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
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.”