutionized the game. Were y’all concerned that hopping on industry beats might bring heat from rappers who originally had the songs?
50’s first record that people knew him by was “How to Rob”. He didn’t give a fuck about what a nigga thought so that wasn’t even a concern of ours.
Going back to 50 Cent is the Future, what was the working environment like for, not just 50, but with Yayo and Banks?
Yayo—it’s funny because I remember the first time he hit the booth and I heard him rap, I’m like “Why he sound so fucking—he sound crazy!” So I went in the booth, and then I see him rapping on the other side where the microphone and the mesh are. He was rapping from the other side! I was like, “Nah, bro you got to stand right here.” He didn’t even hit the booth up. So I was like, “Damn, these niggas is fresh like that.” The mic was in their hand at the DJ’s crib, they did it like that. This was their first time them being in the studio recording vocals. Banks and them used to go to this other studio too, but it wasn’t like what I was doing. I had the effects on the vocals like the DJ mixtape—I created the entire extra shit for the mixtape that started in Queens with Clue and Baby Jay. All the DJs from Queens, Whoo Kid, Envy. And that was how I said, “Fuck doing a mixtape for a DJ. We do our own mixtape with our own records on it and people bump that.” And that shit changed the game.
The way 50 Cent is the Future moved throughout New York like drugs. How was it distributed?
The first dropping of that mixtape, the first time it touched land, I physically duplicated all those CDs in my man’s basement. That’s when I was sleeping there. Took it to Canal Street, Brooklyn—in my trunk. Canal Street, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, and all those boroughs. And once it leaked, once it hit the streets, you know the duplication was like blue magic. That was me dropping it off, that was me personally.
Can you break down 50’s approach to hooks and melodies?
I remember 50 always liking hooks so much. If you listen to it, he’d keep the original hook back there, created a new hook on top of original hook, but was able to grab out the melody to tie into his melody. So it’s almost like you’re hearing a whole ‘nother vocal in the background, but he done blended it in with his vocals and he done matched his tones and melodies. He just took everything that people loved about it and but made it his way and gangster’d it the fuck out.
Definitely. What were your thoughts about 50 actually singing?
You know what? Music is music to me. So whether you’re rapping, you’re singing—you Kirko Bangz or Drake or Kid Cudi, everyone got their different ways they can create their voices to be in melody. T-Pain it, whatever. If it sounds good, it’s good. It was new for me. I was fucking with it. ‘Cause melody—we’re here to be entertained. If you singing everything in the same tone and it’s serious, that’s why they weren’t making hits. We sold 15 million on Get Right or Die Trying. That’s ‘cause he was making records that appealed to more people. He’s one of the best hook writers in hip-hop ever.
I’m also curious about Banks. He was the youngest of the trio, but was revered as the most lyrical. What was his writing process like? What were his recording procedures?
[Lloyd Banks] was always writing. He’s always been ahead of his songs. It used to be exciting ‘cause every bar was intense. And then he had his Tupac method where he’d like to stack his vocals like four times. So he used to do like two doubles, three doubles, and four doubles. He used to like to play with his vocals, so that’s what made it feel that flange feel that it was feeling. If you hear him now you’ll hear different ‘cause it’s like one lead [vocal] and it’s not a whole bunch of doubles. And he used to do exactly what Tupac did with his vocals and just seeing that for the first time, recording that for the first time—like I said, I ain’t never engineered a session in my life. My first engineering session was 50 Cent. So just hearing him and Banks and knowing that this is something that’s going to change the future and hearing it first like every time—it’s big. You know, Banks really been about his pen game and every lyric was prolific with him.