50 Cent's fifth studio album, Street King Immortal, will be released early next year. It's his first record in nearly four years, since 2009's Before I Self Destruct, his lowest-selling project to date.
Despite this, 50 Cent remains a hip-hop superstar, and he's stayed in the news, publicly feuding with boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and rapper French Montana. He's also collaborated with rising Chicago artist Chief Keef, who infamously skipped out on the video shoot for single "Hate Being Sober," abandoning 50 and Wiz Khalifa on a video set in the desert.
We spoke with 50 about his next album's delays, the major success of his new single with Adam Levine and Eminem, and how much hip-hop has changed since his he hit the scene with his breakout work in the late '90s and early 2000s.
Interview by David Drake (@somanyshrimp)
What are you trying to accomplish with "My Life," your new single with Eminem and Adam Levine?
50 Cent: I recorded that record almost two years ago. That was with me and Adam [Levine]. We worked together and I got him to record the vocals for the chorus. My portion of the song was written and then I flew to Detroit and got Eminem to do his portion. He had a few ideas for songs for this album for me. He had started writing portions of those other records because they had choruses built on it. It felt like those hit records that Em was making at the time. It had those real pretty choruses on them.
I was predicting what people [would say] based on the time period. Because it’s been three years since I released my last record, that they would say, “You fell off. You never had anything marketed or promoted for three years.” And them not understanding [that it's] because it’s my final contract requirement. Contractually, if you go through an audit process and if you find things where you haven’t been paid, it’s a process for legal to actually write the check. You can’t deliver the record in between that time period. You got to wait until it’s completely dealt with. Now that it’s done, I can launch.
Contractually, if you go through an audit process and if you find things where you haven’t been paid, it’s a process for legal to actually write the check. You can’t deliver the record in between that time period. You got to wait until it’s completely dealt with. Now that it’s done, I can launch.
It’s an interesting thing, because the first record, the “New Day” song, that song Dr. Dre originally produced for Detox and sent it with a chorus that was written by the girl, and she’s a talented writer too, it’s off the tip of my tongue—she wrote a lot of Rihanna's hit records...
Yep, Ester Dean. It had the chorus that Ester Dean wrote and he sent it to Alicia Keys, and Alicia re-wrote it and sent it back with the “New Day” vocals. And because she sat on the production for so long, they revisited it. Swizz Beatz re-produced the record, did everything over originally and they ended up putting the song out. So you heard “New Day” released as a full Alicia Keys song before you heard the version of it that was a 50 Cent record featuring Dr. Dre.
That song went out as the first record because the record leaked. We was really playing catch-up, because the song went out, and they’re like, “Don’t lose the record, just put your version out.” You see what I’m saying? So we put “New Day” out first. But if I released in order that I intended it, it would have been “My Life,” then potentially the “New Day” record.
As you said, “My Life” definitely sounds something like what Eminem was doing a year or two ago. Do you feel like it's gotten a good response despite the delay?
It’ll get an excellent response, but what it does, what’s different between “My Life” and those [Eminem] records that you heard [back then] is me being conscious of making a rap record. I went back, I got what I felt was a more vintage breakbeat sound for the drum pattern. It had that vibe, so I thought that was the right thing, and then we added the strings to it to make it feel closer to that record.
This is the first record that came out that is the closest thing to what should be played on all formats at one time. It’s that rap record that should be played at mix shows, urban radio, and it’s the record that should be played on Top 40 and Crossover at the same time, with the participation of Adam Levine and Eminem on the song.
That reminds me, I talked to Ne-Yo earlier this year and he was saying something similar about his own career, that he aims for an all-format approach. Is that something you’re trying to do on most of the records, or is that something specific to this single?
Well, that’s specifically for this record ["My Life"]. For my core audience, they’re anticipating things from me that shouldn’t be played on Top 40 and Crossover radio. They’re really passionate about the material that reflects the dysfunctional behavior and the environment that I grew up in. So of course I offered it in a different way, and I think it’s a more creative approach to articulate, and I think everyone will appreciate it because of how well it was actually done. I’ve had a lot of time to think this record out. Nothing really happens in a spur of the moment. it’s all well thought-out.
And to have the record be No. 1 on iTunes 12 hours after the release of it? It’s exciting. You get people who have records go No. 1 when they release it to iTunes, but this was after they launched the record for weeks. But when you launch a record that day and six hours later and it’s No. 1 on iTunes, it’s a whole other thing. That’s saying the general public wants it, so that should be a clear indication to the radio that they should be playing it.
One of my favorite records that you’ve released in the past couple years was “Wait Until Tonight.” That reminded me of the stuff you did earlier on where it was as much about songwriting as it was about rapping.
It seems like now that people aren’t using superproducers the same way they used back in the early 2000s, that songwriting seems more important for rappers. Do you think that’s true? You’re not just punching in a hot 16 and leaving.
Yeah. You got a lot of guys that make records and everything’s done for you before you get there. The producer actually made the record. It has a sample playing and a chorus, you did your verse, you have three other rappers that generate interest from different demographics rap behind you and it’s done. Those records, they’re good too because sometimes those are the things that you don’t have to think about. You hear it, you go, "Okay, I know what it is," and you just party to it. There’s no substance to it that makes you stop and think.
“Wait Until Tonight,” for me that’s a representation of what I fell in love with in the beginning of me enjoying hip-hop culture. With the actual writers, it’s [from] when we watch each other and see what we offer and try and top it. It was about being competitive, not just going back and forth arguing with each other. Now they think being competitive is beefing. But they didn’t use that terminology until after the Biggie and 2Pac situation went bad. They would have called it battling prior to that. They think that’s being competitive, saying something about someone else, not actually making a record that impacts.
I’ll focus on the record because that’s what I do. After the fact I hear all the details, all the different things people saying, and all it does it make me say, "Let me make sure that this record is bulletproof." It’s just so solid that whoever feels I’m not relevant or I’m out of pocket, they won’t feel comfortable saying it when so many people are saying it’s good. And with one song, you shift it, you turn it around.
That’s been every artist’s album cycle. In the past they would wait, like with Nas and all of them. They would put out an album and then wait, then they would put out another album. They didn’t keep consistent content flowing. In today’s time, an artist will release a record then release a mixtape, then have material where he’s on five other records with other artists, and then release his new mixtape, and off of that tape he found the first single for his next album. There’s no gaps. Everyone stays in the front of the audience as much as possible.
Yeah. That reminds me of one of your quotes that’s stuck with me since you said it earlier this year. You said that the game is completely different now than how you remember it. That hip-hop has changed so much.
What you were thinking about exactly. What do you think is different now? It seemed like you saw the change as a bad thing.
Well, it can be considered negative if you’re not willing to make the adjustments, but it has changed. We’re following trends a lot more than we used to. We used to allow someone entry into the actual culture, and it would be theirs. Authenticity meant a lot. For you to offer something from your perspective or from your experience that someone else couldn’t do because they haven’t had that happen in their lives, that’s gone. Now it’s like, that guy will write my song. I’ll write the record from that guy or for something else. Like, you have to watch it. They say, "Let’s make the hit record that they want to hear." It doesn’t even matter if it’s coming from a real place.
We’re following trends a lot more than we used to. We used to allow someone entry into the actual culture, and it would be theirs. Authenticity meant a lot. That’s gone.
I’ve had success every time I offer vulnerability because they see me a certain way. The first time I did it was on “Hate It or Love It.” I wasn’t sure that they actually wanted to hear that from me at the time so I put it on Game’s album. And it ended up selling his album five million records that cycle. “How We Do,” “Hate It or Love It,” “Special,” “Higher,” “Church For Thugs”—when your first three singles are records that I wrote, that’s why I say I sold it five million copies.
When you get to this point, the “My Life” record, it has that confusion again. Confusion would be the most vulnerable state for an artist because you just don’t know where you’re really at creatively. So I just did a recap to remind people what it feels like from my perspective. I said, “Sold like 40 million records, people forgot what I did.” In the cycle of entertainment, entertainers go up, and everyone enjoys the process of watching them come down because I guess at that point when they’re up, they flawless.
And by no means are they flawless even when you see them in a good space because they have people around them that have a sense of entitlement. It can’t be met. There’s always a new problem, there’s always a new negative energy coming from somewhere like, “I can’t believe this is coming from you!” The people you experience it from, it makes you say, "Wow." It does kind of harden you. It makes you insensitive on some levels because you don’t care about another person’s energy when it gets to that point. To protect yourself you begin to have a tunnel vision where you start to proceed toward your actual goals and not really allow yourself to be satisfied by how someone else feels.
If you just use social networking as an example, a Twitter, the negative things that people will say randomly, if you took those things it would probably break you down to the point where you’re uncertain or unsure. You got the blind following the blind then. In the past everyone didn’t have...the way they felt about a song, it mattered. They heard it for the first time, if they didn’t understand it or get it the very first time they heard it, after they played it so many times and knew all the words to the song they would say, “I do like this song.” They didn’t have an opportunity to play with someone else’s thought process or make someone feel like they’re uncertain about it before it actually grew on them.
Now with social networking, the person that’s in a gray area or confused if they like the song or not, they’re going, “I don’t like this record, it could have been better but it’s not.” It puts a negative energy around it, and then another guy reads his comment and follows him. And they say the same thing, “I miss the old 50.”
Then everyone goes along with that.
Yeah! If I’m exactly like the old 50 at this point, that means I didn’t grow. It would be a tragedy if you were the same person that you were 10 years ago. It would mean that you simply fell behind. You’re not learning anything. You’re not wiser or more experienced in different territories and 10 years passed? You just fell behind. What’s cool about that?
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