MARSHALL’S home! And he brought along hip-hop’s greatest producer, DR. DRE, and its next big star, 50 CENT, to discuss all their bickering beefs. Shady/Aftermath season has begun, crumbs. You can hate them now. By Noah Callahan-Bever.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, CHILDREN OF ALL AGES…
Rap is a circus. Step right up and witness the three-ring spectacular. Clowns, jugglers, acrobats and strongmen, everybody competing for the spotlight. But it gets hot under that glare. And not just from the wattage of the bulb. It’s the burning stare of a million jealous eyes. It’s knowing you’re a target, as bit-players jockey for your position. Success breeds envy. It’s just the penalty of leadership. The top dog is just who everybody wants to be, an’ shit. Let’s call this the All-Eyez-On-Me Principle. Word to 2Pac.
Currently, there’s no question as to who is hip-hop’s main attraction. Having sold more than 20 million records over the past four years and generated over $100 million at the box office with a hit movie loosely based on his life, Eminem has simply blown a hole in the big top. He is now a global pop-culture figure. He is Elvis, Madonna, Michael Jackson. Of course, this would never have been possible without the contributions, tutelage and partnership of the greatest producer in hip-hop history, the most important musical figure of the last 25 years (Yup. We said it)—Dr. Dre.
So just when it looked like things couldn’t get any better for Em and Dre, they made a move that seemed to put a lock on the future. In a joint venture between Em’s Shady Records and Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment, the pair signed the fastest-rising name in the rap game: 50 Cent.
Now, 50 Cent has a unique talent for making people feel uneasy. The brash, fearless Jamaica, Queens rapper (who first ripped through the industry back in ’99 with the stick-up kid anthem, “How To Rob”) was stabbed in a March 2000 brawl with Ja Rule’s Murderers crew, and shot nine times in an unrelated incident two months later, only to emerge this past summer as the streets’ hottest commodity. New York has been steadily pulsing with the sounds of 50’s syrupy hooks, sharp tongue and memorable drawl. There hasn’t been a buzz like this since the Notorious guy from Bed-Stuy.
Invoke the aforementioned principle right…now. First, in a magazine interview published this summer, Ja Rule said he was going to try and “take down” Em and Dre for signing 50. In November, on the airwaves of New York’s Hot 97, Ja and his Murder Inc. boss Irv Gotti accused 50 Cent of snitching to police.
Things got even weirder in November 2002. Quite out of the blue, longtime Boston rapper and “co-owner” of The Source magazine, Raymond “Benzino” Scott, began publicly disparaging Eminem—first on a radio freestyle, which targeted the superstar for his use of professional security, then on a three-verse mixtape exclusive, “Pull Your Skirt Up,” which attacked him for not representing the streets, not respecting his own mother and generally for being a fraud. Eminem responded with two songs of his own: “The Sauce,” a vicious dig at Benzino and The Source publisher Dave Mays which questioned the integrity of the magazine, and the more damming, more personal “Nail In The Coffin.”
Never one to roll over, Benzino retaliated with “Die Another Day.” Flipping his beef into one about skills to one about race, he labeled Eminem “the rap Hitler” and called for his death and that of his daughter.
Although in radio interviews Benzino maintains that he keeps his relationship with The Source and his rap career completely separated, he has nonetheless brought the magazine into his war or words (“Sayin’ that I’m broke, you must be crazy/Every time you’re in The Source your label has to pay me”). Likewise, The Source issued a press release that asserted the magazine’s objectivity, then went on to say that Eminem represents a “dangerous” machine that threatens to take hip-hop out of the hands of the Black community that created it.
Here’s where things get tricky for XXL. As if anyone needed to be reminded, the magazine you now hold in your hand is in direct competition with The Source. By involving itself in a musical dispute between its co-owner and a rap celebrity, our rival publication has made itself a part of a story it’s our job to cover. Our goal is to document one of the more bizarre episodes in rap music history, not merely provide a forum for the biggest starts in the business to slam our competition. (Our editor-in-chief does a fine job of that in his editorials.)
Furthermore, XXL would like to stress that, while we believe rap battles are an integral part of hip-hop, and animosity often fuels artistic brilliance, we’d like to make it very clear: We are against the escalation of words into violence. Everybody knows controversy and conflict sell, and a good amount of the posturing and posing is for dramatic effect. We’re all for keeping it that way.
As the various parties align themselves strategically—finding unlikely partnerships with those that share common beefs—Eminem, Dr. Dre, and 50 Cent are in Los Angeles putting the finishing touches on 50’s Get Rick or Die Trying. XXL catches the treacherous three on the set of the video for the first official single “In Da Club,” where they take a moment to sit down and discuss the situation that they find themselves in.
Rap is a circus. Welcome to the greatest show on Earth.
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First things first. Em, this is the only time you’ve ever agreed to appear in XXL. Can you explain why?
Eminem: Well, there was a little beef when I first came out. Pretty much the old staff jumped the gun on all this. Early on our publicist was trying to get XXL to do a cover story and XXL said, “No. We aren’t doing articles on no White rappers, period.” So then after I came out, they did do a story on me, but it wasn’t an interview. The story said that I was a culture-stealers and a Ku Klux Klan member…basically just popping shit. So I went on a XXL-bashing campaign, which might not have been the smartest thing at that time, ‘cause in the position that I was in, I really needed XXL. But I’m the type that if it’s “Fuck me” then it’s “Fuck you!” I am almost never the one to say “Fuck you” first.
So I would go on stage and tear up copies of the magazine and have the whole crowd chanting, “Fuck Double-X-L!” Otherwise, I wouldn’t even come on stage. But years have passed, and I’m told that XXL has a whole new staff now. I’ve grown up, and I know that there are some grudges that you hold close to your heart and others that you can let go of. Especially when there is another magazine that’s on its way out. I felt like this was the next magazine to come up, so it was time to let go.
Dre, you haven’t appeared in these pages either. Why is that?
Dr. Dre: It’s simple. I’m riding with my people. If Em’s like, “Fuck’em,” then I’m like, “Fuck’em,” too. Period.
Eminem: [Laughing] Hell jeeeaaaaah! Hell jeeah homie.
The real reason that the two of you are here right now is 50 Cent. Explain how we got the three of you sitting here together.
Eminem: Right before The Eminem Show dropped, I said to a few different people that I was in a little bit of a slump as far as hip-hop was concerned. I was just bored. It was like the same artists were doing it consistently and nobody new was coming up. Then, right at the same time, my manager started pushing me like, “You gotta hear 50’s new shit, you gotta hear 50’s new shit.” But when I’m in album mode, I can’t really listen to other people’s shit. So once I finished the record, I really sat down and listened to Guess Who’s Back? That and the first G-Unit CD. I started bumping them and they became my shit. But first I went to Dre with it. Dre heard it, thought it was crazy, so we were just like, “Let’s fly him out.”
Dre: I mean, I’d heard him a long time ago with “Your Life’s On The Line.” So Em called me up to see if I was interested and said, “Let’s at least sit down and talk about it.” We all met at this spot in Hollywood and talked for about 15 minutes and I said I was with it and that was it.
Eminem: Remember, we was in the studio and I was playing all of his new tracks? I was just like, “Imagine if we do this together…”
Dre: Which is exactly what it’s becoming.
50, tell us about having Dr. Dre and Eminem call you out of the blue with a plane ticket to Los Angeles.
50 Cent: I mean, at first I wasn’t that excited. Because, you know, I’d been through so many meetings already. But like, when I met him, Em was excited. He had already told [Power 106 radio host] Big Boy that he was feelin’ me.
Eminem: Yeah, I did that interview earlier that day.
50 Cent: So we sat down and spoke and he told me about the vision he had for his company and he was really trying to sell me on it. But during the whole conversation I’m like, “No, no, no. C’mon, man. Let me sell me.”
Eminem: I was already sold, through. His life story sold me. To have a story behind the music is so important. He’s just got the total package. He can write songs—not just freestyle. He picks good beats and writes good hooks. But there is something about 50 as an MC. And you can ask Dre, I’m a rapper’s rapper…
50 Cent: Being around these two is making me a better artist. That’s really what I got out of this deal. More than even the finances, even though they are a lot. I mean, when Dre sends you a track, it’s bumping before you even hear the muthafucka! I’m so excited to hear what it sounds like before it arrives, I might fuck around and have an anxiety attack.
You talk about the importance of a life story, but 50’s is rather sordid—from his mother’s street roots to his being stabbed and shot. Did that stuff give either of you any apprehension about signing him?
Dre: Of course. I mean, we talked about it when we first sat down. No one wants to buy a problem—neither of us need a headache. But I got the impression in just a couple of minutes that 50 had his head on straight and we about handling his business.
Eminem: And I mean, I was a headache for Dre too.
Dre: Yeah, that’s true.
Eminem: We did buy a problem, but not a problem for us.
Dre: A problem for a lot of other muthafuckas!
50 Cent: And anyone that has a problem with that, I’m inviting you. If you feel you have a problem with any of the people that I’m riding with, I’m inviting you.
But more than just bad publicity. This gentlemen has people that want him dead badly enough to put nine bullets in him. That doesn’t concern you?
Eminem: I mean, there’s a probably people that want to shoot me. When you’re at the top of the ladder, I mean, what the fuck?
50 Cent: That’s real, more people hate Eminem than hate 50 Cent.
Eminem: So we just traveling in large packs.
Speaking of wanting Eminem dead, that’s what Benzino has been calling for recently. Tell me about your relationship with him and The Source.
Eminem: Growing up, that was the magazine. That was the Bible of hip-hop. Every month me and my people would go to the store to get it. The first thing that we’d always look for was the [Hip-Hop] Quotable and then the Unsigned Hype, and then we’d look at the mics. If somebody got four mics, or four-and-a-half mics, then we bought your shit. Me and Proof and the people that we down with, we didn’t have much money, so if a record got a three-and-a-half or a three, we’d take turns buying tapes to check it out and see if it had anything on it. But if The Source gave it a four, or a four-and-a-half or a five? We went out and bought it, no question. Their word was golden. But now the game is fucked up. It’s tainted. So now, as far as me personally and The Source, I’m done.
What led to that?
Eminem: Well, a lot of things. I’ve been short changed in that magazine since I came out. And Dre has been shortchanged too. Dave Mays actually once flew to LA to kiss his ass and try and make it up to him. He was like, “We’ll give the Chronics a Five.” I don’t know how many years it took for that article to come out. [In their March ’02 issue, The Source ran corrections of their original reviews of both Dr. Dre’s albums—upping the mic ratings from four-and-a-half to five.]
Dr. Dre: Yeah, it’d been about ten years since the first one dropped.
Eminem: But even when we felt shortchanged, we were big enough not to make an issue out of it. We weren’t sitting back like mad rappers like, “Fuck this. It’s not fair.” Who are we to say what we deserve? We would take it. Whatever. We let the fans decide. People were still buying the records, so we just figured that I was doing something right.
Dre: That’s all I give a fuck about. Honestly, I had stopped reading The Source a long time ago.
Eminem: At this point, the mics don’t mean anything anymore. They’re just a reflection of whether the rapper that owns half of that magazine likes a certain artist, or wants them to guest on his record…“I’m the five-mic giver!” He actually said that on the record! I can’t buy that magazine no more. You can look at that magazine, I don’t care what issue and no matter what, there are gonna be at least four pages of Benizo in there. He gives himself Quotables!! I mean, c’mon, dude put himself on the cover! They quoted him in the greatest quotes from hip-hop lyrics of all time! They gave me on for “Without Me,” and they gave him one right beneath mine. He gave himself “greatest all-time quote” for the line, “Fuck a magazine, I am The Source.” OK, he is. But times change, and now it’s “Double-X-L! Double-X-L!” [Em mimics the tone from his song “Marshall Mathers.”]
50 Cent: Funniest thing to me was that when Benzino made his record, I hit Em like, “Yo, what happened?” Did you bump into dude? What?” And he was just like, “No, I’ve never even met this guy.”
Eminem: Like I said, as far as The Source goes, I’m done. And my label is done. You won’t see us in those pages.
Dr. Dre: Never. Eminem: The only way you’re gonna see us in that magazine is they draw a cartoon of us on their back page. And you know they’ll be putting us in little dresses or some dumb shit. That’ll be their only way to get back at us. That is, until they go bankrupt. And that’s some real shit. Next year, 50 is gonna be the biggest rapper and they aren’t gonna be able to get even the smallest piece of him. And all those kids that want to see 50 Cent are gonna have to go somewhere else. And what kids gonna want to buy a rap magazine that doesn’t have the biggest rapper out?
50 Cent: They’ll be using fanzine pictures of me!
Dre, what was your reaction to hearing the Benzino diss track?
Dr. Dre: I just couldn’t believe that he’d make a record considering that they never met. Immediately I was just like, “Ah, this is some bullshit.” Somebody trying to ride on our coattails ‘cause they have a record coming out.”
On his latest volley, “Die Another Day,” Benzino turns his attack from one of skills to one of race…
Eminem: And on the first record he said it wasn’t a Black and White thing! He’s going through a midlife crisis, and it’s sad. I feel bad for him. His time has run out as a rapper, and he knows it. It’s gotta be tough.
Dr. Dre: And then you gotta think about the people that buy The Source magazine. Is he saying that White people shouldn’t buy The Source?
50 Cent: If he doesn’t want to sell to White people, then he shouldn’t try to sell records as a hip-hop artist.
Eminem: The Source was started by two White guys: Jonathan Schecter and Dave Mays. I don’t even want to drag Jon into this, so I won’t get into why he left, but obviously there were things that he saw up that that he didn’t like. So Benzino came in and took over his half of the magazine and started putting only people that he liked in the magazine. But really, him pulling the race card is just…I mean, he’s half-White! But second of all, if I’m not mistaken, a White man writes his checks. Which is interesting, because a Black man writes mine. So when you really think about it, it gets more and more ridiculous. It’s like the deeper you delve into it, the more ridiculous the whole thing is. But now it’s done. The best way to get back at someone is to ignore him. This guy tried to bring D12 into this, but they couldn’t believe that I’d even acknowledge him by making a record. Sometimes I left me emotions get the best of me. But battling is my instinct because I came from the underground. And let’s not forget that. When Dre heard my tape it was because of my success in that scene—battling. I was fine being the only White person in the spot and battling for everything I got. I think nowadays, people sometimes forget that. [D12 rapper] Kon Artis was saying to me the other day, “Remember when you used to work at Gilbert’s and flip burgers, you was always comin’ into work mad and punching walls and shit. And you’d be saying that the reason that you can’t get a deal was because you were White. If you were Black it would be easier. Now you finally got a deal, and you really flipped the cards that were dealt to you.” See, in the beginning I couldn’t get a deal because of my race—the hand that I was dealt—but I flipped it and made something out of it. Now it’s, “I’m selling records because I’m White.” And it’s funny, because if you listen to my records, I talk about it all the time. In “White America” I openly say that the reason that I’m selling so many records is because I’m White. But really, even though that is one of the attributes that helps me to sell, at the end of the day, I work really hard. I stay in the studio and…
Dr. Dre: The records are fuckin’ good. That’s what it is. The records are hot, so they sell.
Dre, what do you think about Benzino’s claim that Eminem is the reason that artists like Busta Rhymes and Fat Joe have experienced disappointing album sales?
Dr. Dre: That’s all bullshit. I’ve sold a lot of records. Did I keep other artists from eating? 50’s about to come out and sell a couple million too. I mean, c’mon. That whole shit is just his way of trying to get people to go to the record store and buy his record. That’s all it is.
In an interview in The Source a few months ago, Ja Rule made the following statement: “If you’re gonna be authorizing [50 Cent] to spew records on me, then I wanna do what I gotta do to take your company under. And that goes for Dre, Em or whoever.” What was your reaction to that?
Eminem: First of all, me and Dre didn’t realize that we need to consult with Ja Rule and Irv Gotti on all of our business moves. Second, I’m gonna tell you some real shit, and that man cannot deny any of it. During the end of the tour for The Eminem Show, I was waiting to get off my bus and get onto a jet, and Ja was getting off the jet. And it was me and [D12 rapper] Bizarre and one of my security guys. Bizzy gets on and says, “Yo, Ja’s out there. You wanna holla at him?” So I came up to him on some humble shit and said, “What’s up Ja? What’re you trying to get into?” And he was like, “Shit, just about to swallow this pill.” Took it right in front of me. Basically he was like, “I’m about to go to this club keep doing your thing.” Now, we had already signed 50 at that point, I was basically saying, “What’s up?” to be cool about the situation. And to see that if there was a problem, if he was going to address it. He said nothing to me about it.
Then, two weeks later that issue of The Source came out, and I see what he said. At first I was confused, like, “How long does it take for them to print a magazine?” If he had a problem with me signing 50 Cent, why didn’t he address it that night? Now all of a sudden he’s got an album coming out and it’s a problem?
It’s funny because the night of the [MTV] Video Music Awards, the article had come out, but I didn’t see it ‘till the next day. So at one point, I’m going down the stairs and he’s coming up the stairs and we almost cross paths. I’m thinking it’s all good, so I’m trying to look make a little eye contact and say, “What up?” He had his head to the floor and he walked straight up the steps. I was kinda confused ‘till the next day when I read the article. Then I was like, “Oh, I see, he put it out there in the article, so now he has to play it up for the public.”
50, can you clarify the whole thing? What’s the real problem between you and Ja?
50: We had a fight and that was all it was. He had eight people there, and I walked away with his jewelry. All of my runs with him have been minor. No one’s been hurt seriously, we just don’t get along. Like in the incident in the Hit Factory. Whenever I talk about this subject, I get off Ja real quickly because he’s just not relevant to the situation. It’s never gonna be him, it’s always gonna be the people around him. Irv would like to be a gangsta, his success as a musician just isn’t enough for him. He wants to be something he’s not. I mean, just look at the name Murder Inc. He’d like to portray that image. And as his finances have progressed, that may allow him to feel that way. But I’m not a thrill-seeker. When I was in the street, I really felt that was my only option. That’s why I feel so blessed to be in the situation that I’m in now.
XXL: What happened in the Hit Factory back in March 2000?
50 Cent: It’s funny, it happened seven days before they released the first Murderers album. It was like, “We’re gonna step to 50, ‘cause it’ll look good. We’ll stab him.” My baby’s mother has stabbed me worse than that! I’m gonna be honest with you, I left that situation with three stitches. That’s a cut. It stopped bleeding on its own. And then they play up that whole thing about the lights going out, like it was a gangsta situation.
Ja Rule and Irv Gotti were recently on the Star & Buc Wild morning show and they claimed to have produced an order of protection filed by yourself against Irv and his brother, Chris.
50 Cent: When were they saying that? Seven days before they dropped The Last Temptation.
Eminem: It’s funny, because I heard a little drop through the grapevine about a month before, that they were gonna start spreading rumors that there was a police report from when that situation at the Hit Factory had went down that said that 50 was dropping names. Then it changed from that into an order of protection. 50 Cent: What’s crazy is that the first time I ever heard of that scenario, I was in Detroit. Em was telling me what was going to happen in New York a month later! I could have easily gone to a library and copied some documents all blurry and put Ja’s name in there, to make people think something…But I just think that they’re clowns for even attempting it.
On the latest Murder Inc. lyrical attack [“The Real Wanksta,” leaked to mixtape DJs in December], Black Child talks about stabbing you, and then names an arresting officer—William Fitzgerald of the 234th Precinct—and insists that you snitched.
50 Cent: It’s just funny to me that they’d make stuff like that up. The beef itself is not wrestling, but the tactics that they’re using are wrestling. First of all, Crack Child, he doesn’t exist. He can’t make a record that makes a person want to hear him rap, so he doesn’t count. Now Ja—me and him have differences. He makes records that are good enough to sell some records. The only reason that I’d speak about him on a record is because he’s an artist—a pop artist. I would personally whoop his ass if he’d like. We could squash this right now and go out back and shoot the fair one. Maybe Irv can come back too. I’ll whip the skin off Irv.
Eminem: It’s always the people at the bottom that try and pull you down into that bullshit. Somebody who feels like their album is in danger of not selling too well or something. Honestly, artists like myself, 50 and Dr. Dre—we don’t need to do promotional stunts to sell our records.
50 Cent: But you know, it works both ways. If you think that the only way to build excitement around your record is to say things about me, then great. That’s just more people talking about me. Thanks.
Eminem: What these people have done has turned out to be reverse promotion. Because they spent their whole time on the air talking about 50…I don’t know, do I owe them money for that?
50 Cent: This is the best thing that ever happened to me. This’ll be the best beef I ever handle. See, it’s the difference when you got beef and you ain’t got finances. ‘Knawmean? You sit back, they got all the money. That’s when you get hit. ‘Cause they got money to spend and you ain’t got none. But now the tables is turning and it’s a big difference. And now they’re getting uncomfortable. I’m coming from the position on the board where it was, “You lose. You lose. You lose. ‘Cause you don’t have no finances.” Now it’s like, “You could win. Depends on how you play your hand.” So I’m in a better space. That’s why they jump off with the situation. Since I got signed, I said nothing about Ja Rule. And then they went on the radio and said all that. It made them uncomfortable to know that I had this new situation.
Dre, you haven’t been dragged into this Murder Inc. beef or the Benzino beef. How do you keep yourself from getting embroiled?
Dr. Dre: To tell you truth, I don’t give a fuck about any of it.
50 Cent: If they’re smart at all, they won’t say anything about Dr. Dre. People that disrespect Dre come back eventually to try and make it OK, ‘cause he’s gonna consistently make hit records.
Dr. Dre: And that’s all I wanna do. I wanna make muthafuckin’ records. I don’t care about none of that bullshit. Straight up. I’m healthy. I’m rich as a muthafucka. What the fuck do I need that in my life for?
Politics As Usual
Is Eminem’s success bad for hip-hop?
A statement released by The Source concerning Benzino’s beef with Eminem asserts that Eminem represents “a corruptive cycle that promotes the blatant theft of a culture from the community that created it,” and that his market presence is responsible for the slipping sales of hip-hop’s Black artists. XXL took a moment to reach out to some of hip-hop’s heavyweights to see how they feel.
Nas: First of all, I fear no man, so I don’t see him as a threat. All of this is just beautiful hype for Eminem’s new album. When his new shit drops, he’s gonna sell like Thriller. People being mad at him is only gonna add fuel to his fire and make him greater. He’s a threat because he’s White, but that’s the way the world works. He’s White, and he knows it. And the beauty of it is that he puts it in his music all the time. I love what Eminem is doing for hip-hop and for our young people of America. He brings together White and Black people and he does it while representing rap music in its truest form. The larger he gets the larger hip-hop gets, no matter what anybody says. This dude lives, breathes, eats and shits hip-hop. Of course, there is a bad side to this, that Black artists could suffer, but that should only make them step up their game. It’s not an excuse. If you’re talented, then put your muthafuckin’ game down.
Jay-Z: In my opinion, this is not an issue. I mean, he can rhyme. The guy’s got skills. If he didn’t have skills, I’d say the guy’s stealing from under the table, but he’s good to go. There’s no denying that he can rhyme. I’m sure his race has something to do with the numbers that he does, but there’s just no denying his talent.