Last week was a special one for 50 Cent. Not only did the Get Rich or Die Tryin’ rapper turn 45, but on Sunday night (July 12), his heralded protégé Pop Smoke scored his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 with Aim For the Moon, Shoot For the Stars netting 251,000 equivalent album units. His latest feat also made him the first artist to debut No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with a posthumous album since XXXTentacion’s Skins in 2018.
For 50, his decision to carry on Smoke’s legacy after his tragic death last February included securing a bevy of features from rap heavyweights such as Roddy Ricch, Future, Lil Baby, and more. Along with featuring on Smoke’s “The Woo,” 50 previously signed off on the late rapper interpolating his 2000s classics such as “Many Men” and “Candy Shop.”
“When I met [Pop Smoke], I told him, it was time to do my records over,” 50 Cent tells Billboard regarding Smoke’s flip on “Many Men” for his anthemic track “Got It on Me.” “Those [first two albums of mine] are [from] ’03 and ’05. If there’s something that struck a chord in you and it’s dope, the new artist is supposed to use that or make their version of it.”
Entranced by his gruff voice, polished songwriting abilities, and boastful persona, fans embraced Smoke from the onset of his career. After creating a buzz with smash-mouth anthems such as 2019’s “Welcome to the Party” and “Dior,” listeners craved more drill-infused records inspired by Smoke. His ability to take over New York’s rap scene and create a new sound that rocked the hip-hop game nationwide earned him acclaim — and comparisons to a young 50 Cent, who blazed the genre with his street appeal in the early 2000s.
“I didn’t even realize his [last] name was Jackson,” says 50 on their similarities. “[He even had] the same bucky-ass teeth that I had before I fixed them.”
While 50 acknowledges the similarities, he also breaks down both stars’ different paths when trying to crack the code for mainstream gold. When he crashed the rap game with his punchy mixtapes, 50 Cent Is the Future and Guess Who’s Back, he deftly remixed well-known hits such as LL Cool J’s “Luv You Better” and Angie Martinez’s “If I Can Go” to grab listeners’ attention. Smoke used his ear-splitting drill tracks as bait, before also electing to soothe fans with the pop-friendlier melodies found in the back half of his debut album.
“You can hear the drill music and aggression,” 50 says. “[Pop] wasn’t showing his abilities to do things different musically. And then, he broke out of that after those first two tapes to create the music that he was creating at those times.”
While Aim For the Moon, Shoot for the Stars continues to receive strong praise, there were initial complaints regarding the execution. Chicago MC Calboy voiced his issues with being taken off of “Diana,” while some fans weren’t thrilled with Nigerian singer-songwriter Burna Boy being taken off “Enjoy Yourself,” in favor of Latin star Karol G.
“Now look, [Pop Smoke] has the No. 1 record, and this isn’t the record he would have presented [if he were still around]. You got some of the guys that were on records that got swapped off, and they’re upset. I understand it, but they were not a part of what would have made the best records. They’re still in growing stages. So when they see themselves come off of the record, they go, ‘Yo, why you put him off, but put the Latin artist?’ The Latin audience is THIS BIG, bro. And you got an established Latin artist,” 50 states.
#Calboy took a moment to express his frustration after finding out he was left off of the late #PopSmoke’s “Diana” track
•@147Calboy @DjCarisma #CheccdInWithCarisma
[WATCH] https://t.co/DbWaDcpxjd pic.twitter.com/6tDLIGy0mL
— Power 106 (@Power106LA) July 10, 2020
50, who also says he declined to take any money while serving as executive producer for the album, explains to Billboard he only wanted to finish the album based “on the culture and his relationship with Pop Smoke.”
“As soon as I know that the record positioned itself for No. 1, I feel like I did enough,” he offers.
Watch the interview with 50 Cent in full above as he discusses keeping his promise to Pop Smoke, choosing the album cover, not feeling pressured to complete the album, and more.