50 Cent knows a thing or nine about cheating death. As the story goes, in early 2000, the then-unknown rapper’s track “Ghetto Qu’ran” leaked online. In it, he touched on the history of Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff and his Supreme Team, a crack-dealing organization based out of 50’s neighborhood—South Jamaica, Queens. This reportedly led to the blacklisting of 50 by many of the major music studios and, according to an affidavit from a special agent assigned to the U.S. Treasury Department, may be linked to the events of April 24, 2000, when a gunman approached 50 and shot him nine times at close range with a 9mm pistol in front of his grandmother’s house. The man formerly known as Curtis Jackson, of course, survived, went on to make (and lose) millions, and is now executive producing and co-starring in a gritty TV series based in part on his own experiences in the drug game.
When we last left Starz’s hit series Power, 50’s villainous drug-trafficker Kanan was left for dead, lit ablaze by the show’s antihero, Ghost (Omari Hardwick). But he didn’t die, because if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone—except 50 Cent.
“As the fire starts and you see him walking away, he’s not taking into account the sprinkler system. And as he leaves, he’s hurt bad,” 50 Cent says of Kanan, referring to his newly disfigured character as “Two-Face.”
Kanan served as a mentor to Ghost, but, after serving a lengthy prison stint, has become fraught with jealousy over how pupil has become master—and far surpassed him. 50 likens the relationship between Kanan and Ghost on the show to the real-life imbroglio that’s ensnared Birdman and Lil Wayne.
“It is like that,” he says. “Strangely enough, when you pick those two [Birdman and Lil Wayne], when people perceive you as a father-son relationship, and when people come in under someone, in the street they say, ‘That’s my son. That’s my little man.’ They’ll use the terminology ‘son’ in Queens.”
He pauses, choosing his words carefully. “You see this all the time: There’s people out there who will fight with the ones who love them instead of fighting with their true enemies.”
While 50’s sold more than 30 million albums, and his sixth studio LP, Street King Immortal, is due out Aug. 18, he views his experience working on Power as particularly rewarding, given how jaded he’s become with the rap world over the course of his 16-year rhyming career.
“It’s restarting the creative energy,” he says. “After a while, with music, you get conditioned for it. So it’s like, with the same production we’d have a different hit record with similar tones. With that production, you might write a different concept, but it’ll be the same hit. You’ll hear artists who’ve been around for a while go, ‘You got one.’ That’s the way I felt about the ‘All the Way Up’ record with Fat Joe—that’s a hit, he got one. Once you know how to make ’em, you can make ’em.”
As far as hit records go, 50 also has plenty of thoughts about Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot Nigga,” the first debut track to raise as much hell on the streets of New York as “Ghetto Qu’ran.”
“Bobby had a great record. That song is a great record,” offers 50. “This is what happens now, since records are available for people to play with online. When I made a record for the first time, I wasn’t ready to make more hit records. With the first record I stumbled over that was good, the next 10 weren’t. A lot of times when an artist receives an opportunity too fast, like Desiigner and ‘I got broads in Atlanta,’ you haven’t heard another song yet. You see what I’m sayin’? So you get a No. 1 record and you think, well, how do I do this again?”
I mention how Shmurda’s been locked away since Dec. 17, 2014, on charges of conspiracy to commit murder, weapons possession, and reckless endangerment—and has yet to stand trial. He reportedly rejected an 8-year plea deal and faces 25 years in prison. Fourteen other alleged members of his GS9 crew were also arrested on a total of 69 counts, including murder, attempted murder, assault, attempted assault, and drug-dealing. When Shmurda and his alleged associates were arrested, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton alleged that GS9 was in fact a dangerous gang whose name stood for “G-Stone Crips,” adding, “This gang… gloated about murder, shooting and drug-dealing in YouTube videos and viral dance moves.”
The “viral dance” Bratton is referring to is the Shmoney Dance from “Hot Nigga,” whose lyrics go:
Like I talk to Shyste when I shot niggas / Like you seen em twirl then he drop, nigga / And we keep them 9 milli’s on my block, nigga / And Monte keep it on him, he done dropped niggas / And Trigger he be wilding, he some hot nigga / Tones known to get busy with them Glocks, nigga / Try to run down and you can catch a shot, nigga.
“They were under investigation. What’s the accident? Was the song an accident?” asks 50. “He didn’t write the song with the intention of it being a hit record. He wrote it for his neighborhood. Lloyd Banks used that production for ‘Jackpot,’ and when Bobby’s writing a record like that, he didn’t have a record deal. He was writing it for his people. When you get hot in the inner city, you’re hot in a 10-block radius. Your friends say, ‘Yo, my man is nice!’ That starts to happen, and then it evolves into something else.”
“You know what the crazy thing is? When you get charged with some real serious shit, the craziest thing is when you can’t see how serious the situation is,” he adds. “Because that is… give me a body, give me a homicide before you hand me a conspiracy charge. You can’t beat conspiracy. John Gotti, The Teflon Don, took out bodies and it wasn’t a problem. He was walking around in nice $2,000 suits and shoes and shit like that. But when you put him in a conspiracy case, he washed up. That means you knew and you were aware of it, but they’re not even saying how much you actively were involved, but you knew and were aware of it. The song itself confirms conspiracy.”
(Shmurda told The New York Times in an interview from prison that his lyrics were “fabricated” because “that’s what’s selling nowadays.”)
Unlike 50 and Bobby, most rappers these days don’t have solid hood credentials. Take 50’s sometime rival, Rick Ross, who raps about drug-dealing and is named after “Freeway” Rick Ross, yet used to work as a correctional officer in Florida. The ultimate example of buying into a hip-hop persona, though, is probably Tupac Shakur—the romantic, charismatic poetry student who morphed into the greatest gangsta rapper of all-time.
“He almost never stopped playing Bishop after Juice, you know what I’m saying?” 50 says of Pac. “It’s when that ‘thug life’ energy came out and started to evolve into a persona. He’s way better than people saw him as. He’s way better. That’s an art student right there and thuggin’ is his theme. He was so much more advanced than anyone will ever know.”