“That’s the only place where I can relax,” 50 Cent says, his pearly whites glistening as they’ve done all day. He’s not talking about the recording studio or the performance stage — he’s talking about his Hollywood work. “When I’m chilling,” he continues, “there will be some sort of film and TV involved.”
Grammy Salute to Hip-Hop to Tape in August: What We Know About 50th-Anniversary Special
Once considered rap’s top villain during the days of promoting his explosive 2003 debut, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, 50, at 47, is now a consummate professional. He’s punctual, debunking the theory that hip-hop stars always arrive on “rapper time.” He’s well-mannered and respectful, saying, “Please,” and “Thank you,” after each request. He’s also a great listener, allowing the staff to complete their directives during the photo shoot without stiff-arming his way into the conversation. It’s all in keeping with Curtis Jackson III’s drive to achieve a loftier ambition no one could have predicted 20 years ago: to become the biggest mogul in the TV industry.
“50 is one of the smartest guys in the rap game,” says Tony Yayo, 50’s childhood friend and co-founder of their hip-hop group G-Unit. Yayo recalls that, as kids, the South Jamaica, Queens, artist was more interested in selling pills for profit than playing with G.I. Joes. “When you look at guys like Jay-Z, Diddy and 50, those guys are geniuses,” explains Yayo. “They come from the same place we come from and made something out of nothing.”
It’s that same hustler ethos that landed 50 his deal with Interscope Records in 2002, after surviving being shot nine times outside of his grandmother’s house in Queens just two years prior. By signing under two Interscope imprints — Eminem’s Shady Records and Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment — 50 became the final piece in what would become one of hip-hop’s strongest triumvirates.
From his first day in the spotlight, 50 was a brawny, gun-toting MC that imposed fear upon rivaling East Coast rappers. He decimated the mixtape scene by remixing popular hit records and peppering them with his street flair. No instrumental was safe, and once 50 got his hands on Dr. Dre’s bombastic production, his rise was imminent. He rocketed into mainstream acclaim with “Wanksta,” followed by the multiplatinum No. 1 smash “In Da Club.” His thunderous reign continued with 2003’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and 2005’s The Massacre, two gargantuan Billboard 200 chart-toppers that sold a combined 14 million records in the United States, according to Luminate. And his various feuds with hip-hop figures, from Murda Inc. to Kanye West, kept him in the news as he kept collecting hits.
Although 50 enjoyed the competition, his attention began to wander from music. He launched his own video game with 2005’s Bulletproof, got a sneaker deal with Reebok in 2004 and invested in vitaminwater, receiving a 10% stake in the company that same year. Within three years, vitaminwater sales grew to $700 million, and parent company Glaceau was sold to Coca-Cola, which earned 50 Cent a whopping $100 million in profits.
His wins on the business front crossed over to Hollywood. After revamping his production company G-Unit Films (now G-Unit Films and Television) in 2010, 50 began developing various network projects; his first success was Power, a crime drama intertwining the glamorous club scene with the murderous drug world. He and TV writer Courtney Kemp Agbor teamed up for the series’ pilot script, which was pitched to then-Starz CEO Chris Albrecht. Thanks to the pair’s authentic storytelling and creative chemistry, Power became a hit and later earned them a $150 million deal in 2018 that included a three-series commitment and allowed G-Unit Film & Television access to all the Starz and Lionsgate platforms.
“He was in this for real,” Albrecht says of 50. “This wasn’t something he was doing for amusement. This was something he was taking as seriously as he ever took his music.”
As Power’s executive producer, 50 watched the show garner praise for six seasons and spawn multiple hit spinoffs such as Power Book II: Ghost, Power Book III: Raising Kanan and Power Book IV: Force. His show BMF, which followed the rise of infamous Detroit drug dealers the Black Mafia Family, launched on Starz in 2021 and is now in its second season. He has tapped several of his peers for cameos: Kendrick Lamar on Power, Eminem and Snoop Dogg on BMF, Joey Bada$$ for Raising Kanan, Mary J. Blige for Ghost. “I’ve seen him act, produce, direct and write,” says Blige. “I’m so impressed by his transition from rapper to amazing producer.”
50 has also negotiated deals with other networks: In November, he partnered with WeTV to launch the investigative series Hip-Hop Homicides. Hosted by Van Lathan, it examines the shocking deaths of rising stars in the genre like XXXTentacion and King Von. Last fall, 50 also inked a three-project partnership with Lusid Media for an unscripted crime series slated to debut later this year on Peacock. Plus, he and mentor Eminem are working on a TV adaptation of the latter’s 2002 semi-autobiographical film, 8 Mile. “He’s got scripted and unscripted shows,” Albrecht says. “He’s a force.”
And just as he has remade himself as a TV mogul, 50’s love for music is resurfacing. Eight years after selling his radio income stream to Kobalt Music Group in 2015 (worth $6 million), he is now working on a studio album with Dr. Dre, Eminem has sent him new songs to collaborate on, and Nas has tapped him for a feature on his forthcoming King’s Disease 4. And after a string of one-off shows and a subsequent international run last year, 50 is also planning to tour domestically for the first time in 13 years. He is already set to perform at Las Vegas’ Lovers & Friends Festival in May. One recent performance, as a surprise guest during 2021’s Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show, even earned him an Emmy.
“The guy’s a machine; he always been like that from the block to now,” says Yayo of 50’s work ethic. “That’s the meaning of Get Rich or Die Tryin’. We got rich — and we still tryin’ to get more money.”
In his first solo cover story for Billboard, 50 talks expansively about his legacy in hip-hop, his long-term relationships with Dr. Dre and Eminem, and his seemingly bulletproof climb up the TV industry ladder.
With hip-hop turning 50 this year, how do you view your legacy within it?
My run was so uncomfortable that everyone would like to forget that it happened. That’s just the way it is with the artist community. I didn’t come in being friendly because I had to find a way into it — not find a way to be good enough to work in the community. The biggest compliment in the early stages was that artists felt like they’d made it when they got the deal. You had to earn the right to have the deal.
Get Rich or Die Tryin’ came out 20 years ago. Now that you’re working with Dr. Dre again, is the creative process different?
I’ll go in and start to record the best music that I can come up with from everybody else. Then I’ll find some pieces, and when I accumulate stuff that I feel like is good enough, I’ll bring it to impress Dre and [his team] to get cooler stuff from [him]. At that point, they’ll go, “I see where you headed.” They already know musically what I’m thinking is the right direction at that point. When I start projects with Dre, I would write to the first song that came on. I don’t care what it was, even if the beat wasn’t finished. I would write the record to break the ice, and we’d have something playing like [Dre] just got here even if he’s been here two or three hours and we got a record playing. He will change the drums and everything that you got there until you got something that’s a hit record.
The difference now is, with a lot of the stuff I would send, I’m looking at the angles of it happening from different perspectives instead of putting myself in the middle of actually doing something to someone. I wrote a lot of the material like that [before], but there are a million other approaches to use. So I’ll do those other things so I can still capture what goes on in the environment now. But it’s through the lens of not being in the game — it’s the perception of the game, from my perspective.
Eminem has been another longtime mentor. What has it been like working with him throughout your career?
Em’s not going to say the s–t the way I say it because it just is what it is. There’s his humble nature — he’d call me and ask to do him a favor and rap with him on a song. Like, “You know I’m on your label, right? Yeah, whatever you need me to do.” He would always ask me, “Could you do me a favor? I always thought it would be dope if we did this together.” I’m like, “All right.”
He’s never been part of any of the confusion, because there’s going to be confusion in your career. You’ve got to do maintenance on people. The imperfections of the music business are the people in it. You’ll see artists miss [with a project] and still stay in good graces because they’re still being prioritized and the system is working to keep them in place. Then you’ll see amazing artists [who are not prioritized]. You’ll listen and think, “What happened to them?” It’s because the business was done with them.
You’ve been a mentor yourself to artists like Pop Smoke and DaBaby. What are your thoughts on this generation’s rising hip-hop artists?
I only like the ones that I see myself in. A lot of the other s–t, I be like, “Yeah, what the f–k is this, man?” I’ve got to believe them and the s–t they’re saying to be into the artist.
They [also] have to want to be mentored. I’ll talk to them and touch base with them because I see that in them. You go, “Yo, you have to focus on what you came for and what’s important to you, and get those things together versus just riding it out.” The way I had competitive energy: Hip-hop culture makes you battle. I love Nicki Minaj, but the funny s–t is, I like watching her when she’s upset. I like that because she has something that comes from the experience of living in South Jamaica. I’m looking at it like, “Yo, I know they think she’s nuts, but they only think that because they don’t understand.” I get it. She thinks you’re trying to play her.
When Cardi B came, I thought she was dope. She’s from the bottom. She was in Club Lust in Brooklyn. [Going] from that and actually making a hit record and turning into who she did? I don’t know why anybody wouldn’t like to see that. It felt like she got everything — married, the baby — it came really fast. That’s the American dream right there.
When her and Nicki clash, I go, “Oh, s–t, it’s going to be interesting to watch how it plays out.” Lyrically, I won’t say anything competitively about the two of them, but I love Nicki. I don’t have anything against Cardi. I think anyone who comes now, she is going to check their temperature. Nicki is going to check if this b-tch is friendly or looking to take over the s–t.
In addition to your musical beefs, you were part of a notable TV feud, when Power was pitted against Fox’s series Empire. Do you have any regrets?
Nah. In regard to Empire, that was about Fox having more marketing dollars than Starz. Starz didn’t have the money. So when we hit the bull’s-eye with Power — it’s very rare to get an entire audience excited — I’m looking at Fox hitting the bull’s-eye behind us with Empire. On Fox, they were offering the PG-13 version of the story because it’s network television. Because I can be R-rated and portray a more graphic experience, I knew that Power would eventually prevail.
[Fox] stole my idea because they said in the [show’s promo tagline], “Empires are built on power.” That’s good marketing. Because I’m at a disadvantage in not being able to market at the same level, we’re going to have a problem. That’s where the beef comes from. [But] I love [Empire star] Taraji P. Henson. I think she’s amazing. Terrence Howard was my co-star in the first film I worked on. Of course I wanted to see their show be successful.
French Montana has called you a genius marketer. Some of your beefs were personal, but how many of them were strategic?
They were [all] strategic — [the industry set them up] in response to what I was doing. I kept saying, “They dead, get rid of them,” and [the industry] would come in and resuscitate them to bring them back. Now I just have to f–k you up a little bit so you don’t go near [that artist] again when I get him back into that position again. I tap the artist for doing that, like, “Move! Why you keep trying to do that?” They’re using their energy and fan base to resuscitate the artist I just put to bed. That was why I was doing that.
It’s the same mentality of the street. When you get into business, you can’t bring that with you. They’ll split the culture in half.
Did you miss writing and recording music?
I get the attention that I want from music when I want it. I just went out and toured 45 countries, and everywhere was sold out. That made me want to offer new music that I could integrate into everything now. I’ve done what I wanted to do in the [sales] capacity. I’ve sold over 35 million records. Not singles — albums. With Em, it’s different because he’s never going to stop [recording]. It bugs him out that I can do TV production.
Before Get Rich made you huge, Master P was booking you for shows. What was your rate then versus how much you command internationally today?
I think he gave me like $80,000, and now I’m getting like $900,000, $1 million. The coolest thing we create in America is celebrities. If you see LeBron [James’] fan base internationally, you’ll argue, “Why is he staying here?” He’s that big internationally. For the most part, I can’t speak for everybody, but the international side of the game is different.
Do you feel like prime 50 Cent could break through and do the same commercial damage in today’s climate?
It would be a lot different. I look at the new artists that embody the streets like they’re the new 50 Cent. What’s going to be difficult and important for them to do is figure out how to navigate themselves. If you ask them if they’re afraid of anything, it’s going to be tough because they’ve been facing those obstacles the entire time, so they’re not scared. But they can f–k it up for themselves, like with whom they bring around them and the energy they carry. It can destroy a force.
That’s the obstacle they’ve got to get around themselves. I think if they get that information fast enough and can look at it the right way, they’ll be able to do [music] longer. If not, they’re going to crash right in front of you.
Post comments (0)