When people think of G-Unit, the first person to come to mind is usually 50 Cent, and with good reason. But in terms of being the heart and soul of the clique, that distinction would be reserved for Tony Yayo, whose infectious energy and potent bars are very much a part of the glue that keeps the Unit intact.

Known to many as the capo of the Unit and 50's right-hand man, Yayo has put in work in the game, first learning the ropes as a member of Fif's entourage during the Jam Master Jay and "How to Rob" years before stepping into the booth himself during the crew's dominant rise to power in the early aughts. Despite not releasing a solo album in nearly a decade, Yayo remains a presence within the rap landscape through his work with the Unit as well as the slew of mixtapes he has released over the years.

Yayo is presently riding high off the momentum of his standout performance on G-Unit's The Beast EP, with no plans to rest on his laurels.

"I'm working on this El Chapo [3] joint," the Jamaica, Queens-bred MC tells The Boombox. "I got some freestyles I'ma release real quick, a whole bunch of '90s beats, and I'm just taking my time. But [with] El Chapo, I'ma just come feed the streets. 'Cause when I don't have an album out, I gotta put mixtapes out. I just dropped Gunpowder Guru 1, 2, 3. El Chapo 1 and 2, then I did Hawaiian Snow with Danny Brown. I was hot before him 'cause that was an artist that ventured off and did his thing and I made everyone pay attention. And that was a classic mixtape that people really like, that Hawaiian Snow. "

As far as what listeners can expect from El Chapo 3, Yayo isn't ready to release that information just yet, but he shares a few names of possible producers that will contribute to the tape.

"Real street gritty... right now, I don't like to really put a name on the producer 'cause it could be any dude from the basement," the 37-year-old states. "But I'm definitely working with Illmind, Cardo, man, the list goes on and on. My first album I had Domingo on it. He worked with KRS-One. So it can be anybody. The dude that made 'I Get Money,' that was his first beat -- Apex made that. Like Banks knows, he was the first dude to mess with Cardiak."

The Thoughts of a Predicate Felon creator has never shied away from collaborating with other rappers. When asked about surprise guests that may pop up on El Chapo 3, he hints at a few few former collaborators but prefers to focus on handling his end of the bargain before calling in reinforcements.

"I'ma have some features on there. I've had features all through my tapes, like I done did songs with Max B, French [Montana], Boosie... everybody, man. Yo Gotti, Waka [Flocka Flame], Maino. It's up in the air, whatever it is," Yayo confirms. "What I learned from Banks is you get the work done, you worry about the features later. Don't be big on features because a person might be busy, they might not have time, they might not be able to get a record to you in a certain amount of time, so just do you. You worry about all that other stuff later."

And judging by the freestyles he's been flooding the net with, Yayo is setting the stage for what will be a very focused effort. The MC sounds hungry as ever and capable of competing with the best in the game.

"Now, I just gotta work," Yayo responds when asked about his mindstate heading into this project. "So when I go up there and I do freestyles, if I go up to [Hot 97's Funkmaster] Flex, if I go up to Power 105 or whatever it may be, I'ma bust they ass and show 'em that I can do it. Sometimes I think that people underrate me because at the time we was flaming up, I went to jail and I came back, so it's like 'Aight, what he gonna do?'"

Mixtapes may keep your name abuzz, but actual albums are what separate a dope rapper from a great artist in the eyes of many. And with his debut album, Thoughts of a Predicate Felon having been released a decade ago in 2005, the G-Unit faithful have been checking for news of a Tony Yayo sophomore LP to no avail. Yayo chalks up his lack of a proper follow-up to label politics. "The first album was definitely a classic, it went gold and platinum worldwide, so I'm happy for that," he affirms. "It's so crazy. I was kinda upset I didn't come out with my second album. I got an advance for it and everything like that, but it was a whole bunch of politics going on with, like, Interscope and with us."

Yayo does sound open to the possibility of releasing a sophomore LP, but is mum on an actual timetable when pressed. "I don't like to put a date on anything, but I would love to come out with a second album being that my first album's 10-year anniversary is soon," the rhymer admits.

A 10-year anniversary in the game is a welcomed feat for Yayo, whose Thoughts of a Predicate Felon arrived on Aug. 30, 2005. The "Talk of New York" sounds prideful when speaking about the album and credits its staying power to his longevity. He pridefully boasts that his "singles still killing the club." "I just did a show with Banks in Boston and I'm still rocking. So I'm glad that my songs like 'So Seductive,' 'Pimpin,' 'I Know You Don't Love Me,' records like "Drama Setter" with Eminem, they stand the test of time. So that's big for me, man."

The last 15 years of Tony Yayo's career is filled with valleys and peaks. From making history with G-Unit's now legendary mixtapes to being incarcerated during the height of the crew's popularity to dissension in the ranks, he has weathered the storm and is in position for a career revival -- many artists facing his hardships wouldn't have prospered in much the same way. Fully aware of his battle scars and the unlikely position he's in, Yayo is thankful for his place in the game and doesn't take it for granted.

"I just wanna feed the street and give them what they want. Be happy that you're here because it's all about the marathon, man," he offers when asked what it feels like to still be relevant. "From saying I dropped my album in '05 and people still remember me in 2015, that's good enough for me, 'cause we're from 134 Guy Brewer [Blvd.], so all of this to me is a blessing. And for us to come back around again and all the spotlights on us, it's a blessing again in disguise."

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