50 Cent’s Co-Author, Robert Greene Interview with XXL
Lil Kim said it best, “Money, power, respect… That’s the key to life.” In hip-hop especially there are no greater motivational tools than those three. Dissect the importance of each, and you’ll see that the first and third are byproducts of the second. And there are few scholars out there with more knowledge on how to obtain power than writer Robert Greene. A New York Times best-selling author, Greene is best known for his 2000 book, The 48 Laws of Power, which has become a guiding force behind the dollar-chasing pursuits of Wall Street types and politicians, as well as music industry elite.
Perhaps Greene’s biggest rapper-fan is Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, whose appreciation for the Los Angeles-born scribe’s work culminated in their collaborative text, The 50th Law. Released this past September, the book breaks down the key to triumph as a not-too-simple conquering of one’s own fears. To compile the nearly-300-page tome, Greene shadowed 50 for six months back in 2007, everything from attending meetings alongside the megastar to spending time at his Connecticut mansion. XXLMag.com recently caught up with Greene to discuss his time with the rapper/mogul who directly inspired The 50th Law. His insights may just paint a whole new Curtis Jackson picture.
XXLMag.com: How did you and 50 first meet to work on this book?
Robert Greene: Someone in his team had reached out to me in, I think it was early 2006. He’d read The 48 Laws of Power [and] found it very helpful, dealing with the music business, like a lot of other rappers. So, he wanted to meet me. I didn’t precisely know why at that time; I thought he was thinking about a book, and also there was all that stuff going on with Game, and he wanted to talk about that, which we did talk about. We met in this steakhouse in Manhattan, [in] the backroom. He had his entourage of about 10 people, and I was just by myself. [Laughs].
XXLMag.com: That must have been intimidating?
Robert Greene: His son was there, and his manager and agent and a few others. It was really good. I didn’t know what to expect, so I was a little surprised. He was more open, and he wasn’t intimidating at all. And I think I wasn’t what he was expecting—he was probably thinking this old man, kind of like Henry Kissinger, and I wasn’t like that. So I think we were both surprised, in a good way. We felt really comfortable.
XXLMag.com: Where you even familiar with 50’s music at that time?
Robert Greene: Well, I knew his music. When I was writing my 33 Strategies of War… sometimes, when I write my books, I like to have a bit of an aggressive energy, particularly when I was writing the war book. Sometimes, I just would wake up and it wasn’t there. 50 was one of the few hip-hop artists that I would put [his music] on and it put me in the kind of war-like mood.
XXLMag.com: Any songs in particular?
Robert Greene: Well, there were things like “Position of Power” and “My Toy Soldier,” and “Hustler’s Ambition.” I had Power of the Dollar, somebody had passed it to me secretly, and there were some songs I really liked. I don’t have it in front of me, but I had the hard stuff. And the one where he’s really dissing Ja Rule…
XXLMag.com: “Back Down.”
Robert Greene: Yeah, that’s the kind of stuff I like—the nasty stuff. So, I knew his music that way. Then, before I met him, when I knew the meeting was coming, I got a copy of From Pieces to Weight and devoured that. I think it’s a great book; I found it inspiring… When you first meet him, you’re kind of expecting that “gangsta,” intimidating presence, and I think he uses that to an effect. He knows that most people, particularly White guys like myself, when we first meet him we’re expecting that, and he uses that to his advantage, because it’s very disarming when you realize that he’s not. So my first impressions were, at first, he’s really nice and charming. He’s not like all ego-ridden. He looks you in the eye when he talks to you.
XXLMag.com: Earlier you said when you guys first started talking that he spoke to you about the Game situation. Was he looking for advice on that?
Robert Greene: I don’t think he was looking for “advice,” per se. Because, who am I to give him advice? But, maybe he was. We talked about it, for sure. To be honest with you, I wasn’t too up on the situation. I knew that there was a beef going on, but what was behind it? How did it start? I really didn’t know. So, talking about it then, what I would’ve said knowing what I know now about the whole thing, it would’ve been different. So I don’t know if my “advice” was particularly insightful at that time. That’s when I thought he was a very crafty person. He was really strategizing in a hardcore way, about how to make this guy go away. Not in the Mafia sense, but how to end [the problem], so it doesn’t turn into this mutually destructive war… I was impressed about how he was weighing certain options and not just going with raw emotion, because you’d expect someone with the persona that he projects—which really isn’t who he is—that he would be looking for something kind of ultra-aggressive. That’s the entertainment part of 50. The real 50 is much more strategic.
XXLMag.com: In order to write The 50th Law, you trailed 50 for nearly six months straight. Do any memories from that time stand out in your mind as being exemplary of his character?
Robert Greene: I remember we would talk about how he had learned to adapt to the business world. A lot of the book, at first, and even as it came out, was about him as a hustler on the streets and how that translated into working in corporate America… He said that he was always learning on the job. He noticed that Lloyd Banks, whenever he would be in a meeting, would be kind of surly, and didn’t want to talk to anyone. But because of that, people would always be trying to please him, and giving him attention, thinking he was upset and they needed to win him over somehow—but that’s just his personality. 50 noticed that he needed to talk less in these meetings, and act a little bit like he wasn’t totally happy, and then people would work harder to please him—a little psychological ploy. Then we went into a meeting and I saw him do exactly that. [Laughs] This group of four or five very conservative White people from the Midwest. He did a little seduction number on them, making them feel like he wasn’t totally happy with what they were offering, and it worked like a charm, just as he told me it would.
XXLMag.com: In the book, you talk about how the infamous throwing-the-plasma-TV-out-the-window incident, in response to his “Follow My Lead” video prematurely leaking online back in August of 2007, was staged, and how that showed his tactfulness, in a way.
Robert Greene: That was an amazing thing to watch, because I got to see how he handles a crisis, and how calm he was compared to everybody else, who were like chickens with their heads cut off. [Laughs] He came up with this kind of weird, made-up problem of him getting angry, and the television screen and all that, which I thought was really quite smart. And then, the next day, the management team at Violator had a meeting about this, which I attended, and they were really not happy with what he’d done, because their whole method of handling it was to suppress the video, and he had done the opposite. So there was this confrontation—not angry or anything. They were telling him, “You just can’t do that kind of thing,” and he was telling them, “No, the story is already out there. I’m not going to, like, stop something that’s already out there. You have to make a story out of it.” I thought it was really indicative of how he operates.
XXLMag.com: Another side of 50’s personality is that he seems to fully embrace this “bad guy” role that he’s been put into. How do you think that helps him as an artist?
Robert Greene: Well, it helps him, but it [also] hurts him, and that’s a real strategic bind that he’s in. It’s the entertainment character that he created, and it’s kind of a cartoon character, which he’s done all on purpose. He knows that he can’t be too subtle when you’re a celebrity like that. People want a good guy, a bad guy… You can’t be a mix, or they get confused. So he plays it up, particularly in those very public beefs that he seems to always choose. But then, on the other hand, you start getting older and you can’t keep doing that forever… Younger people come up. And it’s also just not the space that he’s in right now. He’s in this very comfortable world. So you can’t keep doing it forever. You get stale and people will grow bored with it. He’s trying to figure out how to keep that.
XXLMag.com: You think so?
Robert Greene: You know, the music sells when it’s more aggressive. He knows that. The ballads and the soft stuff, although I think is good and he likes it, just doesn’t have what people seem to be looking for. So he knows his audience, he knows what people want, and he’ll play that up, but at the same time, he has to figure out a way out of that. He has to figure out how in five-to-ten years he’s going to morph into this interesting business mogul. He just can’t keep doing it… He’s really hyper aware of how it works, how he can use that aggressive edge, and how if it can’t how he has to adapt it. Unlike a lot of rappers, who becomes sort of prisoners of their image, he’s thinking about it. He’s trying to solve it some way. —Matt Barone