50 Cent: Money Talks
50 Cent’s story is a remarkable rags-to-riches tale of survival and success. On a recent visit to Ibiza, the surprisingly soft-centred rapper opened up about acting, aggression and appreciating what you’ve got.
ON the street credit barometer 50 Cent is in the high-pressure zone. Raised by a drug-dealing mother in Queens, New York, he’s been stabbed, he’s been shot (multiple times), he’s dealt drugs, he’s toted guns and he’s done time. He’s rapped the gangster talk and walked the gangster walk. Then, with guidance from hip-hop producers Jam Master Jay, Eminem and Dr Dre, he turned over a new leaf and became a multi-platinum selling recording artist with his sensational 2003 debut studio album Get Rich Or Die Tryin’.
Now a proverbial powerhouse with entrepreneurial fingers in many pies, the rich superstar with the cheap moniker has climbed the rap star ranks to become a respected music industry mogul. He caught the tail end of the Hennessey-swigging hip-hop scene of the early Noughties, which – endorsed by rappers Snoop Dogg and P Diddy in all of their bling and bravado – seemingly valued material success over mortality, even after the bloody US turf wars of the ‘90s took the lives of legendary rap artists Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur.
The media has presented him as a fearless force to be reckoned with, who could kick off quicker than you can say “pop a cap”. From record company beefs to Twitter disses and online rants, his public feuds have been well-documented.
So it’s some surprise when an unassuming man arrives at Ibiza’s Fenicia Prestige hotel, beaming, carrying his own luggage, without any airs and graces or a hint of hostility about him. His minimal ‘entourage’ – which includes his fellow G-Unit member Tony Yayo, who will perform with him later that night at the I Want My MTV Ibiza gig at Amnesia – are friendly and professional, and there’s not a bullet-proof vest in sight.
In person, 36-year-old Curtis Jackson – as he’s known to his grandmother (who raised him after his mother was killed in suspicious circumstances) – is gracious and endearingly bashful. Muscular and laid back, he’s dressed in black with his signature baseball cap. His only bling a pair of silver trainers and an SK medallion around his neck – which doesn’t so much flaunt his wealth as promote the charitable energy drink, Street King, which he’s launching to aid famine relief in Africa. Yes, Fiddy may be rolling in it, but he’s no scrooge.
Still, it’s difficult to gauge – meeting the soft man with the hard reputation – just who 50 Cent really is. Much publicised rapper rivalries and social media scraps have seen him put his two cents worth in, but in person he’s not the least bit antagonistic. “I’ve always had to be aggressive enough to get by in the environment,” he says. “And then [be] my grandmother’s baby at home.”
That environment is undoubtedly Queens, the neighbourhood that saw him come of age pushing crack on the strip and competing as an amateur boxer. “Under my circumstances you have to be aggressive enough to get by, so I have those qualities within my character, but it’s when I’m under circumstances that I feel threatened. When you establish that you’re not the guy to try it with, they kind of leave you alone. My first album was all the dysfunctional behaviour that I’d been exposed to. So, at different time periods I acted with those different elements… but it’s not necessarily all my character.”
There are several characters, it seems: alongside ghetto fabulous rapper Fiddy there’s father-of-one Fiddy, empire-building businessman Fiddy, published author Fiddy, photographer Fiddy and – following in the inevitable footsteps of rappers Ice Cube, LL Cool J, Mos Def and P Diddy – film actor Fiddy. Considering his various alter egos, acting, it seems, is an art form he can easily identify with.
“The actor, you’ll fall in love with his performance… then his presentation on the couch to talk about the actual film is so sophisticated that you don’t even know if you like him anymore. You’re like ‘ah this is a big letdown. You mean you’re not the actual guy from the movie?’ Because some of these guys really have like strong auras as aggressive people, and they’re the [most] selfless people in the world when you meet them.”
It’s an interesting analogy – the deception of the public versus private persona. Is that how he sees himself: misconceived? He answers in a roundabout way, referring, indirectly, to the perception of hip-hop as a whole.
“Maybe. Because hip-hop culture has shifted so dramatically, there is no one that they believe. A lot of artists grew up on TV… look at Lil’ Wayne, 16 years old and he was already on television. I don’t think they wanted the aggressive content from those artists… it’s not as effective as someone who’s actually been living under those circumstances.”
Lil’ Wayne may not be so high on the street cred barometer, but while Jackson’s the real deal with the bullet holes to prove it, he candidly admits, earlier to MTV, that being a rap star’s hardly brain surgery. “There are no requirements for hip-hop culture. You can be almost retarded. You don’t have to do a PhD. Nah, you just walk in, couple some words together, and they are like ‘yeah he’s my rapper’.”
Far from retarded, Jackson appears philosophical and business savvy with deadpan wit to boot. An evident workaholic, he went straight into the recording studio following our interview in Ibiza, rather than cut shapes in the club with recent collaborator David Guetta.
He’s currently wrapping up his fifth studio album, due for release in November, while writing a novel “from the perspective of a kid that’s being a bully”. Is it taken from experience? “It’s a little bit of me in there. But… I didn’t wanna make it completely me. It just shows that a lot of [bullying] is not completely bad intentions. The kid just doesn’t know how to deal with his emotions in the right way.”
Reluctant to slow the pace, it’s no surprise Jackson’s juggling numerous projects. If you’ve been shot nine times and lived to rap the tale, you probably wouldn’t take a second for granted. “I’ve been on the side of not having a lot longer than I’ve had, you know so, I’m conscious of it. And I don’t mind the work when you’re doing what you love. I’ve seen some artists become complacent, like, artists that I’ve committed to working with, and it’s mind boggling to me. Under the circumstances this is a dream sequence to be recognised as an artist that’s worthy of people’s interest. Not to work to sustain it is amazing I think.”
Following this tour he’ll head back to his mansion estate in Connecticut. It sounds far removed from the impoverished hood from which he came. But then he mentions that he inherited the property from badass former boxer Mike Tyson (who’s surely swimming in street cred) and it doesn’t seem so far removed after all. “I’m not there often,” Jackson says. “That’s a good problem for an entertainer in this climate; to be actively working. It’s a good indication that you haven’t lost the interest that you initially generated”. Judging by the crowds literally hanging from the rafters at Amnesia that night, the interest he generated is far from waning.
First published in Pacha Magazine, Ibiza, October 2011.
© Abbey Stirling