A Q&A With 50 Cent
Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.Gunplay and drug dealing are common topics in rap songs, but not every rapper has personal experience living the thug life. 50 Cent, born Curtis Jackson July 6, 1976, in South Jamaica, Queens, N.Y., was raised by his grandparents after his mother was murdered at age 23. As is well known by his fans, he was dealing drugs by the time he was 12, and seven years later he was running a local drug cartel.
Signed to Columbia Records, 50 Cent was about to make a video for his first single when he was shot nine times May 24, 2000. To this day, the rapper -- whose name comes from an infamous Brooklyn, N.Y., gangster -- carries a bullet fragment in his tongue and a hole in his jaw that gives him a distinctive slur.
After the shooting, he was dropped by Columbia and continued recording on his own, releasing mix-tape albums through the independent G-Unit label. "Guess Who's Back? (Full Clip)" collected his biggest mix-tape hits, including the controversial "How to Rob." Released in May 2002, that indie release has sold 316,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan.
The underground success of these mix-tape albums led to Eminem and Dr. Dre signing 50 Cent to Interscope-distributed Shady/Aftermath.
"Get Rich or Die Tryin'," 50 Cent's major-label debut, sold 872,000 copies in its first week, the best opening for any album this year. Sales have now reached 5.6 million, making it the top seller of 2003, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Two songs from "Get Rich" have topped The Billboard Hot 100: "In Da Club," which spent nine weeks at No. 1, and "21 Questions," which led the list for four weeks.
50 Cent's latest Billboard Hot 100 entry, "P.I.M.P.," stands is No. 3 on the chart.
Q: How did you become a rapper?
A: A friend of mine was having a conversation with Jam Master Jay, and I was able to kind of work my way into that conversation. He said he wanted to develop a new artist and I told him, "I rap, you know." And from there, he gave me a shot to do it, but Jay, he helped me develop my whole song structure, because I didn't know how to count bars or anything.
I had recorded over an album's worth of material while I was under Jam Master Jay. His touring schedule with Run-DMC had become so hectic that he wasn't able to focus on me at the time, so I moved on. I was blessed with the opportunity to work with the Trackmasters and Cory Rooney at Columbia, and then three days before I was supposed to shoot a video for "Thug Love" with Destiny's Child, I got shot. Columbia Records [was] afraid to work with me after I got shot.
Q: You then signed to Shady/Aftermath. What's it like working with Dr. Dre?
A: He's great. Dre's a perfectionist. He'll make you do something over and over and over and over, and he's right. I had trust issues at first. If I fail, it has to be because I made a mistake. It's not until you get in a crew like when I joined Eminem and Dr. Dre that I could become comfortable enough with people to take their advice.
Q: When did you realize that "In Da Club" would be so huge?
A: At that time, [the clubs] had so many street records on me that they would have a 50 Cent segment. For maybe 40 minutes in the club, it would just be me, but before they got into that, they would play "In Da Club" about five or six times in a row and it would keep the club going. When they were playing it that much, I was so excited about the record that I would just be at home listening to my record by myself.
Q: Your next hit was "21 Questions." Some people might be surprised at the presence of a slow song on the album.
A: They're probably more surprised that I like women. For some strange reason, they feel like... well, I know why. Because the guys who do lyrics in the past, who have similar lyrical content to 50 Cent, were so hard that they weren't able to say things that would make people feel like they were actually interested in women. They would make records that say, "My ho's a trick," like Snoop Dogg. I love Snoop's music, but that's the kind of material that if you've got the kind of lyrical content I have, they expect from 50 Cent. I'm not currently in a relationship, so those are the 21 questions I would be interested in asking.
Q: How did your current hit, "P.I.M.P.," come about?
A: That came about as a mix-tape record. Me and Snoop did a mix tape in the street, because I felt like what the company has developed for marketing, the system that they've developed, it's effective but the presence of the artist should be a little more in the street.
The reason that [people are] downloading music is because they're so afraid of purchasing CDs that only have one or two good songs on them... My album was downloaded 300,000 times before it went on sale, and it still sold 872,000 the first week, so I believe those people who downloaded my album went to buy it after they realized it was worth buying. Word-of-mouth promotion is the best... Like I put out six albums' worth of material waiting to put out this album. And while I was doing that, it kind of made the consumers feel comfortable with purchasing my album.
Q: How are you enjoying touring?
A: At first, my love was just to be in the studio and make the music and enjoy it when I hear it played back, but now the biggest thing for me is to see the response of the people. When you go out and see the energy in the crowd-man, like when I'm with Em, we do, like, 70,000 people at a time, so it's incredible. The people in the back just look like dots. I've been in situations like in Tokyo where people sang my song word for word and then when the music stopped, they couldn't speak to me. I've seen the music break the language barrier.
Q: Do you ever get bored of hearing your songs on the radio?
A: No, man. You know what my favorite song is right now? "P.I.M.P."!
Excerpted from the Aug. 16, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.
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