Rich but still tryin’

He may not be down to his last 50 cent, but Cur­tis Jack­son has “lost mil­lions”. Now, he says, the hip-hop world needs to get back in touch with its roots and “the harsh re­al­ity of peo­ple’s lives dur­ing the re­ces­sion”. 50 Cent tells Brian Boyd about cut­tin

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story -

THIRTY SEVEN bath­rooms but the hot-tub only fits 40 peo­ple. That’s hardly sym­met­ri­cal is it? And only 19 bed­rooms – but then I’m guess­ing that there may be more than one per­son in a bed­room at any given time. Six kitchens (you can never have enough kitchens) and more than one strip­per pole – in fact more strip­per poles than kitchens which just isn’t right no mat­ter what way you look at. The ask­ing price is a steal at $17.5 mil­lion but the “For Sale” sign is still hang­ing out­side, many months af­ter it went up. Even if the owner drops his price to $15 mil­lion, he’s still mak­ing a tidy profit be­cause he bought it six years ago for just $4.1 mil­lion.

The owner got it for that re­duced price be­cause the seller was Mike Tyson, who was hav­ing a bit of a “cash flow” prob­lem at the time. Not to put too fine a point on it: Tyson was bank­rupt and needed the dosh. 50 Cent was in like Flynn. But the ghost of Tyson still lingers around the man­sion in Farm­ing­ton, Con­necti­cut. “I wake up in a bed­room that he used to sleep in,” says the rap­per. “At one stage in his ca­reer, Tyson was worth $500 mil­lion, and then he went bank­rupt. That’s a daily re­minder to me of how all money can come and go in an in­stant. That sort of story makes you very fi­nan­cially aware and grate­ful for what you have.”

50 Cent is not hav­ing a good re­ces­sion. Yes, he’s sold mil­lions of al­bums, has a healthy act­ing ca­reer (he was last seen star­ring along­side Robert De Niro and Al Pa­cino in Righ­teous Kill) and has lent his name to a range of prod­ucts in­clud­ing a cloth­ing line, sneak­ers, a vi­ta­min drink and even his own con­dom range. But the books just aren’t bal­anc­ing the way they used to.

“I’ve lost mil­lions,” he says. “I talk to my busi­ness man­agers and ac­coun­tants and the value of things I have in­vested in is de­creas­ing. But then a lot of peo­ple are hav­ing it hard th­ese days.” 50 Cent’s $442 mil­lion has plum­meted dur­ing the re­ces­sion – by ex­actly how much he’s not say­ing – but he does say about his ex­pen­sive di­a­mond buy­ing habit: “I am now sell­ing my old di­a­monds be­fore I al­low my­self to buy any new ones.” Yes, that must be heart­break­ing for you.

“This is why I’ve called the new al­bum Be­fore I Self De­struct, be­cause you do worry about los­ing ev­ery­thing,” he says. “The knockon ef­fect of all this is that I’ve put the al­bum release date back a few times now. It worked in that we had more time to get the sin­gles out to peo­ple (three have al­ready been re­leased). I could po­si­tion my­self bet­ter and peo­ple could hear things be­fore the ac­tual CD was re­leased.”

He knows that on the new al­bum he has some way to go be­fore he even gets near the phe­nom­e­nal sales of 2003’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (also the name of Jim Sheri­dan’s 50 Cent biopic). That al­bum an­nounced the New York na­tive to the world and its pro­mo­tional cam­paign heav­ily fea­tured the sound of guns shots to play up his “Gangsta” sta­tus – in 2000 the ex-drug dealer was shot nine times close up but mirac­u­lously sur­vived. He still bears the scars and now speaks with a small slur due to one of the bul­lets hit­ting his tongue.

Get Rich sold al­most one mil­lion copies in the US alone in its first week of release and went on to sell 12 mil­lion copies mak­ing it one of the big­gest sell­ers of the decade.

“That was then,” he says. “But you just can’t sell the same amount of records to­day be­cause of all the down­load­ing. For me it makes no dif­fer­ence if a fan buys this al­bum or down­loads it for free. When peo­ple come to the live shows they re­act in the same way to the mu­sic no mat­ter how they got it. Noth­ing can stop that en­ergy; it’s just a very or­ganic re­ac­tion.”

In a re­ces­sion-bust­ing ges­ture, the man whose name is more usu­ally pro­nounced “Fiddy”, has bun­dled in a free film (of the same name) with the new al­bum. “This is the first time this has been done – giv­ing away a free movie with a CD,” he says. “It’s a nod to the times we live in. I’m very ex­cited about it. I was in Louisiana do­ing some­thing and it just came to me there. I wrote the screen­play and I di­rected and star in the movie. It’s about an in­ner-city guy brought up by a sin­gle mother who has a dream of be­com­ing a bas­ket­ball player, but when that falls through he turns to a life of crime. The rea­son I put it in with the al­bum is that a song is only three min­utes long – there’s re­ally no time for cause and ef­fect when you’re try­ing to es­tab­lish a nar­ra­tive. It’s re­ally me cre­at­ing a vis­ual for the things that I’m say­ing on the songs on the al­bum. You can make de­scrip­tions on a song but that’s all so this is sup­posed to be like a vis­ual sound­track to the al­bum. The film is about me in a way. I use my emo­tions and feel­ings and mem­o­ries of sit­u­a­tions I have had in my life for my act­ing. The film re­flects the man­ner­isms, dys­func­tions and im­per­fec­tions that I have and how I have wres­tled with them.”

Now 34, 50 Cent was brought up in Queens, New York by a sin­gle mother who was 15 when she had him. His mother died when he was eight – her drink had been spiked and the gas left on in their apart­ment with all the win­dows locked shut. A tal­ented boxer (he rep­re­sented the US in the Ju­nior Olympics) he was also a crack co­caine dealer and as a young teenager, a metal de­tec­tor at his school re­vealed him car­ry­ing a gun. Aged 19, he faced ei­ther a nine-year prison sen­tence or six months in a spe­cial harsh and ag­gres­sive “boot camp” for sell­ing co­caine to an un­der­cover po­lice of­fi­cer. He chose the lat­ter, changed his name to 50 Cent as a “metaphor for the changes I would in­tro­duce in my life” and be­gan writ­ing and rap­ping.

Eminem heard one of his early mix al­bums, got him a record deal and along with Dr Dre helped pro­duce the break­through Get Rich al­bum. They also helped pro­duce this new al­bum. “It’s not like there are th­ese three big egos at the stu­dio mix­ing desk, we all work to­gether very well,” he says. “I can re­ally trust them be­cause I know they have my best in­ter­ests in mind at all times. As with any al­bum you al­ways have more songs than are needed for the fi­nal cut and where they re­ally ex­cel is in help­ing me see which ones are for keep­ing and which ones just don’t fit. I told them I wanted a more dark and ag­gres­sive sound on this one and they re­ally re­sponded. This al­bum was sup­posed to have come out be­fore

the last one. I ac­tu­ally had this one be­fore Cur­tis [re­leased in 2007] but that al­bum was sort of light-hearted. I had to be in the po­si­tion I am­now men­tally to release this. It’s about self-de­struc­tion and the fear of it.”

As is con­sti­tu­tion­ally re­quired, he has a pop at his peers in the hip-hop world. “The prob­lem you see now is that hip-hop sim­ply isn’t ag­gres­sive enough and it cer­tainly isn’t re­flect­ing the harsh re­al­ity of peo­ple’s lives dur­ing the re­ces­sion,” he says. “A lot has come out since I’ve been gone for the last two years. Peo­ple now seem to do all their musi- cal grow­ing up on tele­vi­sion shows and have no idea what is hap­pen­ing at street level. Okay, the life I lead now can be very iso­lat­ing, but I know where I started and where I come from. Peo­ple in hip-hop now get a bit of suc­cess and they for­get where they come from.

“That’s not me. I’m blessed in that I’m sur­rounded by peo­ple who have had more suc­cess than me – Eminem’s Mar­shall Mathers al­bum sold 23 mil­lion copies so I can learn from that and how to han­dle that suc­cess. And also re­alise there is room for growth in my own ca­reer.”

The growth he refers to also in­cludes his new book, The 50th Law, which was co-au­thored by Robert Greene. “Peo­ple ask me about the 50 Cent brand all the time, but re­ally all I’m do­ing with the sneak­ers, the clothes, the vi­ta­min drink and now with the film and book is do­ing what the record com­pa­nies are now do­ing and looking for other out­lets be­cause of how down­load­ing has changed the in­dus­try and how CD sales will never go back to what they were once like,” he says.

“I had read Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws Of Power [a sort of Machi­avel­lian man­i­festo for deal­ing with the con­tem­po­rary busi­ness world which was much ad­mired by the gangsta rap com­mu­nity] and I thought some of it was very neg­a­tive – there was a rule in there which said ‘Crush Your En­emy To­tally’, and then I thought about the area I come from and how peo­ple would want to crush you – you’d be com­ing home and you’d see drug dealers get­ting shot in front of you be­cause they were the en­emy of other drug dealers in the neigh­bour­hood, so I came to ap­pre­ci­ate that sort of re­al­ism. I ar­ranged to meet him and he was to­tally dif­fer­ent from what I ex­pected – a re­ally nice, quiet guy. We wrote The 50th Law to­gether, which is a con­tin­u­a­tion of sorts of The 48 Laws Of Power, but which draws from my own life ex­pe­ri­ences and what I had to do to over­come the back­ground I had. One of the mes­sages in there is not to save for a rainy day – as if any­body can save any­thing th­ese days.”

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