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.
Bankrate: Do you think the fact that you were successful on the street plays a large part in why you’re now successful in a more traditional business environment?
50 Cent: Absolutely. There’s a type of aggressiveness that’s necessary for you to be successful on the street that translates (to a corporate environment). But in actual deals, it’s almost the opposite because I already have that aura around me. So a lot of times, I disarm people by being extremely friendly. I’ve convinced the general public of one portion of my past. The music typecasts you even stronger than a good film would because in music, you become the song … you are the song.
I think it’s the reason that a person who’s a fan of a music artist has a stronger passion for that artist than he does for a great actor because the musician is that person all the way through. The actor does a great job of creating a presentation of someone you like, and then they sit on couches on “The Tonight Show,” “Jimmy Kimmel” and all these shows, and they’re so artistic that they lose the audience. People aren’t sure they like this guy as much as they liked him as a character. (When the actor) talks about the process, the depth he has during that actual conversation confuses the average person.
Bankrate: So you’re saying that this is because when you’re a rapper, what you do is about conveying the reality of your life much more so than if you’re an actor?
50 Cent: Absolutely. (Then again), you have to draw from somewhere even if you’re an actor. You have to be a part of your character in certain ways. In general, it takes 30 days to make a habit, meaning if we decide to lose weight, it would take 30 days before we get comfortable being on that diet. If you spend 90 days, 180 days, six months on a film behaving like someone who’s a lot more aggressive than you really are, then at some point when you find yourself in a circumstance where you have to behave like that character you’ve been playing for so long, you will respond like that character. It becomes a habit if you do it long enough. So even from an actor’s standpoint, if you play a serial killer, you might have a little bit of that in you.
Bankrate: There are times when you hear about an actor playing a role that’s so intense that they become a little disturbed by the end.
50 Cent: Yeah. If you go to a military boot camp, for example, the discipline changes a person over that six-month time period. It changes the person’s regimen on some levels. He may be neater, for example, because of how he has to keep his locker.
Bankrate: Your next album will have some interesting extras on it. Tell me about that.
50 Cent: The album “Before I Self-Destruct” was great for me because I actually started this album before I released my previous album, “Curtis.” I wrote, produced and directed my first feature film, also called “Before I Self-Destruct,” and I’m packaging it within the actual album packaging because I want to make sure my fans get a chance to see it. Along with that, there’s a special edition that’s packaged with “The Life and Death of Jam Master Jay.” It’s a documentary that Jay’s nephew was working on for five years. After I got a chance to see it, I committed to executive producing it. I want everybody to get a chance to see it. Jam Master Jay was a member of the legendary group Run-DMC, and I think there’s a general interest there for all people who enjoy hip-hop as an art form.
Bankrate: Knowing all you know about business, which do you think is ultimately more important — the money or the power?
50 Cent: The money and the power. The show was titled “The Money and The Power.” I think the money brings influence that allows you to have power. People want to do you a favor when you don’t need one. Even when you’re talking to the bank for a loan, the chance of them giving it to you when your finances are great is better. They know you got it already, so they don’t think that you won’t be able to give it back to them, so they give it to you.