After roughly a decade of dormancy, G-Unit has come back with a bang, stealing the show at Summer Jam, releasing their The Beauty of Independence EP, and making plans for a follow up EP as well as solo releases. With three videos to go along with the fresh tracks, the XXL cover and a planned documentary, it is clear the crew is back and on a mission.
In the time they were gone, New York Rap and the aggressive sound they became synonymous with subsided but they have entered stage left as a resurgence of Rap in Gotham feels imminent and the prevailing sound on the airwaves is across the spectrum from their brand of gritty Gangsta Rap.
For a collective that hit their stride in the early 2000s, it could have been an uphill battle to return to relevance but thus far their cult following has returned and in many cases seems like they never left. With only six songs released fans are clamoring for more content, and the Hip Hop media is eager to find out what their next move is.
A major element of this resurrection has been their dedication to the independent route where they first made their name. This has allowed them to bring on the newest addition to the crew, Kidd Kidd who joined founding members Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo to wax nostalgic about the group’s journey to this point and what the future holds.
Lloyd Banks Compares The G-Unit Reunion To Their 2002 “G-Mixes”
HipHopDX: On this new album we hear you guys singing over beats and hooks like “0 to 100” and “Grindin’ My Whole Life.” How would you compare it to 2003, when you were quick to take beats like “Right Thurr” and “Play No Games?”
Kidd Kidd: That was just songs that we just freestyled over. It wasn’t on the album. I can’t speak for the run in ’03, but I can speak for 2014, and man we grindin’.
Lloyd Banks: It does have it’s similarities as far as the rate that we’re working, ‘cause in the very beginning we used to just go in the studio. That’s probably why I record that way to this day. I got songs I just write down and prep myself before I go in there. I don’t like to waste money in the studio. That is kind of like how we’ve been. We went back in there and did “0 to 100” the freestyle, we did the Jeremih joint, we did Chris Brown, and we did “Grindin’ My Whole Life” remix. They all were connected and I think people were reminiscent of the days and the rate we were putting out music in the very beginning, before the record deal. We were able to basically hit current events that way because if something happens – like if the Knicks were to win a game – you could be like, “Something, something something like the New York Knicks.” And it would be effective because you don’t have a time limit on when to put it out. You don’t have to wait eight months like you do on a major. I think that is the main part it reminds me of, the grind and the way we were putting so many records together at that time.
How G-Unit Benefits From Southern Rap Fans & Reuniting At Summer Jam
DX: A lot of New York rappers are trying to integrate the Southern sound in major part due to the South’s prominence in between your run in ’03 and now. How does it help to have Buck and now Kidd Kidd bringing in an authentic Southern sound?
Tony Yayo: The way I look at Hip-Hop is it always transitions. From the beginning of time, you had a point where it was East Coast, and then it was West Coast. Then you had Paul Wall and them in Texas, and it was going towards the Texas Rap, then St. Louis, Nelly and everybody. I just think it goes from different places and places around the world. It just goes from New York to L.A. I think Hip Hop really transitions, and I just think having those two guys here, one from Tennessee, one from N.O., I always liked Southern records anyway. We don’t have nothing against the South. We played in the markets. I remember when we first came out they thought 50 sounded like he was a Southern rapper. You understand what I’m saying? It was cool. We were going to Atlanta, New Orleans, and all these places and performing ‘cause I felt like G-Unit is one of the biggest groups worldwide. We broke worldwide, and it wasn’t like we were just playing in this one market. The records that we were making, people loved from everywhere, even when we go out of the country.
Kidd Kidd: Coming from the South, to me they never sounded like Southern artists. We respected their music ‘cause it was real and authentic. When you listen to G-Unit music, all their music is G-Unit music. There is no other kind of sound like that. Even today, in this game there is no other sound like that.
DX: Kidd Kidd, how much did getting on “Irregular Heartbeat” with 50 Cent and Jadakiss prepare you for getting in the studio for the EP?
Kidd Kidd: For me, this is my dream. This is something that I woke up three-years-old watching TV and saying this is what I wanted to be. So I just work hard on it and do what I have to do. I already know that I can bring it to the table though I know I gotta work twice as hard for it because I’m among legends. I’m among legends right now, so every time I’m in the studio I’m just thinking I gotta be ready. I gotta spit some ill shit.
DX: What did the reunion at Summer Jam and working on the EP feel like?
Kidd Kidd: Real talk, it wasn’t like me seeing them for the first time, I always ran into Banks in clubs and stuff like that, Yay was around when I came around. Just to have my name mentioned in the same breath as G-Unit, and to be a part of the whole situation, think about that. I’m on stage with legends. We got Nas in back of us. I had so many paused moments on the stage where I had to stop and really just look around like, “I’m really right here.” Think about it: this is me from ninth ward, from nothing, and I’m like, “You got Banks right here, and you got 50 Cent. You got Yay right there, and you got Young Buck.” I grew up on their music. Just to bring it back to the question of what it felt like, Yay is like my mentor, and he tells me everything like, “You know we about to do this kid, be ready boy.”
Tony Yayo: To me, it felt like magic again. When we came out there to that crowd, like Banks always says, “It’s bigger than us.” I can be mad at Banks, Banks could be mad at me, and 50 could be mad at us or whatever it may be. But the fans will hit your page and kill you like, “Yo, you gotta get back together…I know y’all coming out for Summer Jam.” Music, man, has so much power to it. You can be in a whole other country, mothafucka don’t even know English, but they know your song. That shit amazes me.
Lloyd Banks: Summer Jam is always crazy. Your legs are not gonna feel normal. Since the first time I did that, that crowd is ridiculous, and under the circumstances, the performance was crazy. Ten years is a long time for one, and us not recording together in 10 or 11 years was crazy. I hate to be selfish, but I kind of embraced that as our moment. I had to take that in because you don’t even touch that stage just minus anything. There are artists who come and still won’t be able to touch that stage, and if they do it’s like daytime.
Tony Yayo: I told him when we did the Funkmaster Flex freestyle he was like, “This is on my Rap bucket list.” I’m like, “Motherfuckers we gotta go up there and teach ’em what Hip Hop is about.” It’s one thing people don’t know about G-Unit. Me, Banks and Kidd Kidd is fuckin’ Hip Hop. [Kidd Kidd] is from New Orleans. I forgot what song came in, I think it was the Nas song where he talked about being a gun [“I Gave You Power”], and this mothafucka goes in like, “I’m seven inches, four pounds, I been through so many towns / Ohio to Little Rock to Canarsie, living harshly.” It is Hip-Hop!
We was in Belgium, and we saw KRS-one. People think just cause we are G-Unit and we sold all these fuckin’ records that we are gonna have fuckin’ egos. [Banks] had Rakim on his fuckin’ album. You know how big that was for him? You know what I did when I saw KRS-one? [I said], “Yo big homie! You the only guy that dissed Queens and made it look good, and I’m from Queens.” He started laughing, and 50 is the same way and running down on ’em. It’s big for us. It’s Hip-Hop man. When Biggie and ‘Pac was going at it, it was a bad thing cause they both died but, man, when ‘Pac spit at that camera man and when Biggie came out with “Who Shot Ya?” I got chills in my body listening to that in the car, like, “What the fuck!” It’s Hip Hop man. Talk about when Banks saw Tupac, how old was you?
Lloyd Banks: I saw ‘Pac perform when I was like 11-years-old. It’s funny because my story started with ‘Pac, like that was the first performer I saw. And then Nassau Coliseum in 1996, the day he died, I was on my way to that concert in Long Island with Nas, The Fugees, The Firm, AZ and Foxy. Bone Thugs was there, Keith Sweat was there, and he got booed a few times. That’s Hip-Hop for you, though. I never forget when Ed Lover came to the stage and Nas took like five minutes out his set to give a rest in peace salute to Tupac. I’ll never forget the whole building just dropped. It literally felt like it sunk in, and from that day I was like my first show in New York stadium wise was the same Nassau Coliseum, and I put my mother in the same section we sat in. I told her I was gonna be up there the night that Tupac passed. It was crazy how I was able to complete that story.
Tony Yayo Says The Internet Helped Improve New York Hip Hop
DX: You guys talked about the fans pushing for this reunion. How much did the split up and reuniting work as a positive?
Lloyd Banks: I think even if it wasn’t a split, like I’m excited for Bad Boys III, they working on that now, and I don’t even know when Bad Boys II came out. I just know it was damn near 10 years ago. I just feel like that excitement would have been there regardless, and, truth be told, we spoiled our fans. Nowadays you’d be lucky if you get an LP from your favorite artist every two years. We was giving so much material out. Our mixtape catalog is probably 20 mixtapes or more. I think they just go so used to hearing us flood the gates, and the way things have changed, the way to make money with things is to be a little bit more strategic. Being independent is what’s enabled us to go out there and kind of attack the way we did before. When Interscope and all the big machines got involved they told us, “Don’t do mixtapes. Don’t do this. Don’t do that.” We get a chance to, not rewrite it, but continue the page.
DX: How is this a good time to bring back the aggressive, gritty sound you guys helped pioneer with Auto-tune and love songs being so prevalent?
Tony Yayo: I feel like the whole game changed. Me and Banks come from an era where going to the Hit Factory was big for us. Going to these studios like the Quad… Once I saw the Hit Factory shut down and started seeing the record stores shut down… We used to do signings and people actually buy the CD, and it was just a different feeling when someone came in to buy your CD. It could be a mothafucka from suburban Long Island or a mothafucka from the corner in Brooklyn. They were reading the credits, and there was more of an excitement. Now everything is just more digital. You got groups like Odd Future, and I was on Odd Future years ago. They’re one of the groups where these guys don’t get any radio play, but these guys got GRAMMYs, money and go on tour. There are so many people who are going the independent route like, “I don’t even need a label.” Mac Miller and these guys are making millions on their own. This digital shit is a gift and a curse, like I say all the time. It’s definitely a good thing at times, and it can definitely be a bad thing. But I think there is not timing with the Internet. You can drop whenever you want to drop. You can drop a record tomorrow saying, “New Lloyd Banks” and this shit is in Paris and Germany. There are times when we go overseas [and they shout], “Play Cold Corner.” I wouldn’t think that shit got as far as it did, but shit man the power of the Internet is amazing.
DX: What do you think about the state of New York Hip Hop right now?
Tony Yayo: I think it’s great. I think it’s coming back to that New York sound. People love the South music, and there are people who love that New York sound. I think after the Trinidad James thing, it was like a smack in the face to New York City deejays. Saying, “New York is irrelevant,” and he’s on a New York label. He’s on Def Jam. I wouldn’t even have the balls to go to New Orleans, Chicago, or Atlanta and be in the markets and say or do nothing like that. It didn’t make sense to me. But after that, Trinidad James kind of changed the whole New York Hip Hop scene. Then deejays were like, “We gonna start supporting our artists more.” People were getting at the radio stations more saying, “We wanna support our artists.” I really think it comes from the deejay, the record plays and the spins. There are so many New York artists that have been hot for years that you would never know about because they not getting played on radio. Now mothafuckas are going on the Internet, Thisis50.com and all these fucking websites and getting themselves out there. I feel like the state of Hip Hop for New York is better now because of the Internet. We never would have knew who Joey Bada$$ is or Flatbush Zombies are if I didn’t see them online, ‘cause they don’t get too much radio play. But they have a fan base, they are selling merch, they are doing shows, tours and making money.
DX: You guys were among the first to embrace the group mentality coming up. Now that it is so prevalent, how important was that to your success?
Lloyd Banks: In so many different aspects. I learned how to perform, I learned how to conduct myself in interviews, and I learned from watching. It’s always more comfortable to look to your left, look to your right and have a good example of what to do and what not to do or how to adjust. On the Rock The Mic Tour, we was able to do that, and a few overseas tours we did starting off. It wasn’t too much time to be honest. I’m just happy I was able to share those experiences at the same time. [You can say], “Oh shit, you fell? I fell too,” as opposed to you just fall.
Lloyd Banks & Tony Yayo Credit Fans For G-Unit’s Longevity
DX: So with all those highs and lows, what keeps you rapping?
Tony Yayo: You know what keeps me rapping? I can have the fucking worst day in the world, and I can go on Instagram and Twitter and there can be that one person. There are fans out there that would treat me better than friends and family. There are mothafuckas out there who will die for Tony Yayo or die for Lloyd Banks. They will take bullets for us. That’s what keeps me going. The industry is a fucking tough business. It has ups and downs, and everyone knows there ain’t no business like show business, right? So there’s days when I say, “I don’t want to do this shit no more,” but it can be that motherfucking person named Harry from New Zealand, when they start quoting the lines from 10 years ago. That shit fucks me up. I got pictures on my Instagram of a dude holding his baby saying, “I’m teaching him how to be G-Unit.” I post that shit up. He got his baby with a G-Unit shirt on. You got little fucking kids with little fucking G-Unit hats on. It’s amazing to me that we took it this far from walking out the crib seeing Banks going around the corner going to 50’s grandmothers, playing Get Rich Or Die Tryin’in the motherfucking house.
Sometimes I get spoiled, and I complain, but this shit is amazing to me. The fans are what keep a mothafucka going. I mean they will quote everybody’s lines. They will quote Kidd Kidd lines, they quote PLK lines, and they gonna quote 50, Buck everybody. Even with the reunion, it was like so much pressure. They were like, “Yo, mothafucka I know you coming out with 50. You better not come out with Troy Ave.” Me and Troy Ave. had that record together. [But they still said], “You better not come out with Troy Ave. You better come out with 50 and Banks. I swear I’m gonna die if you mothafuckas don’t get back together. Y’all got to do it.” Shit is crazy. The power of music is unbelievable to me.
Lloyd Banks: The drive that keeps me going, is definitely the fans but also being a fan. I think that nowadays, you mentioned a lot of the new artists. I spent more time being a fan before I realized I can do it. Now you can just flip your laptop and become who you think is a dope artist as opposed to who you think is a dope artist based off of five examples of who you think is a dope artist. There isn’t as much artist development anymore. I watched [Big Daddy] Kane, Rakim, EPMD, everything there was that was out there to offer. I had so many examples of, “Alright, that’s dope I’ll take a little piece of that.” If you think B.I.G. didn’t do that you’re crazy. I got pictures in my phone like Yay said. Stuff like this. One of my mixtapes, V6. Somebody sent it to me at their friend’s grave. His friend died and he put the tape at his site, and you can see water bubbles inside the tape from how long it’s been sitting there. So imagine you’re waking up, you’re having a bad day and you see somebody took your work to the grave, literally. This was his soundtrack. Then getting hugs, we would get hugs from someone looking like Yay now with a hoodie on. We’d be like, “What’s up with this nigga,” and he didn’t know how to say what’s up. Now that same gangsta be like, “Yo!” and come in for a bearhug. It’s crazy.
Tony Yayo: Music marks time, and so a person could have heard a song from like ’03 or ’04, and it could have done something for their life. We are just rhyming about experiences, what we went through in the hood, and what’s going on in our lives, and a mothafucka is going through the same thing. Like I said, “My phone rings so much I walk around with the charger.” That was like historic for every fucking hustler. That’s like when you here “Digital Scale,” I did the same thing. I said, “My numbers don’t lie, scales don’t either / Everytime you out, fiends wanna reach ‘ya / Out with some bitches, fiends wanna call / In the club with my niggas, fiends wanna call / When I’m waitin’ on them, they ain’t ever call / The life of a hustler in a nutshell…” I saw somebody say, “You know why I love you, ‘cause it’s reality.” I could be around a mothafucka that hustle, and his phone won’t ring until he go out to the club. You know how many times you see that in the hood? So it’s like we still can rhyme about what’s really going on. But like Banks said, it’s the power of music. Amazing.
DX: Where do you fit the latest EP within the canon of your careers?
Lloyd Banks: Times are changing. The same way I gotta go take Instagram pictures and shit even though I don’t like it, there are certain things you gotta do. I’m gonna be honest if you ask an artist whether he wanna put out six songs or 12, they always gonna say 12. But I think at this time, it was unique the way it was broken in half. It’s the beauty and the beast. So you got The Beauty of Independence, that’s six tracks, and you’ll get six more tracks on the beast. I think it’s a very unique way to do things now. I think we are going to see somebody else follow it in the near future and start putting out EPs. It’s like a mini-mixtape. Drum patterns and sounds change.
I got records now that sound like “Beamer, Benz Or Bentley” but I wouldn’t drop it now. The average artist now that comes out, they have a hit then they got two or three songs by the same producer that sound just like it. They kind of milk it, and I think G-Unit has always been about breaking new artists and new producers. On our new album, you going to find at least half of it is going to be who you know, and I’m gonna say more than half is gonna be who you don’t know. I think it’s good that way too, then we get a chance to bond now. We got two projects coming out within three months, and we are staying in phase with current events and the punch lines and everything else are gonna hit more because we are going to the next thing.
Why G-Unit Calls Themselves The “Rap Bad Guys”
DX: Do you feel you have a lot of influence on today’s rappers and how does that feel?
Tony Yayo: I look at G-Unit as the Rap bad guys. So a lot of people that we have influence on, some of them give us our props, and some of them won’t cause they still look at us as a threat. We the bad guys of Hip Hop. But I feel like we have influence over the mixtape game, influence over a lot of artists in New York, and influence over making worldwide music. It’s so crazy to have worldwide, not just in the U.S., not just in Cali, not just in the major markets, but to be worldwide. To go to Dubai, or to go to Angola, that is influence.
Lloyd Banks: I ask myself and I ask people when I do interviews that same question. I don’t understand how we are–like Yay was saying–not just the bad guy side of things but we had a lot of success. It’s like when the Lakers or the Celtics were winning, you don’t get a lot of the honest opinions of how you inspire people. I am checking. All of the new artists, I know them. I’m catching them from the same way Yay caught Odd Future, I’m catching Joey Bada$$ and everybody from the jump. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to hearing that. I wanna hear somebody say I inspire them even if they don’t sound like me. ‘Cause I was inspired by artists that I don’t sound like, but they inspired me in some way. A collection of them. I feel like I’m in a blessed situation to write the rest of my legacy, like I said. It’s one thing for people in your time to be bragging in your era. Now my focus is on keeping them and getting 12 and 13-year-olds that run at me in the streets still, and I’m puzzled why they know my face. My album came out 10 years ago.
DX: How important is it for you guys, being independent, to be able to put new people on?
Lloyd Banks: I think it’s dope, because it reminds me of when we first started personally. I remember sitting in that room going to a meeting with 50. From the very first meeting, he was like, “This is my artist Lloyd Banks, and this is my artist Tony Yayo.” So I’m sitting there like, “Oh shit,” ‘cause I know this really don’t got nothing to do with me. So imagine sitting at a round table, and out of eight of them the only person that knows you is the person introducing you. They looking around at you and I’m like, “Yeah, it’s me.” I only got one record done, but that’s me. I’m the guy. It’s kind of ill to see how it played out. My solo album The Hunger for More came out after the G-Unit album. It would have traditionally went back to a 50 Cent album, and he pushed me through the gate. So it’s kind of like I’m seeing it play all over again because Kidd Kidd had to deal with the same thing, like, “Who is this guy? He’s the new member? Why? Because I said so.” So when it plays out, time does a lot for everything. I went through a period from ’06 til “Beamer, Benz Or Bentley” came out where I had to deal with the second shadow of doubt. Like Yay was saying, consistency plays in. People love you then they doubt you. I don’t think they doubt lyricists though. I just think they get aggravated that you have it and you’re not giving it to them as much as they’re used to. It’s not, “Can you do it?” It’s “You can’t do it.” My friends will say it, “You ain’t got a good 16 in you right now,” just ‘cause they wanna see it.