It's 6am and for some unknown reason I'm wide awake…well, maybe not wide awake but awake none the less and I have no idea why. It can't be the time difference, because I've now been in NY for a whole 3 weeks (has it been that long?!). This is very strange. I love to sleep. I do it well. So why am I awake? The only time I ever see this side of 7am is when I've been up all night and I haven't done that in NY…yet!
Outside my window there's yet another new apartment block going up. There's a small guy (although everyone looks small from the 40th floor) wrestling with one of those pneumatic drills making more noise than is necessary- but it's not that - I've slept through worse. So why can't I sleep? There must be something on my mind.
Yesterday was a good day. A busy day that culminated with me meeting up with the biggest name in hip-hop today!
But first, let me rewind about 4 years. I was 21 and had just been signed up by MTV in the UK as one of their new faces. I was about 3 weeks into my job, when I was granted my first overseas business trip. For me this was a gift and a curse! The destination was NY and my assignment was to meet up with and interview an artist who was being championed as 'the savior of hip-hop' and 'the next big thing'. That was the gift! The curse was that I had to fly. I hate flying. Hate is a strong word…but I chose this word carefully. I hate to fly. If you think Mr. T had it bad…think again. To give you an idea, here is a simple equation to explain how much I despise flying.Take Mr. T's fear of flying. Multiply it by infinity. Take that to the very depths of hell and you will scratch on the surface of just how much I hate to fly. Now I know I shouldn't take this for granted. I am very fortunate and I know a lot of people who have never had the opportunity to leave the country that they were born in, let alone fly away on holiday…but bollocks to that…I hate flying and wish I never had to! Unfortunately, in my line of work that wish seldom comes true and I have to fly a lot. To add to all of this, I was flying to NY for the very first time on the very same day that President George W Bush announced war with Iraq. Not exactly the best time to fly. Thankfully I made it in one piece.
At this point, we had only heard one track, and knew more about his back story than we did about his music. The main angle that was being pushed by his label was that he had been shot 9 times and survived and was being backed by not only the No.1 rapper in the game Eminem, but uber-producer Dr Dre as well. Like clockwork, at 12 o'clock sharp - 50 Cent entered the room.
Four years later, the hype is still there but most importantly, he has the music to match. Over the years, our paths have crossed a number of times in the UK and sometimes overseas. We have spoken about hip-hop, his personal life, his past, his present, his future ambitions, women, hip-hops ongoing controversies, the rivalries with Ja Rule, The Game, Nas, Diddy, Camron…even Oprah. On every single occasion, 50 has treated every interview as if it were his first- a sign of a true great (Notorious BIG). He has a passion for what he does and the music he makes. And in this modern climate, where hip-hop is constantly under persecution- he is one of a rare few who is never afraid to speak his mind. But above all, what you take away from spending time with 50 is an admiration for his never ending drive and permanent focus - that I have only seen in a handful of others (Diddy, Justin Timberlake, Jay Z).
50 and Violator's James Cruz were in London about a month back for a quick pit-stop visit. I'd heard that 50 had a rough version of his as-of-yet incomplete album with him, so with a little persuasion 50 kindly played me some of the un-mastered tracks. We were at the penthouse suite of 50's favorite London hotel, The Landmark. He had the hotel clear out the room completely, leaving only a few sofas, and got them to bring up 4 massive speakers and a full on mixing desk. What 50 wants, 50 gets. When you hear it, you will understand this is an album to be played loud and proud. I heard about 18 tracks in total - some of which have now been left for his next album, Before I Self Destruct, including two of my personal favorites "Man Down" and "Mechanic"... Off the top of my head, my favorites were 50 and Akon's "Still Will Kill," 50 and Mary J Blige, 50 and Robin Thicke (wasn't really a big fan of Robin before, but bit by bit I'm beginning to like his work), 50 and Dre, 50 and Justin Timberlake and last but by no means least, 50 and Eminem.
Back in NY this time round, James Cruz of Violator came and grabbed myself, MTV News' esteemed hip-hop gurus Rahman and Shaheem, MTV producer extraordinaire Joseph and the first lady of MTV News Whitney to hear the finished, mastered, fresh-from-the-studio official copy of Curtis… and it is good! We were kicked out of a couple of meeting rooms because we were playing the album too loud- but we weren't going to turn it down for no-one. It's one of those albums that you put on, turn up the volume and bump your head. Straight after, 50 -- who was busy completing some filming duties and meeting his fans in the TRL studio (one of who actually broke down in uncontrollable tears when he hugged her) -- joined us at the penthouse suite of the Night Hotel in Times Sq to sit down and shoot an hour-long, no-holds-barred, everything-goes interview with myself.
We spoke about a lot. It wasn’t really an interview, more of a conversation -- but sometimes those are the best interviews. From memory he addressed his on-going beef with Cam'ron (exclusive reaction to Cam's YouTube video), spoke on his new album and why he called it Curtis, the highs and lows of his career so far, his collaborations on Curtis and why he wanted to do them, his admiration for JT, his relationship with Em and Dre and how it has grown and evolved over the years, the situation with Young Buck and how he understands why Buck reached out to the Game, sex-toys (yes sex-toys), his competition this year with T.I., Jeezy and Lil' Wayne, his next album Before I Self Destruct and how that is a very different album ('Gutter' music straight for the streets), YouTube is the new mixtape scene, the Jay-Z Las Vegas afterparty, and whether he feels accepted by his peers Jay-Z, Diddy, Young Jeezy, JD and a whole lot more...
I don't want to give away too much but you can see that interview when it airs as an MTV News RAW and highlights are online already on everyone’s favorite site for the unadulterated truth - MTVNews.com. So all in all, that interview went well…so it brings me back to the question. Why the hell am I awake at 6:30 am? Then the Calendar icon on my Mac starts jumping up and down ferociously. I click... my calendar opens...and the reason becomes clear. Today, Tuesday May 22, 2007, is the day where I step up to the plate and guest host a spot on MTV's flagship show - TRL.