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50 styled himself for the shoot. And I was surprised that not only he styled himself, but that he styled himself well. And when I say “well,” [I mean] he looked good, but he also styled himself like a [professional] stylist would. He brought clothes that he didn’t even wear. He had more [clothes than necessary so] he had options. He had very clear ideas, like, “Yo, I’m gonna have this look. I’m gonna have [that] look. I’m gonna have the G-Unit jersey or I’m gonna have a flight suit. Or I have this holster.” And he knew he was wearing the holster with no shirt. There was no detail that hadn’t been thought through. So he was very well prepared for [the shoot].
How was his sense of preparation compared to when you first met him?
Julian Alexander: The person he is today [is who] he always saw himself as. So before he had an album out, he would say, “Yo, I’m a do an album and I’m a do a movie.” He would talk about writing books. And [back then] you would look at him and think, “Is he gonna make this stuff happen or is he delusional?” Because the things he would talk about were so far advanced from the physical space he was in. I never thought he was delusional, but I was sorta, “Yo, you don’t even have a record out [yet].” But he was 10 steps past that. He had envisioned all of this for himself.
Even on the first shoot that we’d done together he was still very much on top of [things]. He’s not one of these people who’s like smokin’ weed — they’re not focused, they’re late. I would get [to the photo shoot] on time and he would be there before me. He’s that type of dude . He took everything seriously because it fit into something bigger. And the reason he was sittin’ with me [at my office] when I would work on artwork was because he always saw himself as running a label and he wanted to know who does what and how does it work. He would sit with the A&R person. He would sit with the marketing person. He was up there [at the Sony offices] because he was a student of what was going on [in the music business]. It fed into what his bigger plan was.
So is it pretty safe to say that his surviving getting shot nine times was a catalyst for his increased focus?
Julian Alexander: I can’t say because we never really spoke about that directly in those ways, but I think [surviving the shooting] gave him a singular [purpose]. Like it honed some of the energy. At the time his attitude was very much, “Are you for me or against me?” And in my opinion, I think that’s why he went at Ja [Rule] the way he did. I think he had to be bigger than [him]. That was the target. I think it gave him something to work towards. A point that he had to surpass. And I think because he put his energy into that I think it helped him get there a little bit quicker. I think it put a little bit more urgency on things.
Okay, so you’re at the photoshoot and you started off [shooting] these portraits behind the glass. Was the glass really there?
Julian Alexander: When we planned on doing this, I spoke with [the prop stylist] and I said, “Look we are gonna shoot this cover behind glass and I don’t know how you’re gonna do it but I need you to shoot a piece of glass…”
He’s like,” I can do it!” and said that he could simulate a shattered glass effect with plexiglass. He could drill a hole and crack it in a way where it could look like a bullet had been shot through real glass.
“You sure it’s gonna work?” I said.
And he’s like, “Yeah it’s gonna work, I promise.”
“ Aight .” So we get to the shoot and the first thing that I wanna see is the plexiglass and it looks like [a sheet of] plexiglass with a drilled hole in it.
[Hesitate s] He tried. It’s not like it was just some throwaway thing and he didn’t put effort into it, but it wasn’t what it needed to be. So I said, “Look, you gotta go shoot the glass.” So he left. How he shot that glass was a mystery to all of us. If I remember correctly, he went to a gun range. He may have used a friend’s gun, but it definitely wasn’t provided by 50 or anyone else that was on set. When he came back with the glass, we didn’t have much time to discuss it because we were shooting, I was just happy that he got it done.
He brought back the glass, Sacha put it in front of the camera, and he [photographed] 50 through the shattered glass. We also shot the glass separately, we shot 50 separately. And the image ended up being a composite of all these things. If you look in the center areas, you’ll see parts where you see 50’s skin, you see him and it’s a little blurred through the glass —
— ’cause it’s real.
Julian Alexander: — ’cause it’s real. But then there are points where you see his face crystal clear because we took the glass away. We kind of masked out the glass and the cracks and things like that.
So you ended up with a lot of retouching.
Julian Alexander: There is a ton of retouching. The holster he’s wearing is really a Gucci holster, but legally we couldn’t do that. We switched the G’s to “50’s” to “5-O’s” throughout.
It’s such a great solution and overall sharply executed.
Julian Alexander: That’s the beauty for me. You look at it and it looks really simple but it took a lot to get to that. It’s a team effort. The retoucher was incredible. Sacha was incredible. And I did my best to make it what it is — that cover it took a lot to get to [the final version]. His head I think was switched. I don’t think that’s the head on his body in that [photo] frame. And then typographically – it’s very clean, but I chose to go with this script font because I think again the Die Tryin’ really is communicated there. I wanted the type to feel really rich and sophisticated. So it took a little time to really figure those things out.
I will say that I didn’t end up showing a lot of [mock-ups] for this. When we saw that cover with the red background, we were like, “This one stays like this.” It didn’t need anything more.
Let’s talk about the photos inside the CD booklet. So everything was photographed in front of a white cyc (a seamless background with no corners used for photography) and the street shots were added later?
Julian Alexander: Everything was shot in front of a white cyc. 50 was shot in front of a white cyc. It was important that the entire photo shoot was done in one location. It was easier logistically. It was also —
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