WHAT DID YOU do last night? Nice meal? Drink with friends? Sweat your own body weight in a packed nightclub? Well, guess what? 50 Cent was, he recounts gleefully, “fucking with all these hos.” He’s not, you suspect, referring to unconventional gardening. His venue of choice was in London.
“Night club,” he explains. “China White’s.” Pleasant evening? “The bitches,” he beams, “they love me.”
But here’s an irony. The man born and raised as Curtis Jackson in the Southside Jamaica neighbourhood of Queens in New York, is lying. There was no “running around” for him the night before we meet. No hos, bitches, or tacky nightspots either. Instead he was in the studio with his G Unit sidekick Lloyd Banks, working on tracks for Banks’ solo career. That smile again. “I was fucking with you, right?”
This is how you play the game if you want to be a hip-hop superstar in 2004. Talk it like a gangsta party animal, work it like a serious professional. 50 – or Fiddy, if you want to get intimate – knows the value of a good street rep. He was famous for being a bad boy before his debut album got anywhere near stores (a former crack dealer, he’d been in and out of the clink several times and survived both a knife attack and being shot nine times – the latter of which, “hurts”, apparently, “it hurts”). And he understands that his career is propelled as much by his ‘glamorous’ image as his beats and rhymes.
But he also knows that the gangbang schtick will only take him so far. If he doesn’t take care of business – be it developing the career of his proteges G Unit or working on material for his second record – then he’ll stagnate, become an irrelevance. And that’s the last thing 50 wants to happen. He said his ambition was to “Get Rich Or Die Trying” (at least that’s what he titled his album) and he very nearly managed both at the same time. Now, with more money than he knows what to do with, all that motivates him is the satisfaction of success.
“I’m obsessed with success,” the rapper admits. “Being shot wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. It was being dropped from the record label afterwards. After I made the decision to write music for a living, that I wasn’t going to do the other things that I did in my life. And to be shot and have the company become so scared of you that they don’t want to do business with you any more is tough.”
Was it difficult because he was facing failure?
“Yeah,” 50 nods. “Because when I got dropped I didn’t have any direction for a moment.”
These days, 50 Cent has one direction: onwards. And just in case he ever forgets he has the success he craves, he’s surrounded by its trappings. The first thing you see when the elevator door opens at the fifth floor of the Landmark hotel in London is a mass of muscles in an American football shirt. The second is his friend, another man mountain in sportswear. Outside room 534, there’s one more. You ask if this is where the interviews are happening and he can barely grunt an affirmative. He’s not made for conversation. He’s the price of fame, hip-hop style.
“I take precautions because I’m from the bottom,” 50 explains. “People will do things. It may make no sense to you, but they’ll do it just because it’s effective in their environment. Even if they shot at my car, with no intentions of actually doing anything to me, knowing that my car is bulletproof, it does something for their reputation. ‘Oh, they shot at 50′. So I only take these precautions because I know this.”
Is it worth it?
“The success is worth it,” he replies. “I want to be successful, that’s what I want from my life. And you can’t allow people who aren’t successful to affect you to the point where you lose your interest in becoming successful. Because they’re not blessed with the opportunities, you’ll always get people who are jealous. Even the people who do well look at you and have an attitude because you’re doing good. So it’s like ‘what the fuck are you upset about?'”
On the G Unit album, Beg For Mercy, one lyric states “every day’s a death threat”. Once upon a time, those threats would have been from his rivals. Fame, however, has brought 50 a whole new bunch of enemies.
“People say things, that’s definite,” he laughs. “If you could go to jail for saying you were going to do something, huh, we’d have no room. We’d all be in jail. My old friends are making better enemies than my enemies. Because they envy me. I’ve moved into a new situation and they wish they were in this space. But they don’t wish they’re me when I’m shot up. They don’t wish they’re me when I’m going through the hard situations. And now things are happening so fast it feels like I’m on a rollercoaster. I don’t have to pay to be on it, but it doesn’t stop. It just keeps going. Like wow.”
Lovers quickly become enemies too. 50 attended the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards with Kill Bill actress Vivica A Fox on his arm. Less than a year later, the now-estranged pair have taken to trading insults in the press and at press conferences.
“I’m experiencing all kind of new things. I went out with a woman that I thought was a nice woman, Miss Vivica Fox, and she turned out to be a nice woman. But I just didn’t know that I wasn’t allowed to go out with a woman in public. As you become a celebrity, I don’t think you should go out with anyone that you’re interested in romantically, unless you’ve been with that person to the point where you’ve already made up your mind. You shouldn’t be going out with her unless you’re engaged.”
The answer, it seems, is to keep his girlfriends a secret.
“Yeah. In order to keep people out of your business. While you’re keeping it a secret, you’ll have a million people in your business. And as soon as you go out publicly, you’ll have five million people in your business. And they’ll start creating rumours and saying things that will make it difficult for you to grow. If you like a person, it’ll cause conflict. People saying things about them makes you not comfortable being with that person.”
How does 50 think he’s changed with success?
“Financially I’ve changed a lot. I’m from the bottom and you feel like finances is the answer to all your problems. And it’s not until you acquire those finances that you realise there’s always going to be new obstacles. You start to view life very different. For a long time, I would look at the magazines and see the Lambourginis and Ferraris and Bentleys and go ‘Goddamn’. You don’t even imagine having them, because they’re so far from where you are financially that it’s just like ‘wow’. And then in a year’s time (clicks fingers) you can have all of them. And it just feels so awkward. Even though you can have them, I feel like I shouldn’t buy them. As long as I know that I can have them, I’m content. I don’t actually need them.”
Even if he wanted to buy a fleet of fancy new runabouts, 50 claims he doesn’t have the time. He’s either recording or touring or turning his surprisingly boyish charm on for journalists in a string of hotel rooms around the world.
“I’ve been on the road this entire year, so I live in a hotel,” he says. “I bought a new house but I don’t be there. I haven’t been in my house for more than two weeks. Because I’ve been everywhere having to do everything. The finances that I’m acquiring as a rap artist, there’s not even time to spend it. So it’s like you’re buying a house, you have it built, it’s great. Because you can use it for your taxes. So it’s more like business than it is about you buying.”
So it just becomes meaningless.
“It’s all business.”
Were 50 Cent to drop dead today (with or without the aid of a hail of bullets), these three words would form a worthy epitaph. As it is, you half expect to be given an embossed card bearing the same slogan. All that matters is success: it’s both an aim and a reward, something to keep you going when everything else has paled. When 50 says that his new album will be aggressive, you know it’s because that’s what sells right now. It’s what success demands.
“I’ve planned ahead the whole time,” 50 nods. “I always wanted to have my own record company. Now I have a subsidiary of Interscope records with G Unit records. I released Beg For Mercy and I’m happy with the success of that project. And I just want to continue making good music.”
And to carry on being his own self-fulfilling prophecy.
© Ian Watson, Sunday Herald, August 2004