Losing the figurative (and sometimes literal) bulletproof allure of invincibility may have been the best thing that ever happened to G-Unit. At their peak — when individual members each boasted of their own top ten Billboard debuts — they sometimes carried the perception of petulant bullies. People’s kids got mushed in public. There were unprovoked insults hurled at established artists, talk of adult films, and no apologies made.

Popular culture equally loves to worship and tear down its heroes. But was G-Unit ever torn down? Game was dismissed from the crew amid seemingly over-dramatized charges of disloyalty and some very real gunfire. Young Buck had a very public falling out with 50 Cent before dealing with his own legal issues and spending 14 months in prison. But if you’re Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo, and the worst thing that happens is having your childhood friend (who just so happens to be 50 Cent) compare you to spoiled milk, you’re still kind of winning, right? It certainly seemed that way after Banks, Yayo, Buck and Kidd Kidd joined 50 Cent at the 2014 Summer Jam to reform G-Unit.

This is the entertainment world’s complicated dance between perception and reality. We’re not really sure how to value authenticity within Hip Hop anymore. But for a group that’s always hung a figurative fitted cap on being real, some visible familial quarrels and a respectable but not commercially spectacular SoundScan number of 14,000 copies of a mixtape whipped up in a few weeks doesn’t seem to have hurt G-Unit’s collective appeal. Maybe the men behind titles like Beg For Mercy and Terminate On Sight benefitted from being somewhat humanized. On the heels of the March 3 release of The Beast Is G-Unit, Tony Yayo and Young Buck weighed in on social commentary, how they think they’re perceived, and aspirations of continued longevity within the game.

G – Unit Reacts To The Changing Album Landscape

HipHopDX: There was a time earlier in the game when you guys would come out the gate doing 200,000 to 300,000 first week SoundScan numbers. Obviously, a lot of things in the industry changed. What adjustments have you made?

Tony Yayo: I think it was like ’07 when the recession started. Record sales just started changing in general, especially with the Internet. I think we just accepted it. The first couple of times, we probably thought it was bad, but it wasn’t. Records wasn’t selling for anybody at that point right there. The game just transitioned, and now more people might just buy the single versus the whole album. A lot of artists are independent now and sell things on iTunes and other stuff to generate money and get themselves hot. It’s just like a whole new game.

DX: How about the actual recording process? When you dropped “Rider Pt. 2,” that was a mixtape song that went directly to radio without being worked through the label process for a month.

Young Buck: Most of the energy in Rap is coming from the clubs, and most of the hit records you find are records that are actually party records or records that can be played in the club. I just feel like it’s a system where the Internet is such a broad tool in the industry, you actually don’t know what record could be a hit or what’s gonna catch. It’s almost like a testing ground with all these different sites, Instagram, and Twitter. It actually makes it easier, because you’re able to put records out and see the fans’ reaction.

From the very beginning, when G-Unit started releasing hit records, there wasn’t so many media outlets as there are now. I think MySpace was really just starting to move, but we didn’t experience marketing and promoting with some of the tools that are here now. Things that would harm other artists—for us being established, platinum artists—it’s dangerous with us having so many media outlets. We’re so established, and we became established without any of this.

DX: You mentioned the club. When you listen to “Life,” it’s got that club appeal, but it’s a hard texture to the record. How important is it to strike that balance with a record that appeals to clubs and still has that edge?

Young Buck: That’s always been G-Unit, and that’s what makes us. We mix the reality and the real life music with everything that we do. If you have a club-feeling record, or a record that has that energy, you still get those real life verses and those things that come along with G-Unit on party-driven tracks. It’s something that’s different, and it separates us from a lot of the other artists out. It always has, because that’s the G-Unit sound.

G-Unit Comments On The Decline Of “Masculinity” In Some Hip Hop

DX: How much of a market is there for “real life” when masculinity seems to be in decline? There’s a perception among your fans that G-Unit needs to come through when things get too pretty and we start seeing skinny jeans and leather pants. How much does the perception match reality?

Tony Yayo: I think it’s all God’s plan. Us getting back together for the reunion, it feels good ever since we did Summer Jam last year. Everything has just been rollin’. We know that with G-Unit and our street credibility, we’re known for not playing a lot of games. Like you said, it’s perfect timing because the game got kind of soft in a way.

As for the way fashion and everything goes, sometimes you feel like it made the game a little bit soft with some of the stuff people were wearing like tight jeans and stuff. But people from our era, and younger people, they’re not with it. Some people are with it, and you have to have your own fashion sense. But when dudes are wearing dresses and stuff, it gets a little too crazy for me.

Young Buck: Word.

“It’s About The Marathon,” Says G-Unit & Reactions To Michael Brown

DX: During your interview with Whoo Kid, you guys talked about being elder statesmen. Being 12 and 13 years in, what’s been the best part as far as seeing the game and the culture evolve?

Tony Yayo: A wise man once told me… Rest in peace to [Interscope Director of Video Promotions] Herve [Romain]. He was one of the hardest guys that worked at Interscope Records. He always told me it’s about the marathon. It’s not about the now. It’s about the marathon. That was 10 years ago that he told me that, and we’re still here. It’s a dream to me that people come up to me and actually want to take a picture with me. Being from the hood in Southside Jamaica Queens, this is a dream. I remember listening to Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ and making music in 50’s grandmother’s house on the stereo. This is big for us.

Groups like Wu-Tang are definitely respected. They’re the super OGs, and people will still book them for shows and want to book Ghostface and Raekwon as well as everybody else in the Clan.

Young Buck: Even Bun B. He just came through and left from out of here showing us love. Guys like him and Scarface are the OGs.

Tony Yayo: Yeah, their music is gonna last forever. Certain people’s music lasts forever. Look at Jay. Jay was rhyming with B.I.G., and he’s still here rhyming his ass off. So certain people’s music lasts forever, and I feel G-Unit is in that category as well as D-Block and Dipset. For New York City, I feel like those guys will forever be loved and can make music forever.

DX: Part of that longevity is being bigger than the music. When you speak on Michael Brown or Eric Garner, how important is it for people to know you’re in tune with those issues?

Tony Yayo: The Mike Brown situation is crazy too. Buck, Kidd Kidd, and 50 came with the “Ahhh Shit” record. That’s just them being in the studio, seeing it on the news, and deciding to say something about it. I respect them for that.

DX: As far as those records are concerned, how much of an advantage is it to be able to immediately speak on something like that without waiting…

Tony Yayo: That’s the advantage of the Internet. I used to feel like records were exclusives, and only certain DJs could get them. Now every DJ can get a record. It felt like you used to get that crazy exclusive. So, it’s kind of like a gift and a curse because it feels like nothing is exclusive no more. But at the same time, you can drop a record, and it can be in Japan, Germany, Africa, or Morocco by tomorrow.

How G-Unit Fans Kept The Crew Going & Bucking Perceptions

DX: Regardless of the profession, you see things in your industry that you don’t really like. What’s kept you guys from getting jaded or dissatisfied with the game?

Young Buck: Just the excitement of the music, man.

Tony Yayo: I would say the fans keep me going. And our G-Unit fans never went anywhere. Our core fans have been there. Record sales are different, and everybody got hit with record sales. But I feel like our fans been there from day one. When I drop mixtapes like Gun Powder Guru or El Chapo, I can go overseas and somebody in New Zealand has that mixtape. That’s the best thing about the Internet to me. That music gets to them people all around the world that are really fans and really love your music.

Your fans make you. If it wasn’t for the fans, what would any artist have? They wouldn’t have shit. There is no color barrier in fuckin’ music. When we go to Brazil, people can’t even speak English, but they know the records. That’s fuckin’ amazing! I haven’t said no to a picture in my whole career, and I don’t care if I’m in the supermarket in my pajamas. I’m gonna take a fuckin’ picture with you, because I still can’t believe in my mind how far we made it. All of us.

Music marks time, and there are so many older people now who come up to us and say, “Yo, I grew up to y’all.” I can listen to Illmatic or “The Purple Tape,” and it brings me back to a time when I was younger. It’s classic Hip Hop.

DX: People on the outside might not get that impression. There seemed to be a perception that G-Unit didn’t respect the game.

Tony Yayo: I think sometimes the issues overcloud a lot of shit. Let me give you a perfect example. I’m a Wu-Tang fan. One day, 50 had a interview. God bless the dead, my man Lodi Mack was talking about how somebody supposedly did some writing for “The Purple Tape.” I didn’t say anything about it. From that, the media took it and spun it like, “Yayo said Ghostface didn’t write his album.” And Ghostface had words with me or whatever. He’s still a legend. I still love that tape. Ghost and Rae are like two of my favorite rappers. A lot of people don’t know.

A lot of issues that you seen were like 50 with Fat Joe. I remember being in my man’s basement and listening to Jealous Ones Envy. That’s how far back I remember Fat Joe. But sometimes people have issues, and the beef clouds the actual music and the fact that we love Hip Hop. Them guys don’t have to ever talk to me, but in my eyes, they’re gonna always be legends. It’s just like how when we saw Bun, we gave it up. You pay homage.  I love Hip Hop, and I love music. I remember when 50 had “How To Rob.” I got excited when Big Pun got at 50. I don’t know if a lot of people remember that. Rest in peace to Pun.

Young Buck: Pun was a real one! Pun kidnapped Whoo Kid’s ass. Pun put Whoo Kid’s ass in the fuckin’ van [laughs]. Rest in peace to Pun.

Tony Yayo: Pun was definitely a gangsta. I remember when 50 performed “How To Rob” at The Tunnel. My experiences in Hip Hop were different than a lot of other people’s. 50 took me from way back. When he was dealing with Jam Master Jay, I came around during that time. I was in the hood hustling and doing my thing. I was always into music. There were points where I battled Freaky Tah, and I didn’t ever feel like I was in his league, because he was on. But I was in parties with Freaky Tah, that was my friend. Lost Boyz was definitely a group I looked up to, because that was in my neighborhood on 134. Freaky Tah was from there, so rest in peace to him. ‘Nuff respect to him. That was another person that made me want to rhyme even more after seeing the success of Lost Boyz.

DX: So it was proof somebody around the way could make it?

Tony Yayo: Yeah, but I remember being in the studio with Destiny’s Child, and Beyonce and the whole group was big at the time too. We had about 80 niggas from Queens and about another 80 from Brooklyn, and Tone and Poke came in like, “You can’t thug these girls out.” It was just amazing, because you know how big Beyonce is now.

On “Fuck The Police”

DX: Outside of your own experiences with the prison-industrial complex, what does it take to make people understand that you saying, “Fuck the police” isn’t just misdirected animosity? There’s a historical context of bad relationships between law enforcement and people of color.

Tony Yayo: Sometimes you can get frustrated with Hip Hop Police and just police in general. There’s racial profiling and just being a black man in this society. People might see you with a fitted on and your pants low or whatever, and they automatically think you’re going to rob them or do something. I live in a real nice neighborhood, and sometimes when I come around, that happens. I remember being at the gas station, and I got profiled by a guy like, “What are you doing here? Why do you drive that car?” I’ve lived in the neighborhood for over 11 years. It’s something you have to deal with.

With the Hip Hop Police, my issue with them is, there’s a lot of stuff behind the scenes. They’ll say, “No G-Unit. No Dipset.” That stops me from eating from the clubs. I could have three or four clubs booked in New York, and the Hip Hop Police have the power to shut that down. They could tell the promoter, “We don’t want you to book this guy. We feel like he’s gonna be a problem.” A lot of people don’t know that.

From being a youngster until now, there’s never been any positive interactions with the police. It’s always been, “Get out the car!” Then you’re like, “What the fuck?” because you have guns drawn on you. I’ve never met a good cop. That’s why I always stick by saying, “Fuck the police.” I’m gonna say it until the day I die. I’m not going to say it’s every cop, but they put it on themselves. I’ve run into cops that have been fans, so I can’t say fuck every cop. But fuck the cops that’s on some bullshit.

Young Buck: Man, fuck the police.

Tony Yayo: Remember when we ran into those two cops outside the hotel that wanted to take pictures with us? They said they were fans for years. So I see the other side of it too. Not every cop is on that shit, so sometimes I do get carried away when I be like, “Fuck all police.”

Young Buck: Yay is absolutely right. I know some individuals from my hood that are actually police officers now. They not fucked up. They do their job. But it’s something to think about before you decide to say, “I’m gonna be a police officer when I grow up.” It’s just like you gotta think about when you say, “I’m gonna be a rapper when I grow up.” Be careful what you sign up for. Know exactly what you’re signing up for. That goes for anything—whether you’re a dope dealer or anything else. Make sure you’re fully aware of what comes along with the job. That’s it.

Tony Yayo: Right. Police gotta find people to be the face of police. Like Buck said, he knows people from his hood that are good police. They’re not fucked up. But police got a bad rep out here.