Tony Yayo and 50 Cent spent a good chunk of their lives as a team, rapping, hustling, and struggling together on the mean streets of New York City.
Yet when 50 Cent hit his superstar stride in 2003, Yayo wasn’t by his side. That’s because Yayo’s previous criminal activity caught up with him: He was arrested and jailed in December 2002 on a weapons charge while 50 Cent became the most ubiquitous, successful rapper in the world.
But 50 Cent didn’t forget about his friend during his jail stint. He hyped Yayo every chance he got, sporting “Free Yayo” T-shirts and promoting Yayo’s as an integral part of his G-Unit clique.
Yayo’s reputation in the streets grew. It also helped that before he did his time, he spent months furiously recording raps, so he had a presence on 50 Cent’s album, as well as those from fellow G-Unit members Lloyd Banks and Young Buck, and Game.
Now free, Yayo is ready to make a superstar run of his own with his album debut, “Thoughts of a Predicate Felon.”
AP: So you went to prison, came out with a million dollars and now you’re touring the world with 50 Cent. Is there anything you’d do over in life?
Yayo: One thing I would like to do over in life is be able to see my baby born, Maniyah. She’s everything to me, my first. That makes me want to have another one because I never seen a baby being born. I’d be the guy with the camera recording it.
AP: What was your childhood like?
Yayo: I had a good upbringing. I’m the youngest, I got an older brother and older sister. My father left when I was 16. When you younger you don’t understand stuff like that. As I got older, I understood they didn’t like each other anymore. My mother did most of the working. She was a nurse’s aide and tuned into a registered nurse. She still works. I told her she don’t have to, but...
AP: What did your parents constantly tell you while you were growing up?
Yayo: Well my father used to always tell me, ’Stay off the boulevard.’ That’s still in my head (laughs). What’s crazy is that made me want to go to the boulevard more. The same boulevard he told me to stay off is the same boulevard I got arrested on.
AP: What did you learn from jail?
Yayo: When you’re in tight situations, you see who your true friends are. Three things: when you’re on your death bed, when you’re broke, or when you’re in jail, you see who your true friends and family are. A true friend shouldn’t care about the money situation. They should try to help you. When you’re dying everybody comes to see you, if they love you. When you’re in jail, it’s like, ’You know, if you can’t come see me, write me a letter.’ Don’t send me any money. I’m straight. Just write me a letter on what’s going on in the world.’
AP: When people wrote you, what things were you surprised to hear about the outside world?
Yayo: Like telephones got cameras now. Throwbacks is played out. It’s wild. Everything changed. I couldn’t believe you could take a picture with a phone. And now it’s a regular thing. Everybody has a picture phone.
AP: Word on the street is that you’re a pretty punctual guy.
Yayo: Yeah, yeah, I love to be. It’s a silent disrespect if you come somewhere late. I remember one time, I had a meeting with a lady and I was gonna be late. So I bought her some flowers. And I apologized to her. I can say one performance I came late, on this “Anger Management” tour. I was supposed to open up the show. I was real upset about it. And I didn’t get to open up the show. That was the worst thing that ever happened to me.
AP: How is G-Unit handling Eminem’s exit from the tour because of an addiction to sleep medication?
Yayo: It’s kind of a big deal. Nobody’s mad at him, we just understand where he’s coming from. He’s exhausted. I understand how it is when you miss family too. Hopefully he’ll get better and he’ll change his mind and come back on the road. Every state we’ve been to, he tore it down. But he did look kind of tired on a couple of the last shows. When I seen him personally, in his face, he looked tired.
AP: Outside of the money , is going on tour worth it?
Yayo: I think it’s worth it. You know why? Because the money and all the profits we make it helps our family, it gives them shelter, it takes them to college. And it’s better than being in the hood. I don’t want to be in the hood.