50 Cent’s initial public offering was one of pure intimidation: a swoll street disciple whose ubiquitous bulletproof vest could barely contain his bulging pecs. It was a clever bit of hip-hop branding—a stark reminder that the man formerly known as Curtis Jackson had been forged in the fires of South Jamaica, Queens, and once withstood nine gunshots at point blank range. One of those bullets penetrated his left cheek, granting him his trademark slurred delivery that’s earned him a Grammy and moved over 30 million albums worldwide.
But that is a thing of the past. He’s still got the impressive pecs, but these days they’re buried underneath a bespoke designer suit, and that don’t fuck with me glare he sported on the cover of Get Rich or Die Tryin’ has been replaced by a Cheshire cat smile.
“You gotta learn how to diversify,” 50 Cent says with a grin. “I can generate interest from multiple avenues, and that’s how you figure out how to stay.”
Among 50 Cent’s “multiple avenues” of income: the record label G-Unit Records, the film production company Cheetah Vision, energy drink SK Energy, boxing promotion firm SMS Promotions, and SMS Audio, which sells his Street by 50 headphones. He also famously cleared $100 million from his shares of VitaminWater.
The rapper-turned-entrepreneur is hard at work promoting the second season of Power, which premieres June 6. 50 Cent serves as executive producer and co-star of Courtney Kemp Agboh’s gritty crime drama about a successful New York City nightclub owner, Ghost (Omari Hardwick), who struggles to reconcile his new life with his drug kingpin past.
Power is to 50 Cent as Entourage is to Mark Wahlberg—an exaggerated version of his life story. It’s been well documented that 50 began selling crack at the age of 12, and was arrested at 19 for selling four vials of cocaine to an undercover cop.
“You can get a car in my neighborhood and look around you and see that nobody else has anything and think, ‘I’m at the top of what I can do here.’ And the vehicle will put such a light on you that something has to happen,” 50 says. “You become the target of law enforcement or the real stick-up kids. This happened to me right before I made the decision to write music full time.”
“At that point it’s like: I’ve got a 400SE Benz, I’m 19 years old, and I’m lookin’ around the neighborhood and nobody has anything, so I’m a sore thumb out there. And when I park the car, I’m sitting out there like everybody else,” he continues. “When it’s going good it seems really, really good, and then it suddenly slams shut—no matter how long of a run you have.”
On the subject of law enforcement targeting young black men—an issue that is explored a bit in Power—50 Cent says he’s been keeping an eye on the zeitgeist, and what’s been happening with Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and many others.
I ask him how he feels about the current epidemic, and his eyes grow wide. “These things have been happening. I don’t think it just happened yesterday,” he says, shaking his head. “It’s just now, we live in a time when technology is capturing this stuff. There isn’t really accountability yet, but it’s getting exposed. It’s tough because I think law enforcement should go through evaluations at points, and should police themselves, too, instead of creating this gang energy where it’s ‘us’ against ‘them’—because ‘them’ is the general public. It’s not just a specific criminal element, it’s everybody; anyone who’s looked like someone you’ve previously had an issue with. I always see someone that mirrors me involved in stuff, and I see people who look like you involved in stuff. A killer has no look.”
He pauses. “There’s no financial payoff that makes [police] have any gratification for what they’re doing. The vested status, where it’s, ‘I’m runnin’ the light and I don’t even have a call, but fuck it, who’s gonna tell me anything,’ that power starts to serve as their gratification, and that they’re able to do things other people aren’t.”“It’s tough because it’s a necessary evil,” adds 50. “Say there’s no law enforcement? Then there’s The Purge.”
On Power, 50 plays Kanan, a drug trafficker who’s recently been released from prison. Since he’s been away, all of the low-level dealers beneath him have risen to become prominent figures in the drug trade. Since he taught these cats the ropes, he feels he’s entitled to all of their spoils.
“There are so many versions of him in the environment I grew up in, and it’s consistent with a lot of people’s actions. I’ve spent a lot of time explaining people from my past, and Courtney’s been able to take what’s at the heart of these people I’ve come across and inject them into the characters.”
Yes, unlike a lot of poseur rappers these days, 50 Cent actually lived this. He wasn’t, say, an ex-teen Canadian soap star (Drake) or a former prison guard (Rick Ross), but a product of the streets. 50’s spent a great deal of time calling out rappers for their lack of street credibility—from Ja Rule to The Game to Rick Ross—and a part of him laments what the rap game has transformed into. “When I came in, shit was different,” he says. “It was so important that you had authenticity connected to the things you were saying. Now, a lot of people don’t have that authenticity. It’s not ‘hip-hop culture’—it’s just ‘pop culture.’ Drake is not just a rapper, but a big rapper. And with [Rick Ross], what you do prior to you deciding to write music? There are no limitations.”
He shrugs. “Things evolve,” continues 50. “If you’re against it, you’re against the guy that supports it, because the majority of people who purchase the material to make these projects successful aren’t from the environment. It’s just their tour of the ghetto without being in danger—being aware of and hip to what’s going on there. Listening to the music gives you a rough outline.”
50 has evolved as well, and one of his aforementioned business ventures is SMS Promotions—a boxing promotion company that was formerly TMT (The Money Team), and run with Floyd Mayweather. The two parted ways professionally in December 2012, but remain close friends. And 50 admits he recently won a whopping $1.6 million betting on Mayweather in his championship bout against Manny Pacquiao.
“I’m very happy. Very, very happy,” he says, grinning from ear to ear. “Champ—Floyd is the only person that I would hop-in on like that. But I knew. When I was actually trying to make the fight between Floyd and Pacquiao right before Floyd did 60 days in jail, he told me to get in contact with Michael Koncz and the guys from MP Promotions to try and make the fight, and I started doing that. I felt like he would win the fight then, and it didn’t change. I cussed him out sometimes because he did stupid things, but he’s like my little brother.”
I mention that some circles feel Mayweather didn’t win that fight, and merely danced around the ring throwing the occasional jab.
“Ah, man, he won that fight!” exclaims 50. “People don’t like it when you talk a lot of shit and can actually back it up. If you’re the champ, you’ve got to take it from ’em. Even afterwards, all that hoopla about Pacquiao’s shoulder and his arm being hurt? Come on, man! We’ve seen fighters hurt their arm and have to fight with one arm. We didn’t see at any point that he couldn’t throw punches.”
50’s involved in so many ventures that speaking with him can be a bit dizzying at times—like when things segue to rumors that 50 and his G-Unit Records imprint G-Note Records, which is more R&B and pop than rap, is interested in signing recently departed One Direction singer Zayn Malik.
“He’s hot! Zayn’s hot,” says 50. “I haven’t met with him yet, but I like the idea. He is hot, man. He’s no joke.”
Our talk eventually circles back to his character of Kanan on Power. The character is, in a way, a reminder of 50’s past—that not too long ago, many men wished death upon him. It’s the reason why, image issues aside, he wore that bulletproof vest all the damn time. Now that the death threats have subsided, 50’s detractors merely consist of critics who don’t believe he’ll ever rediscover the magic of Get Rich or Die Tryin’ or his early mixtapes Guess Who’s Back? And 50 Cent is the Future. With his sixth studio album, Street King Immortal, looming, it’s a question that’s been weighing on the 39-year-old.
“When you put out new music, you get the people that want to resist it because of the success you’ve had,” he says. “When you win for the first time everyone supports it because it’s confirmation that you can make it from nothing, and the fan thinks, ‘Oh, I can do that too.’ But then they start comparing you to you, so there’s no one to beat. They’ll say, ‘It’s cool, but it’s not as good as The Carter,’ and they’ll pit you against other artists, too. It’s not what it was, man.”