He insists on being called Curtis Jackson. Apparently, 50 Cent or Fiddy is what you get to call him if you’re a friend. Well that’s the line that the musician, actor and soon-to-be children’s author was peddling at the Aruba International Film Festival where his latest project, Things Fall Apart, had its international premiere.
There is a huge difference between the man of today and the rapper who exploded into international public consciousness as 50 Cent in 2003. His album Get Rich or Die Tryin’ sold 12 million copies with its upbeat tempo music overlaid by aggressive lyrics that were said to derive from 50 Cent’s rough upbringing.
Immediately, the man born Curtis James Jackson III in Queens, New York, became a divisive figure. Some, such as Spike Lee, criticised the perceived glorification of thug life, where money was everything, and the associated macho culture. Jackson engaged in a number of feuds, known as beefs, with fellow rappers including Ja Rule and Fat Joe, which kept his name constantly in the papers and ensured the spread of his reputation.
Yet sitting before me in the executive lounge of an Aruba hotel is a softly spoken, suited man, more happy talking about his business enterprises than he is about his feuds, his teenage years selling drugs and the incident that saw him shot eight times at point-blank range. The only item that lives up to anything like a bling rap star image is his sunglasses, the frame of which is made up of a gold-plated wildcat.
Jackson suggests that he may have been misunderstood in the past, in any case. He says: “The materialism aspect of Get Rich or Die Tryin’ really does depend on the perspective that you view the name of the album. You can think the statement is literally about money or you think it’s a statement about ambition; you are going to win, or die in the process. That is just saying that you want to make it at the highest level possible by utilising the philosophy that I’m going to get rich or die trying.”
One thing that the 35-year-old no longer has to worry about is money. He put in US$2 million (Dh7.4m) of his own money to make Things Fall Apart, in which he plays a promising American football player from a poor background who dreams of making it as a professional but is told that he has an aggressive form of cancer. Jackson lost 60lb (27kg) to play the cancer victim and is almost unrecognisable as the man who appeared showing off his muscled torso on the cover of his debut album.
As with that album, the film is inspired by personal experience. He says: “My best friend growing up is what inspired me to do this story. I would probably have had to be approached by a major studio and been given lots of money to do this tale otherwise, because of the amount of weight that I had to lose to play someone with cancer. If you look at Tom Hanks in Philadelphia and Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, there was a larger period of time for them to lose the weight because there was a budget provided for them to take a break from making the film and then to come back. Even if you are fasting and you are not eating at all, it would take longer than the nine weeks it took to lose 60lb. I had to do physical training while I was fasting. I had to take a lot of electrolytes to make sure that I wasn’t getting dehydrated.”
Losing the weight was almost unbearable, and during the darkest moments Jackson would go online and read interviews with Hanks and Christian Bale, who slimmed down dramatically for his role in The Fighter, and draw comfort from knowing that they had been through the same sort of thing.
His commitment to acting cannot be faulted. He has appeared in several films, most notably the semi-autobiographical Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and he directed a film to go with his album Before I Self Destruct. Next month he can be seen in UAE cinemas in Joel Schumacher’s tale of teenage destruction Twelve.
As a producer he has raised $200m for his production company Cheetah Vision and has a 10-film deal with Lionsgate in the US. The first film from the company is The Set alongside Bruce Willis and Ryan Phillipe, and Jackson has just wrapped shooting Freelancers, starring Robert De Niro and Forest Whittaker.
It’s the second time that he’s worked with De Niro. Jackson appeared in Righteous Kill, which brought Al Pacino and De Niro together on screen for the second time. “That was interesting,” says the rap star. “They are both really huge talents so you spend a lot of time watching them, and it’s interesting, me being around them, because they have such an aura and so much attention focused on them that I get to be a regular guy on the side, so it’s cool to hang out with them.”
Looks, style and image have played a huge role in the phenomenon that is 50 Cent. His international appeal is such that the Bollywood star Imran Khan has gone on record as saying that for Delhi Belly, opening in UAE cinemas today, he based the looks of his rap star turned producer character on 50 Cent.
The rapper says of his much commented-upon style: “That was the do-rag. In 2003 it was perceived at a high level and it kind of needed that dress code for that period but you can’t walk around with the same style for 10 years. I’m not going to walk around with the same outfit.”
His next project will surprise many people who might have pigeonholed the star because of his music. He has signed a deal with Penguin’s Young Reader Group to write a children’s book called Playground, which will take a look at bullying at school. Jackson claims that such a book would have helped him in his youth had there been one around. But this is not the first time he has put pen to paper: his autobiography From Pieces to Weight came out in 2005 when he was 30, and in 2009 he co-wrote a self-help book called The 50th Law.
Yet despite the books and the films, he insists: “I’m conditioned for music. Music is easy. I’ve been writing music full time since 1997. In Da Club took 30, 45 minutes to write; music is the one idea that happens fast.”
Except that it seems to be taking an age for his fifth studio album to come out. It will be his last album with Interscope and there is still no release date. Last week the artist released one song on his Twitter account while complaining about the slowness of his label.
However, this could just be one of his famous “beefs” to get publicity, as he tells me that the album has been delayed because he junked a disco album he had been working on: “That album will be for my living room; my next album will be more aggressive. That’s what the public seems to want from me.”
• Twelve is scheduled for UAE release on July 21.
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