The story of Curtis Jackson -- better known to the American music-buying public as 50 Cent -- is the perfect Horatio Alger story, if Alger's heroes had started out as weapon-brandishing, teenage crack dealers. Young Curtis was raised in the rough-and-tumble neighborhood of South Jamaica, N.Y., by his grandparents after his mother was murdered when he was 8 years old.
He began selling crack at the age of 12 and spent the next several years dealing in drugs, boxing in amateur competitions and landing himself in jail. While a lengthy prison stint beckoned, he wound up serving just six months of a three-to-nine-year sentence in a boot-camp-type environment. There, he earned his GED and began to turn his life around.
Run-DMC DJ Jam Master Jay took Jackson under his wing, teaching him the basics of rapping, song structure and record producing. From there, "Fiddy" was on his way up. Despite the rather dubious setback of being shot nine times in 2000 -- an incident that would become a sizable part of the image on which his career would be built -- his 2003 debut album "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" went to No. 1, sold millions of copies and made 50 Cent a superstar.
While his musical success continued, 50 Cent surprised the world with his astute business sense. He founded G-Unit Records, which has released platinum albums by the likes of Young Buck, Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo; established the G-Unit Clothing Co. in partnership with designer Marc Ecko; and teamed up with Glaceau to market the Vitaminwater drink in a deal that reportedly earned 50 Cent $100 million when the company was sold to Coca-Cola in 2007.
When he launched his own "Apprentice" style business competition show "50 Cent: The Money and The Power" on MTV last year, Bankrate spoke with 50 Cent about the show's business-driven philosophy, the nature of creativity and how his hardscrabble background surprisingly contributed to his eventual success.
Bankrate: How did "50 Cent: The Money and The Power" come about?
50 Cent: I have a book ("The 50th Law") that I wrote with Robert Greene, author of "The 48 Laws of Power," that shows the parallels between street business and commercial business. The concept of writing parallels of the laws into the actual challenges for the contestants on the show was a great idea to me. Some of them are shown specifically, and some are shown through parallels of action. For example, the contestants were so excited at being given the boss position that, not until later did they realize that the boss has the most to lose. It feels good to be able to give directions and all, but when things don't go right, ultimately the boss pays the most in the end.
Bankrate: Why did you want to do this show?
50 Cent: In 2003, before "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" connected, I would have wanted to be a contestant on this show. As soon as you say "business" or "reality," people think "The Apprentice" or "I Want to Work for Diddy." But the difference between those two show concepts (and mine) is that these are people who actually won't work for 50 Cent. These are people who have their own business ideas that were working for $100,000 in seed money to start those ideas.
Bankrate: How green were the contestants, business-wise, when you started?
50 Cent: Pretty green, but not in a bad way. It was like the period of time just before I was exposed to the information that I have now been exposed to. Also, you see the difference between just dreaming up what they would do if they had the money and having already taken steps toward accomplishing it.
Bankrate: Over the six weeks of filming, how well did they evolve, business-wise?
50 Cent: For the ones that lasted, you saw a great transition. Some of them were smart enough to be reserved, so you didn't learn to dislike them in any way. They did what they had to do.