Five years ago, 50 Cent and Kanye West went head-to-head on the cover of Rolling Stone for a story that begged the question: “Who will be the King of Hip-Hop?” West was coming off two classics, and 50 was still trying to live up to his. Since then, Ye has become one of the most prolific and acclaimed rappers in the game, and 50’s barely been playing it. Instead, the Queens native has focussed on building his own media empire, made a small fortune off Vitamin Water, took up boxing promotion, and oh yeah, became a decent movie star, too. His latest cinematic endeavor, the cops-being-bad thriller Freelancers (out on DVD, August 21st), marks the second time he’ll appear alongside Robert De Niro. We asked the 37-year-old entrepreneur about what it’s like working with the screen legend, and touched on everything from Street King Immortal—his upcoming album and first in three years—his thoughts on A$AP Rocky, Jeremy Lin, and of course, his budding bromance with Pauly D.
What was it like going head-to-head with De Niro on Freelancers? Were you intimidated?
With De Niro, I was actually intimidated the first time. I had an opportunity to go meet with him before Righteous Kill, where there was an opportunity to do a project that was being financed by Avi Lerner. So I went over, we met, and at first he was just assuring himself that he wasn’t going to be on set with someone that wasn’t interested in the work. You know, coming from music into film, I could be a guy that’s been put there by his management, or his company, and didn’t have the passion to be there. And after I hung with him a little bit, he understood that it was me driving the actual car, and I was there because I wanted to be. It was cool. It smoothed itself out. Then it was like, we were doing things that he wouldn’t traditionally do, like on Righteous Kill we did the cover of Vibe magazine, and he doesn’t even do press!
What sort of things has De Niro taught you about acting?
I never actually ask him for advice. I just got a chance to take notes, and learn from him and the actual experience. Having the opportunity to do something that was a little smaller in Righteous Kill gave me a comfort going into this one, where there’s more scenes of us together, so I wasn’t intimidated, I was prepared. Of course you don’t want to get there and not be prepared in any way, when you’re working with that kind of talent, right?
Freelancers follows in the footsteps of films Training Day, that chronicle the abuse of power by law enforcement . Why do you think people are fascinated with watching cops behaving badly?
They’re in a position where if they abuse power, we have to pardon it. They have to have some sort of system in place that maintains order, right? So if the district attorney’s office accepts the police officer’s statements, then it’s gold. You can’t really question whether what they’re saying is true or false. It’s just ‘this is what happened.’ Gotta give them the benefit of the doubt, right? Or there is no order. If you just took everyone’s comments or statements with the same merit, you’ll never have any order. So it does give them a power, and there are points when it becomes excessive. And it’s a grey area. Do you penalize them to the point that the others on your team are not sure if they’re on the same team? Or do you pardon it some way?
How much of your decision-making process for the roles you choose is based on you taking into account your image as a hard-nosed rapper? Will we ever see Curtis Jackson in a straight up romantic comedy?
I don’t really consider the tough rapper part. It’s just about the right script. But I like action pieces, I like action films, that have twist and turns. That’s exciting for me.
So it must have been a total trip working with two of the best to ever do it in Arnold and Sly on The Tomb.
I’ve been blessed. It was very difficult for me not to think of Rambo when I first met Stallone. Rambo or Rocky, and the Terminator! I originated as a fan of these guys. So having the ability to work with them is amazing. The initial contact is amazing, but I now don’t have many groupie moments because I’ve adjusted.
Your new album is out in November. What can fans expect?
Yeah man, I’m ready. I had more than enough time for it, so they can definitely expect it to be great, a lot better than the projects I’ve released in the past. I’ve been on the shot clock. I’ve had specific amounts of time that companies have provided for me to create in the past. This one’s really well thought out, and I think that when they get a chance to hear it they’ll be surprised.
Did you ever worry that the longer you went without releasing an album, the harder it would be to come back, especially in an industry as fickle as the music industry?
I didn’t consider that because with Dre, people are anticipating The Detox and he hasn’t released a record in twelve years. It gives them the opportunity to miss you a little bit.
Have you been listening to the new crop of young, New York-based rappers, like A$ap Rocky and Joey Bada$$?
I really don’t listen to those guys. I listen to a lot of new artists, but not necessarily them. I’ve done some records with Schoolboy Q. I’m not a fan of any actual rappers that are out there right now. I’m a fan of moments on their projects. Not their entire project, but there could be a song or two on there that when I listen to it, I repeat it over and over again, you know? I don’t have a favorite.
How important is it as an artist to adapt to the new social media-based landscape of releasing and promoting an album?
It’s important, because now you got people who can just be in a room with a laptop for 10 hours, 20 hours, and they’re fine without a television, because websites have video content, and they have anything you want to read. They communicate to the outside world through the Internet.
What does it take for a fan to get a retweet from 50 cent?
If I see something that’s interesting, I’ll retweet it. They think if they flatter you in an attempt to get an RT it’ll work, but everybody wants something, they’re just after followers. When something’s random and it’s cool I’ll RT it. Then you’ll get people who are disrespectful to try and provoke you to say something back, you know? Everybody has their different approach to the same goal.
I heard that you were at the premiere of Mike Tyson’s new one-man show Undisputed Truth. Is it as powerful as everyone says it is?
It’s great! Mike, I already felt like I knew a lot about him, but you don’t know details about different time periods. When you go see a Broadway show, it can be so extremely different. Past shows that I’ve seen have been worlds apart. I think what I was anticipating was based on the things that I have previously seen, but it was really good. The images that Spike Lee put behind his conversation, the lighting, the things he was doing—he did a good job. He had photo cues, like he knew what was going to happen when it was going to happen. The lights went down, and then the photo came up, you know? He was prepared for it. I didn’t know what he was going to do.
Did you get a chance to talk to Spike about a possible future collaboration?
No I didn’t, but I did get a chance to say what’s up to him and tell him that I enjoyed the project. Following that we went backstage, so I chilled with Spike, Mike, and Kanye was there!
What do you make of the Knicks/Nets rivalry that gets underway next season?
I’m a Knicks fan, man. I wanted them so badly to do well when Carmelo came over, so we’ll see what happens now. There were some surprises last year with the point guard
coming out of nowhere.
Were you sad to see Jeremy Lin go?
Not really. The stats from those performances were essentially a surprise from a guy that was completely—not counted out because you didn’t even know he existed—but
to show up in the middle of a season, didn’t mean that much to the actual team. And I don’t think there’s any bums in the NBA. I think there are players that accept that they’re not as good as the guys we’re focussing on, and don’t play as well. It’s too tough to get in to have bums playing there, so when they actually show up, that’s really the only references to make about a guy who’s been there for a long time and just stepped up to really show what he’s got.
Some people are surprised to see you working with Pauly D. What can we expect from your partnership?
We’re gonna make records. We’re gonna make good music. We’re not going to make an album that’s just Pauly D. You gotta think of a record that is somewhere between something that DJ Khaled would maybe make, and David Guetta. That has the energy that brings both those demos together.
How do you feel about hip-hop’s embrace of dance music?
I’m not a big fan of dance music, but I enjoy it. I understand it. I’ve been in environments when it’s playing, and that up-tempo energy, it works. In hip-hop, cultures merge. We take music from jazz, pop, soul, whatever genre it is, we find something that we can sample and make it work in hip hop. I’m open to it, I mean it’s working. Look how big it is!
It’s a monster out there. All the pop artists have a version of it. People have already converted to it.
Is it safe to say we won’t see any David Guetta on your new record?
It’s safe to say that.
What producers did you work with?
I had a bunch of different producers because I’ve recorded so long. Dre, Jake One, Bangladesh, and a bunch more.
And Eminem will be on the album?
Yeah Em’s on there.
That’s going to be big.
Yeah, yeah it will.