Watching G-Unit videos such as “Stunt 101” and “Poppin’ Them Thangs,” the uninformed hip-hop fan may foolishly think that the Guerilla Unit is made up of only 50 Cent, Young Buck, and Lloyd Banks. True followers of the infamous Unit, however, know that there has been a missing link riding with the crew in spirit since the release of 50’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’.
Tony Yayo, whose name has been immortalized on “Free Yayo” t-shirts once rocked in a neighborhood near you, had been serving a prison bid during the G-Unit’s highest points of success. An original member of the team, Yayo was 50’s right hand man during his mixtape takeover. While his rap career had been limited to appearances in 50’s early videos, his name gained urban legend status as 50, Banks, and Buck continually shouted him out during his jail time.
After a brief second jail stint, Yayo is finally out and set to establish himself as a true G-Unit MC. Wasting little time, he can be heard on the new albums from both Lloyd Banks and Young Buck, as well as on DJ Whoo Kid’s latest addition of his “G-Unit Radio” mixtape series. These days, the only bars surrounding him are those heard in his verses. Out to prove that there is more to the man than just a famous criminal record, Yayo is armed and ready for the road ahead of him.
AllHipHop: From the time that you first went into jail up until your recent release, G-Unit has gone from a heavy buzz to an empire complete with a record label and a clothing line. How did it feel not being able to fully take part in the highest point for your crew so far?
Tony Yayo: Oh man, I was on top of the world. I felt real good in jail, seeing my peoples do good. You know, I’m not a hater, I’m a congratulater. It’s like a family thing anyway, so I knew that when I was gonna come home I would be straight. Actually, 50 was sending me so much money that I had $8,000 in my commissary. I had to tell him to stop sending me so much money. So I wasn’t worried about coming home to a new situation, or coming home and s**t wasn’t gonna be like that. I knew we were gonna blow. It was just a matter of time. Let me tell you something. You are doing interviews right now, and I don’t know what level you are on, but sooner or later you can be on a bigger level. You may own this magazine, or you may own ten magazines. A lot of people tend to not have faith in a n***a until they see money in a situation. Me myself, I always had faith in 50, I always had faith in me, and I always had faith in G-Unit. I knew we were gonna blow. I stood next to 50 through the trials and tribulations. I was there before everybody. I’m the one that found Lloyd Banks. It’s like, people look at me and know I’m a real n***a, man. That’s because I got faith in whatever I do. If I believe a n***a is gonna do something, I’m gonna stand next to you. If you’re broke and you don’t have a dime, I’m gonna stand next to you. So, I knew I was gonna be straight, no matter what.
AllHipHop: While you were locked up, were you aware of just how infamous the name Tony Yayo was becoming outside?
Yayo: Oh man, let me tell you something. I didn’t even know until I was on Riker’s Island, C73, 2 Lower. I’m in my house. Now I told n***as…you know, I don’t really fight over the TV cuz n***as get stabbed over that s**t. I actually told the n***as to listen cuz I needed to watch something. No disrespect, but the Spanish n***as watched Caliente, and the Black people would watch basketball or whatever. Not to gender anything out, but that’s just how it is. I just told everybody in the house, “Listen this is what’s going down. Tomorrow night is the Grammy Awards. Eminem, 50 and them are gonna be on so I want to watch it.” So the next day comes, Eminem runs out on stage with a “Free Yayo” shirt on for his performance, and I started throwing tables and screaming. I couldn’t n***ain’ believe it. Em is a real dude. I don’t care what nobody say about him or 50, man. Those are two of the realest people I know on the planet.
AllHipHop: So how crazy was it for you to have people from the suburbs and the hoods rocking “Free Yayo” T-shirts?
Yayo: It felt good, man. It felt so good to have that support while I was in jail. That’s what kept me going. The “Free Yayo” thing kept a n***a going in jail, straight up. Everyday that I woke up after that day, I told myself, ‘Let me just do this time, get out of here, and go on with my career.” But I tried not to think about what was going on on the outside too much cuz I had to think about what was going on inside. I can’t worry about what 50 and them are doing when I got ten guys with razors in my house, and some n***a just got slashed yesterday over some beef. I have to worry about what’s going on and how my day is gonna be in jail, cuz you can get killed in that mothern***aer.
AllHipHop: That actually leads into the next question perfectly. While you were in jail, were you treated any differently because you were Tony Yayo, and not some anonymous inmate?
Yayo: Of course. You got to understand it like this man: a criminal might like your music, but he doesn’t want to feel like he is sweating you. It’s a whole different thing. It’s a whole different thing when a criminal is your fan. A criminal isn’t gonna go out his way to tell that he likes your s**t. I’d say about 60% of the people in there hated me cuz a lot of n***as don’t like to see someone do good, and you’re Black. 40% of the n***as in there respected me, cuz they see me in population. I wasn’t in confinement or anything like that. I was right there with killers, n***as that hustle, you know, everybody. They respected my gangsta. I had to smack a couple of n***as, but it was nothing ever serious. They were a so-called number of hits out on me and all kinds of s**t, but nothing ever happened. Truthfully, I’m gonna be honest with you. I’m not trying to glorify my prison time or nothing, but when you’re in there, you do what you have to do. If I know someone is coming to stab me on my way to the sick hall, then I have a razor on me, too. If I had to cut somebody or stab somebody, then I would have did it. I just would have had to pay some lawyers to fix the situation.
AllHipHop: So when you got out the first time, and had to go right back in a matter of hours, what was going through your head?
Yayo: At that point, I was like, “Damn, I n***aed up trying to play catch up.” I came home, I had money in my account, Banks bought me some coats and s**t, and 50 bought me some jewelry and rings. I had my bank card. Women were around, so it was crazy. You know what an O.G. told me in jail? He said, “When you get out of jail, never try to play catch up. That’s when you get arrested, so just take your time.” I went to Peru with a fake passport! I had the fake passport on me, and I got locked up in 12 hours. I think I’m the first person on Earth to get out and locked up again that fast. I’m probably the only rapper you know who has two parole officers. I have a federal parole officer, and a state parole officer. So when they put the handcuffs on me, reality set back in. I may be “Tony Yayo” in the street, but when I’m in jail, I’m just “Tony Yayo in jail,” so I just gotta do me.
AllHipHop: Getting off of the jail topic now, can you comment on this beef between Shyne and 50 Cent?
Yayo: I don’t really know what’s going on with this kid. I can’t even tell you what the record is about. I don’t know about what’s going on or if she was signed to G-Unit. I never heard of him being signed to G-Unit. All I know right now is that Banks is number one in the country, and I’m on his album. I know that Buck is coming in August, and his album is crazy and I’m on that too. I have an album done now. I’m still working. 50 is working on his album, and Eminem is working on his. You know the D12 album is obviously out and pushing units. Everybody is just working, from what I know. I don’t even really know the kid Shyne. I know when I was locked up on the Island, he was in a different building. The building he was in, I think it was more high profile. I know I was in population. That’s the most I can say.
AllHipHop: Now can you comment on what went down at Summer Jam in New York City this past June? What exactly happened from your perspective?
Yayo: Summer Jam really wasn’t a big situation. We performed, did our thing, and 50 and them just got crazy and threw money out into the crowd. I don’t know how much money it was, and they threw it on some kids, and that’s it. Then the kids got upset, and started throwing chairs. I’m used to s**t like that. That was my first performance, but I was actually used to it. At every show we do, somebody has to fight, and the crowd gets rowdy when we do our songs. Violence occurs at every G-Unit show, but that’s just the crowd. They get hyped off of our s**t.
AllHipHop: Let’s talk about your solo album. What can people expect to hear when that drops?
Yayo: On my album, I’m working with 50, Eminem, Banks, Buck, The Game. I got tracks from Em, Dr. Dre, this kid Domingo, Havoc, Sha Money of course. I got a lot of s**t.
AllHipHop: When do you think that will come out?
Yayo: That should be out in the fall some time.
AllHipHop: Do you think fans see you as an MC right now, or do you think it’s more about Tony Yayo as this name being dropped in G-Unit songs?
Yayo: I think people look at me as a good MC, but they gotta hear some s**t from me now. They haven’t really heard enough of my s**t yet. Like, when I drop my album, they are gonna put me on a certain level. Like, when you see XXL and they have their lists, the one where they had the replacements for Biggie. 50 was like number two, and Banks was number ten. I think I deserve to be at least number six on that list. But you know what? The people need to hear some s**t first. After this album, they are gonna respect me as an MC.
AllHipHop: The Lloyd Banks album was number one for a minute, and Young Buck’s is already receiving great reviews. How does it feel to come right out of jail and have verses on two of the biggest albums this summer?
Yayo: When I came home from federal prison, Sha Money put me in his Range, and I went straight to the studio. Banks is such a real n***a, that he pushed his album back, like from getting mastered. I actually did my verse for his album on a Tuesday, and it was supposed to be mastered that Wednesday. As soon as I got out, I got on the Banks album. Then after that, I got on Buck’s album, and then I did four songs for my album. All of that in one day, cuz there is no plan B for me man. If this rap s**t don’t work, I’m right back on the corner pitching rocks. That’s the only thing I know, man. One thing I’ve learned from 50 is that your work ethic is everything in this game.
AllHipHop: One addition happened to the G-Unit crew while you were locked up, and that’s The Game. How do you feel about him and the buzz surrounding him?
Yayo: I’ve known Game for a couple of years. From like the video for “In Da Club”. I met him through Dr. Dre. I’ve heard some s**t from before that, and I think now he’s gonna come with some fire. He has some fire from what I’ve heard. G-Unit don’t put out wack s**t, so you know how that goes.
AllHipHop: What’s up with this new Whoo Kid mixtape, “G-Unit Radio Pt. 8”? Whoo Kid has said that it’s going to be one of the craziest mixtapes to drop in awhile.
Yayo: Yeah, I think he has some s**t from me on there, but I don’t know what the n***a he has put on it. He has some joints off of Buck’s album, including the one with me, “Bonafide Hustler,” which is crazy. There should be some freestyles from me on there, too. Right now, I’m not really worried about mixtapes, though. I love them, but I’m focused on knocking these album songs out.
AllHipHop: Up until recently, people haven’t really heard things coming from you. It’s been coming more from the rest of the G-Unit. Do you think there are any misconceptions about Tony Yayo that people have?
Yayo: I think that I’m an underdog. People never heard s**t from me, and I’m gonna give them some real s**t. That’s what I think. A lot of people don’t know, like, I got some heat. I know they haven’t heard from me in awhile, so I have a point to prove. I have high expectations for myself in anything I do. If I were still slinging crack, I wanna be the biggest hustler on the block. When I rap, I make sure I’m gonna be one of the best. I’m gonna be up there. Being with 50 and them, I have real high expectations. Consistency is the key to all of this. When you’re consistent, you’re gonna win. If you can hit a jumper every time you shoot one, you’re gonna win. If you’re a drug dealer and you can sell a key everyday, you’re gonna be the best dealer. That’s what it comes down to.
AllHipHop: In closing, is there anything that you want to say to the people before we wrap this up?
Yayo: I just wanna shout out to all the people in jail, man. All the people, and their families. Take care of the person cuz it’s two different worlds. Shout to n***as in the federal, state, Riker’s Island. Shout to the people that’s not coming home. I was around people that aren’t ever coming home when I was in federal prison. I just wanna shout out them. Shout out to everybody in the system.