The pace of the hip-hop industry in the last half-decade has been defined by artist flopping in one way or another. Either through anti-climatic hype (see Papoose), the collapse of record deals (M.O.P.), or disappearing after a single hit record (countless ring-tone rappers). Somehow, in the midst of a crumbling game, we have seen the rise and reign of 50 Cent and G-Unit paint a picture of the archetypal rap stars. No quirky gimmicks, the sound from G-Unit is predictable, violent and raw â€“ and we all love it. We called up Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo to figure out what itâ€™s like to stand atop a crumbling hill, and how they plan on staying there.
â€œThereâ€™s high-end brands, but just â€˜cause itâ€™s expensive doesnâ€™t mean its making money. Those clothes in Wal-Mart are making a lot of money tooâ€
Format: G Unit clothing recently ended their relationship with Mark Ecko. Why?
Yayo: 50 right now is looking for a new investment partner for G-Unit clothing, because heâ€™s gonna do it his way. His way is the best way, â€˜cause heâ€™s a smart business man. Currently heâ€™s doing his own thing with the clothing from what I know, but heâ€™s got some big deals in the works for it. The main focus for us right now, though, is the G-Unit album.
Format: Let us know about that.
Yayo: The new joint is dropping July 1st, its called T.O.S. Weâ€™ve got Polow tha Don, Swizz beats, Dangerous LLC, Stereo, a lot of new producers on there. As an album its gonna really pave the way for G-Unit right now, let people see whatâ€™s going on with us, and why you havenâ€™t been hearing us in â€˜07.
Format: Lots of people have been collaborating with high end streetwear clothing lines, and working the angle of exclusivity. G-Unit collaborates a lot, but it is with major companies like Mark Ecko and Reebok. What inspires G-Unit to collaborate with a company?
Yayo: G-Unit clothing sold about 50 million items last year, all over the world. I think it all lies with the best distributor â€“ who can get the clothing to where it needs to be at, in the best way. It only takes 25 cents to make a shirt, and you can sell it for like six dollars, so its big business. Whoeverâ€™s gonna get the stuff in Wal-Mart and Macyâ€™s and all these other major markets is who weâ€™re looking for, cause thereâ€™s a lot of ways you can sell clothes. Thereâ€™s high-end brands, but just â€˜cause itâ€™s expensive doesnâ€™t mean its making money. Those clothes in Wal-Mart are making a lot of money too, â€˜cause a lot more people go there to buy their clothes. Thereâ€™s a lot of directions in that industry, and thatâ€™s something that 50 taught me.
Format: Right now, in hip-hop weâ€™re hearing a lot of new, experimental sounds coming out of rappers. With people like Kanye, Lupe, even Snoop Dogg switching the style of urban music up, G-Unit isnâ€™t making those types of moves. Whatâ€™s your take on that movement and why arenâ€™t you taking part in it?
Yayo: I donâ€™t feel like just â€˜cause the times are changing that weâ€™re gonna change for anybody. Weâ€™ve been doing something that works, and weâ€™re gonna keep doing what we do. If you check the new single, Rider pt. 2, youâ€™re gonna hear a smash hit but itâ€™s still us doing us. We stay focused on doing us in the best way, â€˜cause thatâ€™s what makes us the best. Just â€˜cause everybody else is rapping a certain way Iâ€™m not gonna start doing it, itâ€™s not like that. We do what we do, and thatâ€™s why people like the Unit, â€˜cause we do things in our way. We can make you dance, but itâ€™s gonna be in our way. We can make you feel a certain way, but youâ€™re gonna feel it in our way. We got a lot of different joints on the album, and people are gonna see it. The proof is in the pudding July 1st.
“but also see that the ignorance of the record is catchy, and thatâ€™s what made the record.”
Format: 50 did step in that direction with â€œAyo Technologyâ€ (featuring Justin Timberlake and Timbaland), but at the same time released â€œI Get Money,â€ which has a much more traditional G-Unit sound. What do you think it means for a track like â€œI Get Moneyâ€ to jump off harder than a track with the hottest producer and singer of the year?
Banks: I think that timing is everything, and sometimes you canâ€™t even control that. Trust me, nobodyâ€™s going into the lab thinking theyâ€™re gonna make an OK record. Theyâ€™re going in thinking theyâ€™re gonna make that smash record a lot of the time, and sometimes it happens, sometimes it donâ€™t. â€œI Get Moneyâ€ was catered towards a market that was there from the very beginning, but also see that the ignorance of the record is catchy, and thatâ€™s what made the record. Also, we shouldnâ€™t say the Justin and Timberland record wasnâ€™t a big record, â€˜cause it even was bigger than â€œI Get Money,â€ just on other formats. You gotta hold your base down, but you also canâ€™t help but grow as an artist and get in more than one lane.
Format: Recently 50 has been talking about redirecting himself after the lack of success he felt from his last album, Curtis. Specifically, he has said that he wants to go back to the drawing board with his music, and use what he has learned from the lack of reaction to his album. How is he specifically planning on doing that with G-Unitâ€™s album coming up so soon?
Yayo: The direction of this album, straight up, is aggression. Weâ€™ve got a straight up tribute to Sean Bell on there [fatal victim of police brutality], â€œNo Things Offâ€ is a rugged track from Banks, another record â€œKing Capâ€ produced by Polow tha Donâ€¦these records are hard-bodied. Straight up from the corner. This album really has no interference from Interscope, thereâ€™s no media telling us what direction we need to go in. Itâ€™s just me Banks and 50 in the studio going hard-bodied. Thereâ€™s no one over our shoulder telling us nothing, and when itâ€™s just us three together, you know its history in the making. Iâ€™m personally real excited to be on the album as much as I am, cause the last album I wasnâ€™t so much on there, and now that weâ€™re all together itâ€™s a real strong vibe.
“They let me know I could be who I was on and off camera, cause Iâ€™m not too animated, but through them I saw that I could win people over just through my lyrical capabilities.”
Format: The three of you have very different styles as far as rhyme structure. Do you guys see those differences? Who do you individually hold as major influences when it comes to what you do?
Yayo: I could list a hundred people man, goinâ€™ from my crew, you know Eminem, 50, Dre, and back to Easy E, Ice Cube, Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, Marly Marl, MC Shan. Really we eat, sleep and shit hip-hop so thereâ€™s no pointing to a certain direction as far as who our influences are. Old School, New School, I dig it. Gotta give a shout to when MC Shan and KRS went at it though, that was a big thing for me. I am hip-hop, so thereâ€™s a million influences. On a personal note, I can say Eminem is the biggest influence though, â€˜cause he signed 50 and paved the way for G Unit, and everybody else on the label.
Banks: My rap story comes from a long time man, my influences come from a lot of different areas. My moms and pops was into hip-hop, and still is, so I came from Big Daddy Kane and Rakim and Special Ed and EPMD, Slick Rick and these kinda guys, but then it went into 2Pac and Biggie, and I was still around 11 years old, but for some reason Biggie always just stuck to me more than any other artist as far as delivery and story telling capabilities. Between him, Snoop and Slick Rick those are like my biggest influences, and all of them are kinda laid back. They let me know I could be who I was on and off camera, cause Iâ€™m not too animated, but through them I saw that I could win people over just through my lyrical capabilities.
“We know whatâ€™s important right now for hip-hop, itâ€™s a state of emergency in the game and thereâ€™s so many real things going on in the street that its not always time to party and be happy.”
Format: It seems that a lot of cats in the media are surrounded entirely by their own camps and crew. How much do you guys keep in touch with whatâ€™s going on outside of G-Unit, Aftermath and Interscope?
Yayo: Iâ€™m feelinâ€™ a lot of people weâ€™re not really connected to. Iâ€™m feelinâ€™ Lilâ€™ Wayne, I like Shorty Loâ€™s album, Alicia Keys is real hot, the list goes on and on. I listen to a lot of music and a lot of people donâ€™t know that one day I might have Michael Jackson Thriller in the car, and then flip to Merado â€“ a Jamaican CD â€“ and bump that, then flip to something else. Also, Iâ€™m a person that still buys CDâ€™s. I went and bought Jay-Zâ€™s American Gangster, I bought Rick Rossâ€™ CD the other day. Thereâ€™s a lot of artists that I check and listen to.
Banks: Well to be honest with you, whatâ€™s in all of my cars right now is the HNIC Pt.2 CD from Prodigy. To me that album is powerful for a lot of reasons, mainly â€˜cause when I got the first HNIC I wasnâ€™t even in the industry, so it brings back a lot of memories. I remember just walking around with that in my pocket, so itâ€™s crazy to see where Iâ€™m at now with it. I pay attention to a lot of other things though, like what Wayne is doing and everyone else too, and thereâ€™s a lot of cats out there. I check the websites and stuff, I try and keep up with the underground people. The whole Philly scene, theyâ€™re so talented out there Iâ€™m like damn, itâ€™s only a matter of time. If anything Iâ€™m paying attention just cause that shit motivates me, so Iâ€™m definitely keeping up on things when I can.
Format: G-Unit, as a group, has been know to shift around. With the beef with Game a few years ago and Young Buck leaving just recently, but you guys back to the original three members who started it. Are your plans to stick with those members of the group? Are there any moves being made on the G-Unit label roster?
Banks: Weâ€™re always looking for new talent man, the futures bright. One project doesnâ€™t stop at that project, so there will always be momentum going for whoever else is on board with us. Technically with the label, M.O.P is still on the roster, Hot Rod and Spyder too, but we always looking for new artists, it donâ€™t stop. The direction right now though is starting from the original format, you know? The format that they love and theyâ€™re used to.
Right now we coming full circle and bringing it right back to the fans, we did the Body Snatchers [mixtape], which was downloaded over a million times on thisis50.com, as well as Elephant in the Sand, which performed more than the other guyâ€™s album, and now weâ€™re coming into the next mixtape with DJ Drama and Whoo Kidd. We know whatâ€™s important right now for hip-hop, itâ€™s a state of emergency in the game and thereâ€™s so many real things going on in the street that its not always time to party and be happy. A real artists reaches all elements of life, and I feel like thatâ€™s what the new album is doing. As a group I feel that we need to still make these aggressive records for the radio to play, cause if itâ€™s not us then who?