50 Cent’s Queens roots run deep. We’re seated in a back room at Eminem's Shade 45 radio station in Manhattan discussing our shared N.Y. origins. We grew up 10 minutes away from each other on foot, albeit our decade age difference; he’s convinced he knows my dad. “I probably know everyone you know,” 50 suggests, wearing a black-and-white varsity jacket and thick diamond-studded gold Cuban link chain that would leave the average man hunchbacked.
Former stomping grounds aside, 50 seems to be feeling wistful this evening. He’s about to preview his upcoming album Animal Ambition (out June 3) and he’s stressing his return to “the old 50”—that feeling he first gave you before he started singing about candy shops and amusement parks.
“I wanted to do things that made you go, ‘Oh, the old 50 is back,’” says the 38-year-old rapper, who once aired out ’80s drug lords on his song "Ghetto Qur'an (Forgive Me).” “I’m going to give it to you as raw as possible.”
The irony isn’t lost on anyone paying attention: Back in 2002, Curtis Jackson boldly—and accurately—made his large-scale re-introduction to hip-hop via a spot-on statement—his prophetically titled mixtape 50 Cent Is The Future. Yet 12 years later, his solution to regain the ears and hearts of listeners is by reverting to his earlier sound, supplemented with influences from childhood rap heroes like Rakim and EPMD. And while his weekly releases have packed that nostalgic Fiddy knock (see: "The Funeral," "Hold On"), it remains to be seen whether 50 can recapture a distinct time in hip-hop over an entire body of work.
Set on looking in reverse, 50 speaks on recording another “In da Club” for Animal Ambition, creating a template for Beyoncé back in 2005, a years-old collaboration with Lil’ Boosie, and whether he’d ever do a song with Nas again. —John Kennedy
VIBE: You’ve said Animal Ambition is based on themes like prosperity and envy. But production-wise, what’s the sound and energy you’re aiming for?
50 Cent: I slowed down. The tempo is a little slower on “Hold On.” I like to work out to my music. I like to offer you something that gives you that [energy], when you hear 98 rpms on the track. So when I slowed it down it was because that bop—I was listening to [EPMD’s] “You Gots To Chill,” listening to these old-school records over and over. These were the things that I was in love with growing up and it’s missing from our culture now. So this is why I’m saying “You got to relax.” I’m not saying you have to chill. “Hold up; hold on, you got to relax.” You know, I’m saying it in a different way. My 2014 version of “You Gots To Chill.” That was an inspiration on the actual song.
And I was watching the video—the video with the ice trays and dancer in the background. I wouldn’t move around as much as I was actually doing in the very beginning. And this is why I ended up at SXSW. Like, Rakim used to perform by himself. I never had a problem performing by myself. I just utilized my stage as a launching pad for new artists. On this project, I’m doing it as a real artist as opposed to selling the next artist.
You’re really focusing on yourself this time.
Right. Because I have to reestablish and reposition myself. Whenever you’re lucky enough to have a long enough career, you’ll have peaks and valleys. And here’s the turning point to where I go right back to the position that I was in in the very beginning. If you release two or three records and then watch people do exactly what you anticipated, you feel like you have your finger on the pulse of what’s going on. And that everything else will go the way you expect. So I look forward to seeing the response when this comes out because it’s some pieces on here that I think won’t go away. Like “In da Club” stuck around like, “Shit, I can’t get away from that record.”
Do you have something like that on Animal Ambition?
Yeah, I got something on this project that people would want to hear for a long time. And every album doesn’t have it, every single isn’t a great record. It may even work for the period but when you put it on [years] later in the nightclub, people are like, “why would you put that on?” I think I got some pieces on here that people will really be excited about. And as soon as you hear the record you get a chance to watch it. It’ll give you a full understanding of what I was trying to convey.
You’ve always understood the importance of music videos. When you re-released the Special Edition of The Massacre, you included a bonus DVD with a video for every song. And then, eight years later, Beyoncé does the same thing and it’s like...
Like she did it for the first time. But whenever you have resistance, you know—she did it in a different way. She put out two songs that didn’t get the response that they wanted, so she put the album out in the middle of the night. Ballsy move. Everybody wants the record. And all a major artist is trying to escape is the first-week number. What does it matter? If you tell me Beyoncé is finished, then what’s gonna replace it? No matter how much you like it or dislike it, it is what it is. She earned it. Rihanna the same. It’s only really two major female solo artists. The other ones, they just got to work a little more.
Free boosie bad ass I did a joint that never came out befor he went in
— 50cent (@50cent) August 28, 2010
Switching back to rap, in 2010 you tweeted about an unreleased song that you recorded with Lil Boosie. How’d that come together and do you think it’ll ever be released?
Boosie had an idea that we were doing together and I’m not sure if I ever got back his vocals on it. Because right after, he was charged with murder and then that shit just got out of hand. I got to get up with him. He tried to reach out to me as soon as he got out but I was travelling and had so much shit going on. I’ll give him a call this week. I haven’t had a chance to finish [the song] but possibly you can hear something from me and Lil Boosie. I’d like to get something going with him. I don’t know what was going on with that situation, all I know is at the time I wanted to work with him.
That shouldn’t be any different now, right?
Yeah, ain’t no different. I just want to see where he’s at because that experience can change the artist dramatically. Look at what it did to Shyne. Shyne was a little bit different [laughs].
Just a little bit.
Wow! What the fuck they gave him? He came back Jewish. He didn’t know what was going on. He still got that check out of Def Jam.
Last year J. Cole said that he planned for “New York Times” to feature both you and Nas, but Nas didn’t get his verse done in time. All parties were said to be cool with it, though. Is there still any beef there? Do you think you’ll work together in the future?
You know what: Nas is still Nas. I was disappointed in Nas when we had our little difference because I thought he didn’t see the possibilities. We never saw the crew that blew up in connection to his actual success. You saw the crew that blew up in connection with Jay Z: Roc-A-Fella. It’s a little disappointing that he didn’t broker what he had at the moment. At the end of it, the nigga’s still Nas. He ain’t never did nothing that I would have…
Yeah, yeah. So I’m cool with him. We cool. It’s just—we’ll watch and see. They play word games and then get upset when I say something. But it’s not that serious to me. I don’t care.
That would’ve been a moment though. You, Nas and J. Cole on a dedication to NYC.
I’ll come up with something and we’ll talk. Or he’ll come up with something. You know?