G-Unit (Part 1 of 2) [Interview]
Toronto, ON – On July 1st, 2008, G-Unit released their second group effort T.O.S: Terminate on Sight through G-Unit/Interscope records, 5 years after their first group album Beg for Mercy in 2003.
Originating from Queens, New York, G-Unit came together as a group not too long before Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s rise to fame and was ultimately granted his own label, G-Unit Records as an imprint of Interscope Records. After the overwhelming multi-platinum success of his debut release, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, 50 solidified his spot as one of the most popular and ambitious artists of our time. His music, fueled by controversy, gore and braggadocio became the new form of Gangsta Rap.
He made his initial buzz with the unreleased 2000 LP Power of a Dollar. On that album, the song “How To Rob” caught everyone’s attention and made many people unhappy with the stick-up oriented lyrics in which they themselves were the targets.
“Imma keep stickin’ niggas until I’m livid / I’ll rob Boys II Men like I’m Michael Bivins / Catch Tyson for half that cash like Robyn Givens / I’m hungry for real I’m bout to stick Mister C / That nigga still eatin’ off Big’s first LP / I had Busta and the whole Flipmode on the floor / He asked me if I had enough I told him ‘Gimme Some More’” – How To Rob
A few of the artists mentioned in the track, responded back to 50, while Nas invited him and Tony Yayo on his “Nastradamus” promo tour in 1999. That was back when 50 and Nas were cool. [Beef started after 50 was taken off a J Lo record and his verse got replaced with Nas. 50 claimed Nas never called to give him a heads up and let him know his verse was being replaced. In ’05, when Nas did a show in Central Park he called out 50 and G-Unit labeling them as fake. Everything took off from there. (Source: sixshot.com)]
Banks and Yayo had always been running with 50 since his Queens days, so it made sense for them to form G-Unit together. Unfortunately, in ’02 Tony Yayo was locked up on a possession charge and wasn’t able to record with the rest of the group. By ’02 G-Unit fans were given another artist to cling on to, Nashville rapper Young Buck, whom 50 brought on board after he signed his deal with Aftermath Records. The group released a slew of successful mixtapes to satisfy their growing fan base such as 50 Cent Is The Future, God’s Plan, No Mercy, No Fear and Automatic Gunfire. Olivia was later added to the G-Unit roster as the G-Unit’s first lady. In November 2003, the group released Beg for Mercy, with Tony Yayo appearing in only 2 of the tracks and Joe as the only outside feature on it. The album went double platinum in the US and sold over 5 million copies worldwide. In June 2004, Lloyd Banks dropped his solo album The Hunger for More which went platinum in the U.S., followed by Buck’s Straight Outta Cashville in August of that same year. His album also went platinum in the U.S. selling over 2.3 million worldwide.
In the meantime, 50 Cent was not only working on re-enforcing G-Unit as a group, but also the record label, looking to sign artists for solo ventures. The Game was one of these situations. Dr. Dre and 50 Cent produced The Game’s entire first album The Documentary which sold over 5 million copies worldwide making The Game the hot new artist on G-Unit. Discrepancies between him and 50 resulted in a fallout-soon to become-feud between the two, causing the young artist to leave the label.
G-Unit vs. G-Unot was on.
By 2006, Fif had signed a variety of other artists to the label such as Mobb Deep, Spider Loc, MOP, and Young Hot Rod. Olivia was later dropped in 2007. Besides Mobb Deep dropping Blood Money in May of 2006, and Spider Loc dropping West Kept Secret: The Prequel EP, the other artists have not seen an album release date.
Fast-forward to 2008: Young Buck is no longer with G-Unit.
Universal calls me to confirm the interview with 50 Cent and Lloyd Banks in Toronto prior to their show at Circa. Tony Yayo wasn’t able to make it across so he was not present during our interview. I was heavily intimidated, not because 50 Cent is 50 Cent, but because of the response that he evokes in people, the amount of work he puts in, the perseverance and dedication him and his team show toward their craft. It’s not just about doing business ventures, launching clothing lines, doing movies, and branching yourself into new things; it’s also about retaining that same fan base because of your music WHILE doing all those other things. G-Unit is the kind of group that can sell out shows to 50,000 people and more in places where moguls like Jay-Z and Diddy can’t. They have an international fan base. While their beefs and scraps only start back at home in the U.S., their feud counterparts also remain only in the U.S., while G-Unit spends a lot of their time promoting and performing around the world.
And while fans and critics continue to try to discredit their music, lyrics and altercations, G-Unit continues to strike back. “I’m happy with the body of work we did,” Yayo said in a phoner we did the week after. “If the sales are 125K, then we just got to work the project to make it go platinum and if they’re 700K then we have an easier road to make it go platinum.” They’re definitely going to have to work to make it go platinum. The album sold just over 100,000 in its first week of sales; a low that was unexpected from the group. What did 50 expect? “More physical sales” of course. This album however, is considerably different from their previous effort. It embodies a more street and raw feel. G-Unit had always been gangsta, but the type of songs featured on the album left only 2… possibly 3 options as singles. With no radio friendly records, it’s hard to expect high physical sales. One song “Rider Part 2” (which was originally a mixtape record from Elephant in the Sand) cannot push worldwide sales alone, even with its funky grooves and steady bounce that have you bopping your head all the way. It definitely wasn’t enough to have G-Unit laughing all the way… to the bank.
At the time of the interview, the album hadn’t dropped yet.
As I was waiting for my turn at the MuchMusic studios, my stomach kept getting tighter. “No questions about Buck, and no questions about his baby momma,” the Universal rep told me as I was waiting in one of the rooms. Great. Everyone wants to ask about Buck… I had to scratch some of my questions out. I was going to make it work regardless. Z103.5 wrapped up and it was finally my turn. “I’m not doing no more interviews,” Fifty told his manager. “You said that was the last one.” There I had it. It wasn’t going to happen. I just kept getting nervous. Fifty turned around and looked at me. “Oh you?” he asked as he saw me waiting. “You’re good. Come on.” Whew, I was through. I was advised that I no longer had 15 minutes. My interview was just shriveled into 5 questions about the album, so I didn’t have much time. No need to worry. I was going to make it work regardless.
HipHopCanada: The first G-Unit album dropped in 2003. It’s been 5 years since. Why did it take so long?
Fifty: What took us so long was the actual roster. After the G-Unit album came out, it was time for the solo projects. There was Banks and Buck waiting to drop and then it came time for the Get Rich or Die Tryin’ soundtrack. Mobb Deep also came out. There were just so many projects dropping that prolonged us to get back to the group album again. Having a smaller roster is allowing us to come back to the G-Unit album faster. It definitely won’t take 5 years to put the next one out.
HipHopCanada: How will this be different from the other one?
Fifty: One of the biggest elements will be Tony, because he was missing from the other projects.
HipHopCanada: Right. He was only on 2 records on the other one, right?
Fifty: Yeah. So this album, he’s all over the record. His energy changed it a little bit.
Banks: He stepped up too. Crazy…
Fifty: Between his performance and Banks… I think people had already been happy with my performance and I feel good about what I did on the record so they’re excited to see them come in a little more.
HipHopCanada: On the last album you had only Joe featured, and on this one you have only Mavado and Buck. Why do you choose to do no features?
Fifty: Because we had 4 artists when we started the record. Banks probably had about 60 records recorded in preparation for his next solo album. Yayo also had a whole bunch of material stacked up since his last record, so when it came time to start this record they were all ideas. In some areas they delivered things where I said, “Let me fall back and let it be like that.” Joints like “No Days Off”, “Close To Me”, “Straight Outta Southside”, “Kitty Kat” are all joints that Yayo and Banks came and went. Of course, I did my thing on there too.
HipHopCanada: Are you trying to appeal to a new audience or satisfy the fans you have already built up?
Fifty: I think the audience that this is going to gravitate to… because when we made the mixtape Elephant in the Sand, “Rider Part 2” was supposed to be just a freestyle off the record, but it kind of went into that rotation without us, it kind of organically went there. And that’s the vein that we were in; creating an actual album. So I believe they’re going to take to this record in a way that… it has a lot of energy around because the other existing material out there is so far from it.
HipHopCanada: Being that you all choose the beats separately for the album, what makes a beat hot for each of you?
Fifty: It all differs. The tempo or the production for me… but “Many Men” wouldn’t have made it to Get Rich or Die Tryin’ based on the tempo. I put it in because these guys wanted it in there. They were like “this is my favorite joint.”
HipHopCanada: Game’s album was supposed to drop on July 1st, same time as yours. And his album got pushed back for another 2 weeks.
Fifty: I don’t believe his album is even coming out 2 weeks after.
HipHopCanada: Is it not coming out at all?
Fifty: It will come out but I think it’s going to be pushed back again because the records he has out now, won’t equate to record sales. When you hear “Come On” it sounds like a Keysha Cole record. Then Game comes on and it sounds like [a record] Keysha would have made, rather than a song that Game would have made.
Banks: She wrote that song.
Fifty: Yeah, she did write it.
Whoo Kid: Wow.
HipHopCanada: Wayne just sold a million in his first week of sales. What do you think was about his image or his marketing that allowed him to do that?
Fifty: Well I don’t think there’s anything you can say about his image. It’s tough because I wouldn’t have predicted him to sell a million records. Nobody, I don’t think, saw that coming. It just shows that the climate we are on is so unpredictable that you can’t go on a number. When Usher had a record on all formats that was number 1 and just sold 450,000 copies, how do you explain the million copies sold from Wayne? So I look at a lot of different things. Maybe the youth audience is attracted to him, because he IS Lil Wayne. It is a younger artist… and they’re infatuated with him on that level. Other than that, I can’t come up with nothing to answer that question for you because Usher is a little older.
Banks: He took a younger Usher to an older Usher – he grew up.
Fifty: Michael Jackson grew up a star and that made me like him, my mom like him, and my grandmother like him – because he was hot since “ABC”.
HipHopCanada: THISIS50.COM is huge as an online community – do you expect more physical sales or online sales?
Fifty: I think more physical sales. To be honest… and that’s because hip-hop is still 70% in stores in general. That’s because a lot of the R&B and classical and jazz is starting to shift over to the web and eventually even retail will be changing. I think even Blockbuster will be in trouble shortly because you’ve got all these things like NetFlix (online DVD rental) and all these other places that you can get it. A lot of people are getting more computer literate, and it’s not an option. It’s just going to happen. The kids are getting to it faster.
HipHopCanada: This is a question for Banks. Before you are G-Unit you are Lloyd Banks. Do you feel that a lot of the beefs that you take on as a part of G-Unit can have an effect on your solo career?
Banks: At the end of that day I… well actually I didn’t really. I mean I had a couple of mixtape features in my neighborhood in about a 25 block radius. That’s who Lloyd Banks was before I signed to G-Unit records. [Laughing] So it wasn’t like I got with the crew and I’m taking on a bunch of trouble. When 50 came home from the hospital, I watched how he bounced back from it. Shortly after I got shot too so I experienced a similar situation to him. This is a crazy business and as an artist I knew this was more business than music, and who to go with better than someone who is going through the same shit that you are. Things that people think are so wrong… it just bugs me out. We’re supposed to be helping each other out. When we’re having a discussion and we’re like, “Remember when we were in the pizza shop and them niggas tried to jump you and I helped you…”
Banks: …it’s like “You were supposed to help me because if you didn’t help me, me and you wouldn’t be talking right now.” So what’s crazy to the public, it’s 101% for us. If we go to the club tonight and someone steps on Whoo Kid’s sneaker, or he steps on someone’s sneaker and that’s a problem – that’s the other guy’s problem with us.
Fifty: While we’re there. It’s their problem. After that we’ll talk to Whoo Kid. But after the fact.
HipHopCanada: You are all different individuals so what do you think each of you brings to the table that wouldn’t allow the group to function properly if either one of you was to leave?
Fifty: It would be totally different. When you lose one of them, you lose a totally different element… initially. We clogged the hole in the boat we had with Buck on the first one. We were introducing something new and at that point southern based artists were getting a bigger shot – but even Buck required guidance and we steered him right. I picked majority of the production on Straight Outta Cashville. I wrote the choruses for songs like “Price On My Head”… it was me. I have been in situations where people put money to get me killed, but Buck rapped from that perspective because it just sounded real. At different points we wrote different things. It was aggressive.
“Thou shall not steal/thou shall not kill/ but rub me the wrong way I will.” – Thou Shall, Young Buck
I wrote that. A lot of the stuff that was on his record, I assisted him with that. And it was like a team effort to make the best possible material.
HipHopCanada: So basically you all put joint efforts in to bring different elements from each other to the table.
Fifty: Yeah, because they were never focused on a G-Unit album. They were writing the G-Unit album while they were writing their solo albums. They were ready to go and be Lloyd Banks and Young Buck and I was going in writing the chorus to the song. I was going in like “we’ve gotta do the “Smile” record first, because “Smile” has to start off your album Banks.” And then I set it up where we’d come off with Smile and then we were in London and then “On Fire”. We went to a meeting and Jimmy Iovine absolutely wanted Buck’s album to come out before Banks. He didn’t understand that Banks was the mixtape artist of the year and that he created all this energy in the circuit because they don’t even understand what the mixtape circuit is. So I’m like “No, Banks has to come first.” Then he heard a record that I did with Buck where I said:
“I keep the club jumping from beginning to the end, go shorty / we back up in this bitch again go shorty” – Let Me In, Young Buck
And it felt like “In the Club” because it had “In the Club” references. And he thought it was a hit. He wanted Buck out first. And I said he could have it, he could have that record out, but Banks had to come out first. And we went for “Smile,” and then “On Fire,” and then he jumped on.
HipHopCanada: Recently Wayne said on record “Fuck The DJs.” Being that G-Unit has its own DJ Whoo Kid, how do you feel about that statement and how important is the DJ to your career?
Fifty: Well the DJ… When Wayne is saying that… honestly he’s hot, because you need the DJs to play the records. What he means to say is fuck the DJs that are taking advantage of him. The ones that are out there putting out mixtapes of his shit without him knowing about it. But it’s coming out like fuck the DJs because he’s hot. He didn’t mean fuck the DJ. He knows he needs the DJs to play his records.
HipHopCanada: But I mean obviously as an artist you know DJs are important…
Fifty: Yeah, the mix show DJ actually runs the nightclub. If you look at the salaries of the DJs that are actually on the radio and the mix shows; they’re not getting a big bag of money. They get their money off their appearances or off spinning in the nightclubs. That’s valued at how much… how much it would cost for you to get in front of let’s say 8 million people and say I’m going to be at this club that night, so people can promote them and consistently give them a gig.
Whoo Kid: I’m not one of those DJs though, I work for 50; G-Unit Radio. [Laughing]
HipHopCanada: You came to Canada to record before Get Rich or Die Tryin’ dropped. Were there any Canadian artist you were working with, or looking at?
Fifty: Well last time I was here was when I was recording the Get Rich or Die Tryin’ soundtrack. I recorded at Kardinal Offishall’s house. We got here on a weekend and all the studios were closed. I needed to record because I had ideas in my head, and I still had to remember the movie lines, so if I’ve got an idea [right now], I’ve got to record it right now, because it’s going to come out different 4 hours from now.
HipHopCanada: Banks, how about you?
Banks: Kardinal, and actually Choclair opened up for us the other night.
Editor’s note: For more information on 50 Cent and G-Unit, check out http://www.thisis50.com or http://www.myspace.com/gunit. Stay tuned for Part 2 of our G-Unit Feature, a 1-on-1 interview with Tony Yayo by HipHopCanada’s own Lola Plaku.
Written by Lola Plaku for HipHopCanada