Today 50 Cent and DJ Drama’s much hyped The Lost Tape was finally released. The project finds two mixtape champions hooking up at last—years after they were supposed to originally team up for Blood In A Gangsta’s Grillz. 50 is hoping that his second mixtape in the past few months (he dropped The Big 10 late last year) will build some excitement for his upcoming album.
Complex headed down to 50’s offices to talk with him and Drama about their mixtape but as with every 50 Cent interview, there’s so much more to talk about. Curtis sported an IV bandage on his right hand—evidence of a recent hospital visit where doctors discovered a blockage in his small intestine. But he’s feeling much better now—well enough to talk about his perceived decline, performing with Eminem at SXSW, and what the best 50 Cent rant is.
But that’s not all. With a framed, oversized picture of Don Vito Corleone hanging in the background (though, knowing 50, it really ought to be Michael Corleone), 50 talked about how he overcompensated for G-Unit artists in the past, why he’s had a change of heart when it comes to guest features, and why MTV’s Hottest MCs list doesn’t matter.
Interview by Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)
You guys are finally hooking up after all these years. Drama, you work with a lot of artists. What’s the difference between working 50 and all the other artists you’ve worked with?
DJ Drama: It’s a different place for me because a lot of the artists that I’ve worked with, I came up with. Probably the closest thing, for me, to working with Fif was Fabolous because what Fab and Clue had did in the mixtape game, I felt as though I was a student of it. So I look at my empire, my dynasty, and my run as being built on the groundwork that Fif laid and what he brought to the mixtape game. The mixtape game is pre-50 Cent and post-50 Cent, and after 50, I’m probably the next biggest brand.
The mixtape game is pre-50 Cent and post-50 Cent, and after 50, I’m probably the next biggest brand. —DJ Drama
50 Cent: It is.
DJ Drama: So for us to come and do this project, it’s pretty special for me. It’s exciting because—I’m sure Fif will tell you, too—he gets a lot of criticism these days. He hears the rumblings of “Fif’s not as relevant” or “His music’s changed” or “He’s making too much money.”
50 Cent: Right.
DJ Drama: So to be able to bring my brand, which is so potent, and to be a part of Fif and us bringing this excitement together, I think it’s dope.
50 Cent: I think those rumblings come from my initial marketing. Because I have so much material that I put out, for promotional purposes, I spoiled my core audience. They’re conditioned to hear a lot of new material. We’d drop a tape, one week, and they’d be like, “OK, cool. Do it again.”
When you look at the level of sales of artists that they put in comparison with me, career-wise, those guys make the single off of their album and deliver their album, make 12 songs. So far on this album I had The Big Ten, The Lost Tape and most likely there’ll be more tapes following this before the actual album reaches. So you’ll be saying, “That’s three albums worth of material that he just gave away, before he actually put out the record.”
But for me, what it does is it allows me to put my finger on the pulse of what’s going on. I see what was effective, what wasn’t effective, how they responded to different things that I tried. Then I come with my selection of music that I put on the side for my actual album. That way I make the right choices, when it comes time to pick songs and sequencing my actual album. So it’s cool. I benefit on every level.
But I think I’ve conditioned my audience to want something from me that they can’t get from any artist that has had the level of success that I’ve had. They respond by saying, “It don’t feel like it used to feel because it used to be something new coming out on you so often, that you had to talk about what just happened.”
I think I’ve conditioned my audience to want something from me that they can’t get from any artist that has had the level of success that I’ve had.
Within the culture, now, even the radio game has changed. It would take six to eight weeks for your record to peak at radio. What does it take now? 16 to 18 weeks. It takes that much longer for your record to reach a peak point, and then, because the hip-hop consumer has a low attention span, they look, and they go, “What song is popping?” and you’ll think the song is over, and the song is ready to go, now.
For instance, 2 Chainz’s “Riot” record. That song ain’t over. That song is right now. The system has gotten off the record and moved on to his Drake song. Then, Drama suggested I actually do the record for the Gangsta Grillz, and I did a remix. When the song was at a negative, going backwards on the charts, it turns completely around and is at a positive. It gives Def Jam something to do and turn around and go work that record. It just makes sense for you to go get it, now.
You’re giving away favors to Def Jam now? [Laughs.]
50 Cent: At this point, I don’t even care about how what I do shifts the culture or how it helps another artist. Like, I’ve worked with YG before, a brand new artist out of L.A. I worked with Mann on the “Buzzin” record. Even with Jeremih on the “Down On Me” record when he was a brand new artist. You’ve got to look at those artists and look at the budgets and realize that there was no financing there for them to pay the legitimate fee for me.
Yeah, that takes me back to that line, “They’re calling me to feature, man. Fuck yo’ money.” Why do you do it?
50 Cent:I did those records from just having the opportunity to just be an artist. At that point. I said, in the “Down On Me” record, “This is a number one.” Then, when the record goes number one, I say, “I told you so.”
I had to do a lot of shit to get Def Jam to actually move. After coming out of kids’ closets [Laughs.] and a bunch of other shit. When the record jumps to number 11 on iTunes, everybody’s eyes opened, and all of a sudden, you’ve got radio support.
It’s always surprising whenever you give credit to anybody else, because you’ve been very insular, throughout your career.
50 Cent: Yeah. I try to stay away from people. I’ll explain that to you.
Was there ever a time when you stopped caring about the mixtape game?
50 Cent:No. You know what happened? Technology came and I had the opportunity to use my musical efforts to build ThisIs50.com. So I leaked the material, for promotional purposes, through the computer. At that point, it was endless possibilities of how many places it could end up because a guy who’s a smaller version of Drama out there would take that song off the computer and put it on his tape.
Em has the weirdest choices of what he wants to perform, when it comes time for us to collaborate all the time. I look at it like, we’ve got 'Crack A Bottle.' We won Grammys for the record. Let’s do 'Crack A Bottle,' maybe.
Prior to me even using the mixtape circuit for marketing purposes, it would be a nightmare for a bootlegger to have an artist’s material. I was working to have the bootleggers distribute my material. What’s a nightmare for an established artist is the best thing ever for an unsigned artist.
So when they took it and distributed it, on every level, like, “This is 50 Cent. This is the new hot street thing that’s going on.” It made me have endless distribution without spending any money on it, for marketing purposes, and it created enough energy to result in the largest debuting hip-hop album.
So now, when you look in today’s climate, you see artists have the ability to meet the general public before they meet the record company. Meaning, right after they recorded the song, even at the lowest level, their camera on their telephone, and record themselves vocally to that, that’s the ability for how many people to see it on Youtube or other platforms that have music as a genre of interest.
Put it like this, if I was grinding now like I was in the very beginning, I’d be trying to stay in the independent space. Working as hard as I was working, at that point, I would have just said, “I’m comfortable with this” because I had made it to a point where I was doing $25,000 a show, performing other people’s records. So if you’re doing that, then you’re like, “I’m doing this guy’s record, tonight.” I get $25,000 and I’m doing two shows a night. I’d do 10 o’clock and then 1:30.
Right. I remember watching your SXSW performance and you did Get Rich, which is a classic and was great, but at the very end, you did the “Collapse Freestyle” and I was more excited to see that because I never thought you’d do that song.
50 Cent: You know what’s crazy? Em has the weirdest choices of what he wants to perform, when it comes time for us to collaborate all the time. I look at it like, we’ve got “Crack A Bottle.” We won Grammys for the record. Let’s do “Crack A Bottle,” maybe. It was a huge record.
“Collapse” is a huge record though.
DJ Drama: Shit was dope. Yeah, that was definitely the shit.
50 Cent: It’s certain points where he wants to actually say the verse. What he did performance-wise, he chooses it. I had to learn “Collapse,” right there, in front of you, at this SXSW rehearsal. I hadn’t heard that freestyle in so long, so I had to sit there and learn it.
I didn’t say my verse in its entirety. I said six bars of my verse, Em said the rap, and I said the last six bars at the end of him, because he wanted to say his verse and the edit that we had didn’t allow me to say my whole verse. So I said, “Play it again. OK. I know it. Let’s do it.” And then he wanted to do the “Love Me” joint.
Eminem called, while I was in the hospital. He was like, “Man, you got shot nine times. If you die over a cheeseburger, this shit is going to go down in history, man. You better get your ass out the hospital.” He cheered me up. He made me laugh, under circumstances that weren’t that funny.
Yeah, I couldn’t believe that you did “Collapse” and got Eminem to do it. But I really wanted you to do my favorite song, “Banks Victory.” It was like, “Damn. We couldn’t get Banks’ ‘Victory.’”
50 Cent: [Pauses.] You know what’s really interesting? No matter how much you do for an artist, I don’t think you can prevent there from being a point that the artist wants it to be about them, regardless of who it is. I think when you’re not an artist, and you’re an executive, you never have that conflict.
Right, because you want as much success as you can...
50 Cent: Right. And you don’t understand, I want as much success as I can have for artists who I come in contact with. It gives you life, when you don’t have any. Meaning, it gives you the ability to make Watch The Throne. Technically, Kanye’s sales history is bigger than Jay-Z’s on single albums. So if you develop an artist that you can actually bring into the fold and he becomes a legitimate partner, at some point, that’s great.
I’m not running around, jumping through hoops, making it super convenient for [my artists]. I’m going to let them work now. I’ve done enough for all of them.
I want them to be bigger. You want them to have their own record companies and everything else. But when people lose sight of how people actually get to the point that you’re at, it gets really uncomfortable. The more successful you are, the more important it becomes that you are a good judge of character.
I think people that I’ve invested my time and energy in, I would have done better if I would have taken a page out of maybe the traditional book of the music business and not been so personable with them.
I should have just left them over there and said, “Do what you’ve got to do to win. I’ll even provide what you need to do to win.” When you see them become complacent, or they feel like they don’t have to do it because you’re going to figure it out for them, it becomes interesting.
The question is, have you ever had people who work for you, that you work for? Because it gets interesting when you get to a point where this person’s under you—they work for you—and you’re working for them. They don’t respond to what you’re saying, they just wait around. You’re just sitting there like, “Yo, you’re going to miss the fucking boat. You’ve got to do this like this, now.”
You’re moving things in place, pretty much making it more convenient for them to execute it, and then they come when they feel like coming. Then you go, “Man, fuck out of here. If you don’t catch this ferry, you can swim your ass across. I’ll see you when you get there.” But I’m not running around, jumping through hoops, making it super convenient for them. I’m going to let them work now. I’ve done enough for all of them.
You mean G-Unit?
50 Cent:Just artists in general, period. I think when they come, I want to help them in compensation by giving them what I think is the right approach to it. But really, if the artist doesn’t already have it, his management company will be the knowledgeable component that has a little bit more experience than the actual artist themselves. They can help him navigate where to go, with the things that he’s actually doing.
You can figure out how to move or you can sit there until nobody cares you’re there. It’s not going to make me any bigger or less than I am now. And that’s not towards Banks—that’s towards any artist at this point. —50 Cent
Like, you’ll get a guy that’ll go out and get a new record deal. The record company is going to take nice pictures of you and a nice music video. After they put out the first song and provide a marketing budget for that video, if it doesn’t work, they’re like, “Because we believed in you, we’ll try it one more time.”
If the shit flops again it’s like, “OK. That was the ball we threw against the wall. It didn’t stick. Fuck it. Give us another ball to throw.” That’s how the music business works. So if you don’t figure out how to build a consistency or how to develop a core, from the material that you’re creating, chances are, you’re going to be one of those balls that bounce off the wall while they’re looking for the ones that stick.
Is that what happened to Lloyd Banks?
50 Cent: Nah, I think Banks is... All of them. Every single artist that I’ve been around, I’ve overcompensated. They’ve been on records that say, “New 50 Cent!” and then you hear their voice.
Right. I remember on all of the singles for G-Unit solo albums, it was always your voice for the first five seconds. [Laughs.]
50 Cent: You want to offer them the opportunity to take your base and make it theirs, that their attributes will make them shine at different points because everyone is built differently. We’re all made of something different. Even though we all function the same, as humans, we’ve got different qualities and talents.
I’d like for them all to establish themselves in their own right and the way to do it is to give them space. You can shit or get off the toilet. As far as I’m concerned, you can figure out how to move or you can sit there until nobody cares you’re there. It’s not going to make me any bigger or less than I am now. And that’s not towards Banks—that’s towards any artist at this point.
I’ll be able to provide, in conversation, things that they could actually go through to execute, that I feel like would be appropriate for marketing purposes, but I’m not going to actually go do it for them. I’ve got other things to do to further my career. If I’m busy telling you what can make you pop and that was a new version of the old marketing campaign, I’m not figuring out what the new steps are to move forward.
If artists have a long enough career, they have peaks and valleys in it. It’s never a one-way street. Michael Jackson had moments when he didn’t feel like he was as hot as he was during Thriller, where every song is a number one record.
You can only have one Thriller.
50 Cent: Right. So if you do that, what happens after Thriller? Because what we’re saying right now is what happens after Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. As far as hip-hop culture’s concerned, it’s the largest debuting hip-hop album. So when that first record is that big, then you go, “What do you come with next?”
DJ Drama: I had that moment with Gangsta Grillz, too. I remember there was a period where they felt as though the brand wasn’t as strong. When I did Fab’s first tape VIBE put it in 20 Questions; “The fact that Fab’s underrated Gangsta Grillz is so underrated, does this mean that the brand is not as potent as it was?”
Yeah and you admitted too, on the 2 Chainz tape you were like, “I’ve been incredibly hot in this game...”
DJ Drama: ...and I’ve had cold moments.
50 Cent: Yeah. There’s cool moments and you come up and down. And his Gangsta Grillz, at that point, it reflects artist moments. It reflects who’s making the tape. It reflects their timing. The brand itself is necessary.
Now when you say you’ve got a mixtape, you know what they ask you? “Who’s on it?” They don’t even care about the actual artist that’s making the tape. On all my mixtapes, you know who I featured? Someone you don’t know. I’m introducing you to someone new.
I think [Dre] could be bitten by that bug and remember what he originally fell in love with. No matter how much you love making music, there’s nothing like seeing people respond to it. —50 Cent
When you’re saying, “Who’s on it?” that means now the mixtape is an album. I seen one that looked like the NOW That’s What I Call Music compilation, it had so many artists on it. I said, “Goddamn. How did you put that together? How did you have enough time to call all these people and get everybody to do their piece and their part?” Like, how do you benefit from that?
It’s the same thing with shows. At Coachella, it was Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg performing but it was like, “Yeah, Em came out, and 50 came out, and 2Pac.” Like, that’s what made it good. But why aren’t you excited to see Snoop and Dre?”
50 Cent: When you look at Coachella, for me, it was great to see Dre back outside. That was more exciting than the show itself, for me, to see him active and actually out.
DJ Drama: Breathing air.
50 Cent: It’s a huge leap. And I think he could be bitten by that bug and remember what he originally fell in love with. No matter how much you love making music, there’s nothing like seeing people respond to it. Even the 2Pac moment, he gave that moment away. He gave it to Snoop. He could have done “California Love” with 2Pac but he offered that to Snoop.
I said to Snoop, “Listen. Ain’t nothing going to top ‘2Pac is here.’ I don’t give a fuck what you do. We can blow the stage up, we can do backflips, we can fly off the... I don’t care what you was going to do.” I was going to get one of them jetpacks and fly in.
At Complex, we’re known for our lists. So in anticipation for the tape we did the 25 Best 50 Cent Rants. What would you say is the the best 50 Cent rant?
50 Cent:Aw, man. I always have something to say. At that point, I don’t have to rap, I can just express myself. I have so many...On the new tape, I tell her, I say, “If you came in on Bebe’s, you’re leaving on Bebe’s. You have the Christian Louboutin, Givenchy, Alexander McQueen, Giuseppe’s, all that fly shit. It stays in the closet. Bitch! I’ll find another bitch that wears size 7 and a half. Fuck with me. See if I’m bullshitting.” I say, “If she gon’ stay, let her stay. If she gon’ roll, let her roll. That’s it.”
When I’m doing those things, I try to offer something that matches the content of the material I create. So it may be a little more dysfunctional than my actual thought process during a regular working day. —50 Cent
DJ Drama: You know what’s a good one? On the Cocaine City DVD.
Yeah, the rooftop joint. “Don’t go to college. Fuck that. This is the streets. This is where you get your education at.”
50 Cent: [Laughs.]
You should just make a tape of that...
50 Cent: Just me talking shit? [Laughs.]
Yes, for like two hours straight. [Laughs.]
50 Cent: “Don’t go to college. Fuck that!” [Laughs.] It was like, a lot of people I seen make those choices....I’m for college. I’m for education. When I’m doing those things, I try to offer something that matches the content of the material I create. So it may be a little more dysfunctional than my actual thought process during a regular working day but I have to find a pocket. I have to find space to create that stuff for myself because I want to be able to be what I am.
I’m a representation of hope. I’m the reason why you can’t tell yourself you can’t make it, because I had circumstances harder than a lot of people’s circumstances and they see me in a good position. I want to continue to be that.
I want to create a bigger example of what can happen when some of these brothers choose not to be a part of the traditional cycle of going back and forth to the penitentiary and not making changes. That’s the definition of insanity, to do the same things and expect a different outcome.
We’ve been talking a lot about success. Drama’s last mixtape, Meek Mill’s Dreamchasers 2, was very successful. It had 2 million downloads on DatPiff. I’m guessing you’re going to debut yours through Thisis50.
50 Cent: Yeah. I mean, I might use Datpiff, too.
Okay. But there’s no measurement of how many people downloaded it. You were the first artist to make people look at SoundScan, how do you define success for this mixtape?
50 Cent: Another thing is, where are people comfortable making the download? If a person consistently sends their music to Datpiff, they’re going to see all of their traffic go to Datpiff. If they have a platform like Thisis50.com, we might have a million since we have 800,000 registered members. So you may easily have a million people downloading it there and then you see what happens on Datpiff or some of the other platforms that actually have the tape there.
I think that you can tell by the things that surface following that. When you put out mixtape material, the DJs understand there is no pressure. It doesn’t matter to me whether they play these records on the radio. But they’re going to want to play these records on the radio because they’re up to standard.
When you hear them at mix show and you hear “I Just Wanna” and “Hands Up” and the stuff that I put out off the last tape, no one’s calling them. There’s no radio budgets involved in that. It’s just something that’s happening organically because you can’t tell the DJ, “This ain’t hot.”
When they hear it, they’re like, “I like this song myself. So I’m playing this one.” They want to hear it, at that point. When I fell in love with the culture, it meant everything to have five mics. We don’t have that anymore. Now it’s like...
People on these XXL Freshmen covers are not relevant.
DJ Drama: MTV’s Hottest MCs
50 Cent: And that don’t even matter. It’s like, pick your friend, this week. Who’s your friend, this week? That’s what Hottest MCs is. And when you say an artist is lyrical, like, “This guy’s lyrical” that’s because artists brand themselves lyrical. They say, “My lyrical ability. My this... My that...” And they make people look at them that way because that’s their messaging point.
DJ Drama: People on these XXL Freshmen covers are not relevant.
50 Cent: Yeah. Think about this. Banks does it. He calls himself the PLK, punchline king. Other artists have their own little slangs that connect them to having lyrical ability.
Well, you did call yourself the SoundScan Killer.
50 Cent: SoundScan Killer. There I go. And those are just based on the facts. Look at the numbers. It’s interesting when things shift. Again, each artist, if they have a long enough career, they have those peaks and valleys and you get a chance to see things change, momentum-wise, and you see the changes go back. If they maintain their focus and work hard enough, by some point, artists start to find new things that interest them. Their passion is in another area, so they’re doing something else.