Ahead of his Dubai show at the Atelier/Festival on Friday, we talk to the rapper 50 Cent about acting, his film and fashion businesses and Oprah Winfrey.
50 Cent: the emperor's new shows
It takes nearly a decade for some artists to find their own sound, but for Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson a decade was enough time to build an entertainment empire.
Ever since his major label debut, 2003‘s Get Rich or Die Tryin’, the New York gangster-rapper’s profile has grown to include actor, fashion designer and movie mogul.
Jackson can now be found everywhere from album covers, movie posters and business magazines.
Indeed, this blend of Wall Street and ghetto upbringing was perfectly illustrated in my attempt to reach Jackson by phone.
“Can you call back?” a young, dulcet-toned assistant said. “Fiddy is flying right now.”
A day later I was put on hold while the rapper got comfortable in his New York City -office.
Never shy of wasting a marketing opportunity, the phone’s waiting tone was none other than Jackson’s recent street single I Just Wanna.
Heady from the salacious lyrics – the only printable couplets include “Me, take a little at a time in doses, Once you’re addicted, I just wanna kick it” – Jackson wastes no time getting down to business: his film business, that is.
“I created [the film company] Cheetah Division, raised US$200 million [Dh734m], brokered 10 films, sold domestic rights to these films and international territories,” he begins, perhaps explaining his recent flight or the 10 minutes I was put on hold.
“Now, I feel I am really focusing and getting back to the music, because without the music I wouldn’t have the ability to be involved in these other projects.”
Indeed, the genesis of Jackson’s success lies in Get Rich or Die Tryin’.
Helmed by the super-producer Dr Dre, the album was one of the biggest hip-hop debuts in history, with nearly a million copies sold in one week, as well as spawning the number-one hits In Da Club and 21 Questions.
The album remains the platform that catapulted Jackson to future record success as well as hitting pay dirt in non-musical fields from a fashion label, G-Unit Clothing Company, to his own brand of vitamin water drinks, Formula 50.
Jackson is back on the musical tip with his forthcoming fifth album Street King Immortal, due next month.
It is his first album in three years, during which time Jackson shelved numerous versions of the record. At one stage he reportedly finished a dance-driven record called Black Magic, which he subsequently scrapped.
Jackson has no qualms laying the blame at the feet of his record label Interscope.
“They had an auditing process and I had a few records that were false starts because people said they were ready but the audit wasn’t done,” he -explains.
“I had to go back and revisit things. I couldn’t leave it because, to me, it has to be current in order for it to be right because music marks time.”
With his album stuck in administration limbo, Jackson returned to the film world to star alongside Robert De Niro and Forest Whitaker in the crime drama Freelancers, released last month in the US on DVD.
As a youth used to dodging cops back in the New York City borough of Queens, Jackson says taking on the role of a police officer in Freelancers was not a big leap.
“Because the cop was from New York, even if you were on the other side of it you would be aware of it,” he says. “It allowed me to have some sort of reference.” Jackson says starring alongside the Hollywood heavyweights De Niro and Whitaker allowed him to move from his normal artistic and business role of mentor to student.
“You really can’t ask for more support than having two Academy Award-winning actors on the project,” he states. “All you can do is learn under the circumstances because you have people doing it all their life. If we went to a recording studio I would hope they would be smart enough to listen if they are attempting to make music when I am pretty strong in that area.”
Appreciation for Jackson’s art is not shared by all of his peers. In 2006 Jackson bitterly criticised the talk show queen Oprah Winfrey for enacting “a rapper ban” on her programme after she criticised the genre’s use of derogatory terms.
Jackson went as far as naming his pet dog after her.
The relationship thawed in June this year when Jackson and Oprah conducted a candid television interview on her new programme Oprah’s New Chapter. Jackson says the experience ended with both of them agreeing to disagree.
“There are certain areas that she is really firm and you realise there is just no room,” he says. “You can’t persuade or make her understand why the usage of certain terminologies are within the culture.”
Jackson argues that the colourful language imbued in hip-hop is not meant for shock value, but is instead part and parcel of the genre’s style.
The real offence, he argues, is when artists don’t rap from personal experience as hip-hop has grown to encompass eclectic social and cultural backgrounds.
“There is no parameter that makes it cool or not cool for hip-hop. You’ve got artists now writing relationship-based music and others have aggressive content; some who are reflecting on dysfunctional behaviours in society and conscious rappers who try to enlighten and educate you,” he says.
“There is so much material out there and if that comes from their experience, if they are doing it not because someone else is doing it and they are doing it for themselves, then it is exciting because it adds so much to the culture and the music and it won’t be removed for ever.”
Another assistant, this time a female with a sultry voice, chimes in claiming I have reached my time limit.
“For me things happen really fast,” Jackson concludes. “I am always at the eye of the storm. I am so busy with day-to-day things that I don’t even really look at my schedule and I look up and half the year is gone.”
Atelier/Festival sneak peek
The Atelier/Festival is shaping up to be one of the biggest musical events of the year. Here is a sneak peek at the other artists on the bill.
Festival goers will see Duffy at an interesting phase of her career. The 28-year-old announced a two-year hiatus in February only to return to the studio a few months later to begin work on her third album. Perhaps the Dubai audience will be among the first to hear the new tunes.
The Hot in Herre rapper has been quiet this year as he is busily working on his seventh album. Rumoured collaborations include Dr Dre, Akon and Chris Brown.
David, whose hits include 7 Days and Fill Me In, became the next of a long line of current R&B singers to release a Motown covers album Signed Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours) and is currently working on a new album of original material.
After scoring major hits with the likes of 1,2 Step and Goodies, the R&B star has been venturing into films lately with starring roles in the musical drama Mama, I Want to Sing and the comedy That’s My Boy.
The Dutch singer-songwriter is known for her vocal contributions to the recently disbanded dance duo LMFAO. She’s also appearing as part of the SkyBar late-night after-parties on Yas Island as part of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 4.
One half of LMFAO. Dubai will be one of his first gigs post the break-up. Interesting to see how he fares on his own.
The Swiss house producer whose remixing work includes Mary J Blige, P Diddy, Pitbull and Cyndi Lauper.
50 Cent is playing at the Atelier/Festival at Dubai’s Meydan Racecourse on Friday. Tickets start at Dh350 from www.timouttickets.com