G-Unit soldiers Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo have signed on to headline Saturday's 4th Annual Hip-Hop For HIV Awareness concert at Reliant Center. Tickets are free, but only with an HIV test at one of the City of Houston Department of Health & Human Services' designated testing locations. A list is available online at www.hiphopforhiv.com.
On the eve of the concert, Rocks Off caught up with Yayo to discuss hip-hop's role in promoting promiscuity, talking the birds and the bees with curious kids and G-Unit's shaky label situation.
Rocks Off: When we heard about your involvement in the Hip-Hop For HIV Awareness concert, our initial reaction was, "What the hell is G-Unit doing at an HIV awareness concert?" It's quite an odd couple.
Tony Yayo: You know, we do a lot of charity work. AIDS is an epidemic in our hood. You got a lot of young people that are influenced by hip-hop, period. I'll never forget where I'm from, you know. I'm from South Side Jamaica, Queens, and AIDS touched some people that we know.
My oldest son is 12. Right now, he's looking at girls. I see him going through the girls thing and I had to sit down and talk to him the other day. A lot of kids in the hood are having babies early. That's so real in our neighborhood. And I feel like us being a part of it is important.
It's important that people see that we're a part of it, because there's kids out there that look up to us and listen to us over grown-ups sometimes.
RO: Was that conversation more awkward for you or for your son?
TY: I think it was harder for him. I'll be honest with you. I lost my virginity at 16. Things were slower back then. Now, it's like kids are watching TV, kids are on the Internet. You know, they're skyping one another, getting on the webcam and talking to each other at night. And they wonder.
So I just keep it real, like, "Look, if you are going to do something, make sure you do talk to me about it, and you better use condoms."
RO: What do you say to the claims that hip-hop promotes promiscuity?
TY: I don't agree with that. You got a lot of rappers that rap about different things. Like, Common Sense is not going to rap about the same thing that Tony Yayo is going to rap about. You got rappers that go their way and I go my lane. I'm going from an aspect that I know.
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The best thing about rap is getting a brother from the hood off the streets and getting him in a position that he can take care of his family and entourage, instead of him trying to rob or murder somebody. I look at hip-hop as the outlet. I don't knock anybody. You got kids making dances. Like when Soulja Boy came up with the Super Man dance, I loved that. I never knocked it, because it was a young brother.
The realest thing Soulja Boy said was, "Ay, this took my grandmother out her house and my mother bought her house and helped my friends along the way." People are going to say whatever they want to say, but it's a way out the hood.
RO: So, you view hip-hop strictly as an outlet?
TY: Yeah, I remember having no outlet growing up. Around my way, everyone I knew was a hustler. So, yeah, I was a follower, everyone was hustling. That's all I know. At the end of the day, we had a plan that turned to G-Unit. And now, me, 50 and Banks have nice million-dollar houses and drive nice cars, and we're maintaining that.
I look at it like there was no plan B. G-Unit was a plan A. So, I look at hip-hop like an outlet for a lot of brothers.
RO: Your new single is "Pass the Patron." Who's the biggest drinker in G-Unit?
TY: I would say me. [Laughs] I'm the biggest drinker in the group. Banks drinks a little, but I really like to drink. 50 doesn't drink, period.
RO: What's your favorite drink?
TY: My favorite drink is Hennessy. Even though I like patron, I'd say Hennessey.
RO: Why the music drought in G-Unit lately?
TY: Well, we started venturing off into other things. I just did S.W.A.T. 2. I played a bad guy named Carlos. We're just trying to venture into other things. In the meantime, I've also compiled about seven mixtapes.
We're not on Interscope anymore, so it cut through a lot of red tape. Since leaving Interscope, we've been putting stuff on the Internet and it's been going viral.
The Internet just came in and took over the game, in a good way and bad way. I use the Internet all the time. We use ThisIs50.com, VladTV, Boob Boo TV, Nahright.com, and all the dot-coms that are poppin'.
I made a nice check off my last mixtape. It was available on iTunes. We've been working in different ways. Right now we got a lot of deals on the table for Banks and me. Now we're just sitting, waiting for the right one.
Now with the Internet, instead of just thinking of albums, I think it's more about selling a lifestyle.
RO: Hasn't it always been about selling a lifestyle?
TY: Sometimes people focus on just the music. You look at guys like 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Diddy and see that these guys are selling lifestyles. I'm learning from 50 and other artists. I'm just trying to brand myself more. You'll definitely hear a lot more from us this year, because we got new deals on the table.
RO: What kind of deals?
TY: Um, Banks will have his own solo deal, I'll have my own deal, and G-Unit will be a package deal. That's how it's always been done with us.
RO: You're in your thirties now. How do you feel about hip-hop's relationship with aging rappers?
TY: I think it's about making music. It's about being in your own lane. G-Unit is in the hip-hop museum, no matter what. We got fans all over the world. We've been touring everywhere - Paris, Germany, Moscow, Istanbul, everywhere. And we just went on another tour in Brazil and then we'll go back to Africa. We're going to be here forever.
I feel like every group has its own energy. G-Unit, we're in the museum of hip-hop. I just feel good that I can wake up and take care of my bills and take care of my kids. I know at the rate that I was going I'd probably be dead or jail right now. When I wake up in the morning, I don't care what a media person or a fan says to me.
We're all humans. Right now, I'm happy 'cause my fam is good. My kids got clothes on their back. I'm giving person. I give more than I receive.
RO: Name your Top 3 favorite new artists.
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TY: I'm feeling Danny Brown from Detroit. I think he's a good overall artist. I'm working with him right now. I like Lil B from the Bay Area. The third would be Travis Porter out of Atlanta. It feels like the unit in the beginning of G-Unit. It's the same energy. I like their song "Get Naked." That's my joint right now.
RO: When was the last time you did the "Yayo dance"?
TY: I did the "Yayo dance" a couple days ago in Brazil. There were about 10,000 doing it, so I had to join in.
The 4th Annual Hip-Hop For HIV Awareness concert takes place at 2 p.m. Saturday, July 31 at the Reliant Center. Other scheduled performers are The Party Boyz, Just Britiney, Dallas Blocker, Z-Ro, Paul Wall, Bun B, and Plies.