By all appearances, 50 Cent is on top of the world. He blesses every venture with his enviable Midas touch. He has accrued wealth and fame beyond imagination, yet he somehow remains true to his nature and his core audience. Recently, he released for free his War Angel LP, a 12-song grime fest that could’ve easily been packaged as a studio release. “I serviced the streets because there’s nothing out there like that out there,” 50 asserts. “It’s crazy even coming out of my mouth: what I initially fell in love with about hip-hop will only survive based on my representation of the music. It gives me an important stance within the art form because there is no successful artist with that type of energy on the music.”
Strong words. But 50 Cent isn’t in the habit of hyperbole. Now on the verge of his fourth album, Before I Self-Destruct, 50 surveys a reshaped rap topography from the one he toppled and topped with Get Rich or Die Tryin.’ Wading through the detritus of faddish, unfulfilling MCs and ducking potshots from peers and media outlets alike, 50 Cent withdrew into himself, his camp, and emerged with another magnum opus. The radio-friendly first single “Baby By Me” featuring Ne-Yo is already burning up charts, and the recently-shot video is forthcoming. From there the album darkens noticeably. “Psycho,” featuring Eminem, is a breathtaking onslaught of quick-cadenced chaos. Over Dr. Dre’s ominous organ groans and church-like reverb, the MCs do their best not to breathe and to outdo each other. Outstanding. “Hold Me Down,” produced by J Keys, smacks of a playful, P.I.M.P. sequel, with a rolling bassline and steel drum thwacks. But dig deeper to reveal 50’s clandestine tribute to the tenets of street life.
And then, there is “Gangsta’s Delight.” From the hands of an utterly revitalized Havoc, “Gangsta’s Delight” is a menacing remake of the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” Similarities stop there. Between 50’s tongue-twisting wordplay and Havoc’s thunderclap percussion, “Gangsta’s Delight” legitimately shoves gangsta rap into uncharted territory. This writer nearly wore out the CD player’s ‘repeat’ button, as well as his welcome at G-Unit Records, in listening to the song so many times. “Gangsta’s Delight” simply cannot be matched or muted. Before I Self-Destruct drops on November 17th.
To boot, 50 wrote, directed and produced an accompanying feature film, likewise entitled Before I Self-Destruct, in which he also stars. The film will come packaged with the album. Or if fans prefer, they can purchase the album bundled with a documentary about the life and death of Jam Master Jay—quite a gesture. How is it that the most successful gangsta rapper of all time remains the hungriest and still the most benevolent to his fans? His own words tell the story most aptly. What follows is the autobiography of 50 Cent.
Thoughts on his place in the game:
I get pressure from not only the public or even my fans, but the people who aren’t fans of 50 Cent. There’s a cloud, a shadow of doubt cast over an artist between each project. It’s not ‘Do you think he can make good material?’ but it’s ‘Do you think he can do it again?’ They put you up against the best work you’ve created. I’m not disappointed by any criticism because I’m used to not being acknowledged based on my choices. Artistically I’ve chosen to write the harsh realities and because of that I’ve been consistently overlooked. People are afraid that if they the offer the accolades to an artist who has aggressive content, that their kids or other people will want to be that artist. It’s something I’ve grown more comfortable with over time; initially it bothered me. And my first response was ‘Some artists get the trophies and I get the checks.’ To certain people that can be misinterpreted that you don’t have a passion for the art form. I still allow the general public’s response to the music to be a reflection of its success, whether it’s record sales or a shift in mood of the music as whole.
If people don’t become more intelligent based on new information, they’re falling behind, getting older without getting wiser. Now I look at it and say ‘I have a responsibility to where I come from to continue to be successful, to be the poster child.’ I’m always the symbol for the symbol, the American flag, that anyone can make it in America. It makes me a little more conscious of my actions and activities and it’s a little more premeditated. I’m able to pick and choose the shots I take. How valuable or unnecessary is each decision?
I created an island, not just from other hip-hop artists but from the mother company. I had developed to the point of becoming 70% of the successful black music at Interscope Records. I’ve become a student of the music business and hip-hop culture. This is not a 9-5 occupation, it’s something you do and live every hour of every day. I pay attention to launches and projects that have nothing to do with me simply to figure out what the right route is or should’ve been. You have to watch all the projects, even the failing projects. If you don’t know how things feel when they’re going wrong, you’re destined to go wrong.
On his album:
I’ve had a longer window of time to create this project; I feel like it’s the closest I’m going to get to perfect. Artistically, there are boundaries imposed on every individual artist based on his initial presentation. I realized that what translated the strongest from Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was the aggression. When people hear this project, I want them to remember why they decided to like me initially, why they made me successful. But the difference between Before I Self-Destruct and my other projects to this point is me consciously showing imperfection. I’m saying what wouldn’t necessarily be the coolest thing to say but it has some truth to it. This is the total opposite of the average rapper, who writes about a lifestyle he aspires to as opposed to the one he’s actually living. I have the lifestyle that most rappers would write towards and I’m reflecting on the struggle more than what I’ve accomplished.
All songs are collages to me. There’s not enough time to create cause and effect in three minutes, there’s only time for descriptions. The song ‘Death to my Enemies’ embodies the aggression and mentality; when it comes on, it feels like someone’s going to get hurt. I like when music creates feelings, when it makes your mood shift. I’ll make you drive faster. Dr. Dre produced that and ‘Psycho’ with me and Eminem. Another song, ‘The Days Went By,’ puts my experience growing up in a nutshell. ‘I seen people getting rich/ the days went by. I seen people getting hit/ the days went by.’ It describes what I’ve seen at different points and how I developed my hunger for a better lifestyle. Even on the corner I stood there with an entrepreneurial spirit. I decided I’d rather hold onto ten dollars than smoke it. I always wanted to do better than I was actually doing at the time. I was always conscious of a better life.
On the movie Before I Self-Destruct:
I wrote, produced and directed my first film; I was inspired to do it on a set in Shreveport, Louisiana. I was working with Val Kilmer and Sharon Stone on a movie called Streets of Blood. I have a stronger understanding on what it takes to make a film based on being involved in other capacities. I have Michael Moore, Clifton Powell, Treach, Gabriel Casseus, Sasha DelValle. I have some real talent on the project but it was done so quietly that people are going be surprised that it came out the way it did. I feel the film project has the deliberate imperfections the record has. I’m proud of it.
I play a character named Clarence who has physical gifts while his younger brother is damn near a genius. Clarence isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer but he’s gotten by on his physical ability. Then an injury kills his athletic career. He’s left in an environment with only his physical ability to provide for himself and his brother after his mother is killed in a territorial dispute. Clarence realizes how much his mother meant to him, after the fact. She was everything; his father had gone out of town looking for work and found more than a job and ended up not coming back. It tells the story of how a person can feel like he doesn’t have any options when he actually does. How you don’t explore all the opportunities and avenues open to you and you make what is the easiest decision, but not necessarily the right decision. It can be considered the wrong route but it’s a common route where I come from—to have a gun and the heart for it.
I wrote a song on the album called ‘I Got Swag Now:’ ‘I was a real bum, now I’m really rich kid/ I come through the hood in some really, really sick shit. The Rolls, the roof gone/your flows, they lukewarm. That’s why you’re not me.’ It relates directly to the film. There’s a scene in the movie where the character I’m playing doesn’t have the confidence to approach a female character based on his financial state. He’s working in a supermarket and she’s walking through the supermarket. Later, when his finances have changed his confidence level improves to the point he can actually say something to her. And all of the songs on the album relate to the characters in different ways. I feel like the screenplay will give the public an idea how someone could regress to being involved in the activities throughout the album. I feel like I captured it.
On his camp and origins:
The early stages of my training and development of my song structure came under the tutelage of Jam Master Jay. Jay looked for specifics, in my case the hook or chorus, which was the weakest place for me at the time. He made me do it several times before he chose; I had to give him options. It gave me the ability to have multiple routes on a single record. And I learned not to develop such a strong attachment to the material that I couldn’t move on.
My circle now is the greatest circle to ever be in period—Eminem and Dre. Em motivates me. Em to me is like Air Jordan, like Tiger Woods. This is his calling. You put him on a song with guys who’ve deemed themselves lyrical, and said it so often that the public embraces them as such, and he’ll eat their asses alive. Now there are strong character differences between the three of us, but what I get from them are good habits. And it’s easy for us to share the music and influence each other because we write from very different perspectives. Em is from Detroit and Dr. Dre is from LA, yet they’re the ones who gave me a deal. They couldn’t have been completely clear on what they were purchasing when they bought 50 Cent. Other people who knew my backstory backed off. Em and Dre just heard the music and when you judge me based on the music you know it’s the right thing.
On his legacy:
What I offer the public is something I don’t believe can be duplicated—me and my experiences. And anything you do well, they want that from you and nothing else. I’m fine with being held to that. I’m comfortable in that space because that’s what I fell in love with. Fans will grow up with you if you continue to make songs that keep them your fans. I’ve always made records that allowed me to have more success than anyone who’s chosen my direction. That’s the significance of 50 Cent as an artist.