50 CENT takes on Hollywood honeys, New York rappers, and his first film project. NOAH CALLAHAN-BEVER explores the MC’s true motivation and discovers that he isn’t just acting on impulse.
All the world’s a stage, and the men and women are merely players. They have their exists and entrances. And one man, in his time, plays many parts. Word. Shakespeare was on the money with that one, like novus ordo seclorum. Every morning, before we put on our clothes, we put on our character (and for some of us, that means putting on our cool). Maybe it’s not a character like Bishop from Juice or King of New York’s Frank White, but more of a caricature of self—a single-serve, bite-size nugget of our personalities that we’ve been conditioned to put forth. We all exist in a social context that necessitates, rewards, or idealizes different portions of our personae. We, in turn, size up each situation we find ourselves in and present the most appropriate side. But it’s not about being fake—the world has finite resources, and we’re all just squirrels trying to get a nut—it’s simply about getting in where you fit in. And for the last few years, rapper 50 Cent has been squeezing himself into a particularly tough spot—being the Hardest Man Alive.
The 27-year-old Queens native, born Curtis Jackson III, pulls off the role really well. Convincing-like. It’s the combination of his charm and his unnerving nonchalance. He talks to everyone with the eye contact and candor that most reserve only for close friends. And we believe it. That’s why 10 million of us worldwide threw down a deuce for his now classic debut, Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Why we’re patiently waiting for his follow-up, The Massacre. Why this fall we’re surely all gonna run out to our local multiplex to see his professional acting debut, his 8 Mile (though writing and directing contributions of The Sopranos executive producer Terence Winter and six-time Oscar nominee Jim Sheridan also seal the deal).
We believe it because the 50 we see is him. But it’s the hyperbolic him. Behind the super-thug sales pitch, peeking out every now and again, is a wickedly intelligent, measured, and deliberate man who thinks four moves ahead, wields conflict as a weapon, and watches every word that comes out of his mouth. Seated in photographer Albert Watson’s studio, where he is portraying Tony Montana, one of his favorite cinematic characters, 50 Cent sticks to the script—except when he doesn’t. Action, Jackson!
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Your upcoming flick is based on your life story. But if it’s not a biopic, how is the protagonist different from you?
50 Cent: He’s more emotional. He cries in front of people, in front of the camera. If I was to cry, it would be when I was alone.
So how are you preparing to do those emotional scenes?
50 Cent: They tell you to think about negative things or bad times, so I just try to concentrate on that. But mostly my acting coach has just been helping me with the memorization part. That’s where I need the most help.
In the movie, you have to force yourself to act more emotional. Do you feel that in life you have to force yourself to act unemotional?
50 Cent: Nah, I think it’s a habit. After awhile, it’s not acting when you have to suppress your feelings. Everybody has feelings, but there are some people who have trained themselves over time not to be out crying and doing all kind of shit. Where someone else would cry, we replace those feelings of anxiety and get angry instead.
There are reports that Samuel L. Jackson was approached about the movie, but he declined because you’re a rapper. Is that true? Were you offended?
50 Cent: Yeah, but I wasn’t offended. I just think Jackson is a little bitter about the film business being a business. I think it bothers him that he would have to be below me in the movie, that he would have a smaller part, and that people would be coming to the movie to see me and not him. But it’s okay, the movie is gonna be great without him.
Okay, so there won’t be any dis records about Samuel L. Jackson, but you do have one on Massacre called “Piggy Bank” that targets Fat Joe, Jadakiss, Shyne, and Nas. Since you’ve ridden the beef with Ja Rule to great success with the last album, don’t you think fans may begin to think you use beef as a gimmick?
50 Cent: I write my feelings, so if there’s something that’s on my mind, like someone else’s actions, I write about it. So when these guys associate themselves with Ja Rule and later say that they didn’t mean to, it makes me look at them and say, These muthafuckers are weak, and they don’t deserve to survive. In no way can Fat Joe survive me. I mean to say, he’ll be on Koch when I’m done. So I don’t understand how anyone could possibly misinterpret my responding to other people’s actions as a gimmick. I don’t have a problem with putting those issues right in your face.
Aside from making a song with Ja, are there any other actions that offended you?
50 Cent: I can show you mixtapes, SMACK DVDs—I listen to everything.
But when you went after Ja he was a bigger artist…
50 Cent: And I destroyed him.
True, but these artists have sold a fraction of the records you’ve sold. Is it worth it to engage them?
50 Cent: Yes, because I don’t tolerate the things that other people tolerate. I gotta make an example out of them for other stupid niggas. I’ll ruin what little you have. On top of that, their responses will be on mixtapes, while I have an album dropping on G Unit records every quarter this year, so I’m gonna sell my responses for $16.99 each.
Is that why you waited to respond to Shyne?
50 Cent: Yeah. But it’s okay, I’ll accept his apology after he takes a beating. When you look at what he did for his record, Shyne clearly wasn’t informed on how things have changed. He had a whole bunch of garbage, and then he added one record talking about me through a telephone! Def Jam as a company insulted itself by releasing a project like that. There’s a certain standard that you gotta have as a company and brand. That’s why when you see G Unit on it, you know it’s okay to try it.
Branding is important. You’ve marked yourself as the opposite of the candy Ja Rule music, but the addition of Olivia, an R&B artist, is very…
50 Cent: …Is candy and Ja Rule shit?
It could be seen that way.
50 Cent: Olivia just broadens the brand, and I see G Unit as a young Interscope, making more than just gangsta music. But her project will have the same level of quality. Dre will be working with her. I’ll even have Eminem producing R&B records!
Speaking of Eminem, he put out “Like Toy Soldiers” in an effort to squash beef. Have you spoken to him about “Piggy Bank”?
50 Cent: I haven’t had much of a conversation with him about that record because creatively there are certain things I gotta get off my chest. My name is not Marshall Mathers, my name is not Dr. Dre. We do business together, and we have a relationship as friends, but we’re not one. He may make a decision to not pursue what’s going on with him and his issues. But at the same time, his issues are mine. I’m so closely associated with Eminem and Dr. Dre that when people are calling Em the devil, they also have a problem with me. And Em knows I don’t have a problem with that.
Well, yeah, but conversely, it would work the same way for Em that the moves you make affect him. And he’s made records with both Joe and Jada…
50 Cent: He extended himself to them, and they still kicked him. What did it mean for him to be on Joe’s record? What did it mean for him to be on Jada’s album? And they still turned around and made a record with somebody who was trying to destroy us. That goes to show, you gotta be careful who you work with.
If you had to guess right now, what do you think will be the undoing of the Shady/Aftermath/G Unit dynasty?
50 Cent: It would have to be some type of freak accident. The significance of our circle is that we don’t have conflict. The only thing I have issues with is that when Marshall is writing, you can’t even get him on the phone. He and Dre are lab rats. I can understand that, but I don’t need total seclusion in order to work. But I know that I absolutely have to utilize them for my success. I need to go to Em—he made “On Fire” a hit. I know I need Dre. You can’t buy beats I get from him without being apart of the team. I got beats from The Chronic—the first Chronic—that he didn’t even use. I get to listen to everything he’s ever created, and ain’t none of it garbage.
You’ve often talked about New York hating on you. Do you think that’s because you don’t collaborate or associate much with any New York artists?
50 Cent: Fuck New York City music! I say flat out. I love New York City, but fuck the niggas in music. I had to get signed by people from Detroit and Los Angeles because these niggas from New York never liked me. But now it’s a shock to them that I say, Kiss my ass!? New York has too many chiefs and too few Indians. They’re niggas that think they’re bosses that are on Koch!!! That’s the artist’s graveyard.
Why do you think Bank’s album outperformed Buck’s?
50 Cent: Buck’s album leaked, so Interscope said, “Let’s hold off everything in place at radio and retail.” In my heart, I wanted to get it out immediately, but I listened to them. It’s not his fault, it’s my fault, ‘cause generally, in the street, the consensus is that Buck’s album is better than Banks’s. And not to say that one is better, but I mishandled that situation.
You always say that you’re your own worst critic, so what is your greatest weakness as an artist?
50 Cent: Um…[pause] my moods. Sometimes I get in moods when I’m frustrated, and I make too many aggressive records because that’s the only way that I feel. That’s a weakness, because you have to be able to express different emotions on your album. You can’t be stuck in one place.
Why have you been so frustrated lately?
50 Cent: Because I found out that people never stop treating you like the underdog. Even though I sold 10 million records worldwide, nobody, not even my label believes in me. I’ve accomplished so much, and it’s very frustrating to feel like I’m in exactly the same place that I was before I made Get Rich or Die Tryin’.
But if you make records that don’t reflect your emotional state, won’t they sound forced?
50 Cent: It’s funny you say that, ‘cause my grandmother said the same thing. I was telling her, I got the record, you gonna be excited when you hear it. I feel like it’s gonna do better than the first one. Right? And she was like, “Well, make sure you just write exactly what you want.” And I was like, Why would you say that? And she said, “Because the first time you wrote exactly what you wanted.”
So did you listen to her?
50 Cent: Absolutely, there is nothing forced on this record. Even songs like “Candy Shop” are records that I wanted to make. It’s a challenge to me ‘cause I’ve never made a sexual song like that. “Magic Stick” was a Lil’ Kim song.
How did you end up becoming involved in the Game project?
50 Cent: Dre and Jimmy [Iovine, chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M] were getting ready to drop from the label [an Interscope rep denies this] and asked me whether I was interested in working with him. I thought his music was good, and there’s nobody more exciting to work with than Dre, so we split it.
The Game rapped in the Jim Jones video for the remix of “Certified Gangsta” but didn’t appear on the album version, why?
50 Cent: That was a mistake.
50 Cent: Because the first time people were supposed to see the Game was on “How We Do.” Dre was in the studio trying to find that first look, and Game went and did a record being pushed by Koch. I thought being on a Koch record hurts him more than it helps him, so I didn’t give the clearance.
The Game was recently a guest on Hot 97 radio in New York, and he revealed in the interview that you and he got into an argument that involved a pushing match. Does that often happen in G Unit?
50 Cent: Only between me and him.
50 Cent: Because he’s real opinionated. He hasn’t been around long enough to know that he needs to listen. Everybody else knows that.
Does it bother you that he would air it out publicly?
50 Cent: No, because I say exactly what I want, and in so many ways, he’s like me, but different.
What’s the difference?
50 Cent: I’m not upset. He gets angry.
When Interscope played the early version of the album, you were on most of the hooks. Were many of the songs on his album originally 50 Cent records?
50 Cent: Um…[pause] I’ll say that we help each other.
You speak very candidly almost all the time except for right now. Why is that?
50 Cent: I have to think about business, and it’s more lucrative for me to speak how I’m speaking about these issues right now. My natural energy is usually to speak my mind, but in this case I have to think about business first.
You leaked “Disco Inferno” in December to get the ball rolling with your album. Were you concerned at all that you’d take attention away from “How We Do,” since one of its major selling points was your presence?
50 Cent: There had to come a point where I had to focus on me. Everything that I have lined up in business is already planned for the next year. If I’m coming out on a certain date, and I was that adamant about that, fuck everything else. I had to push my album back for other reasons, but if Interscope starts telling me, “Well, we can’t release you ‘cause we’re waiting to sell your Game project”—a project I created—then that’s the tail wagging the dog! What kind of shit is that? Besides, the Game album is hot. One record ain’t gonna stop that.
Let’s get back to movies. On the album you mention sleeping with half the women in Hollywood. How are you making that happen?
50 Cent: I just don’t treat them like something special, like they’re more than a woman.
Likewise, they must treat you more like a regular person. Do you prefer that?
50 Cent: To tell the truth, it depends on the night. Some nights you don’t want to talk. And then when it’s a 50 Cent thing, you never have to talk. And when you interact with a woman in Hollywood, you just act normal ‘cause that’s what you don’t have. I don’t date, because any lady I’m with right now would feel neglected. So I just hang out with women who want the same thing I want.
So then who’s your favorite actress?
50 Cent: Halle—cause my imagination is more vivid than life, and I “slept” with her last night.