50 Cent on his TV show Power, misogyny in rap music and how he feels about his most famous song 17 years on...
As one of the most successful rappers on the planet, Curtis Jackson (better known to you or I as 50 Cent) could probably justify taking a little time off by now. Discovered by Eminem back in 2002, his music career has seen him sell over 30 million albums worldwide (Get Rich or Die Tryin was certified 6x Platinum) as well as landing a coveted Grammy, amongst (many) other accolades. With a CV that now includes actor, author, investor and producer, his latest project sees him exec-producing and starring in the next instalment of the Power series (he plays Kanan) alongside the legendary Mary J Blige. We spoke to him ahead of its release to get the lowdown and find out why he just can’t seem to take his foot off the pedal…
Congratulations on Power Book II: Ghost. It must be exciting to see it finally come to fruition?
Yeah. People should expect the same quality [as Power] as it’s coming from the same writer and showrunner, Courtney [Kemp]. The pacing of it is really great because Courtney, she’s the driving force of why Power’s been what it is from the very beginning. We’ve talked to each other for forever to create the foundation of it and she just goes off and runs with it and makes me look amazing! She’s great.
You’re working with Mary J Blige again, how was that?
Right. I was able to reach out as there would often be ‘Power parties’ where people would come over the house and sit down and watch the show. So I thought, “I’m gonna see if I can get her to work together”. I’d seen her performance in Mudbound and was like, “Woah, she’s ready, she’s dope, we have to get her”. So I told Courtney and set it up for them to meet each other.
And Mary was keen?
They hit it off when they got together – I didn’t know Courtney was such a big Mary J Blige fan! She was like, “This song got me through this and this song got me through that” and I was like, “Oh wow, OK!”. Then once they got a chance to talk, they started developing her character and really talked about a lot of things Mary had experienced and people she knew. These were things she’d really draw from for her performance in the story.
What about Method Man, how did his involvement come about?
I saw him in The Deuce and was like, “I wonder if I could get him”. We were trying to work out who could play the Clifford character in the series, and I thought Meth would be really cool. Because these are my stars – Mary, Meth – and I know their core audience. My core audience was in college in 2003, so going out and partying would be the biggest part of their life at that point because they want to socialise and meet people. You can’t go anywhere and me not be a part of that experience because of the momentum I had in music at that point. Mary and Meth’s audiences are before that, which means their core fans who appreciate their music and understand what they’re doing as artists? They’re doing things a little differently now.
In what way?
They’re not partying as much as they did and they have responsibilities in their lives. So those people are available to tune in on Sunday before they go back to work Monday. This is why I moved it [the show] from Saturday to Sunday even though there was bigger competition on Sunday programming in the States. HBO had shows on, but I said “Let’s move to Sunday, I don’t care” as I knew everyone would be at the water cooler on Monday talking about what happened on Sunday on the show.
Get Rich or Die Tryin was one of the best-selling rap albums of all time. How do you cope with that kind of pressure when working on new projects? Is it a pressure?
There’s a pressure in that I’m up against myself trying to create a record. And it won’t be as successful as that record was. I know that in advance and this is why I’m not necessarily haemorrhaging to get new music out. I get new music out because I have to – like the theme song for this – but financially, I don’t have do it. I’m not fighting to hold a position in culture. Youth culture is connected to it and the new guy has to come in and if I’m there blocking the situation…I wouldn’t want there to be someone to be blocking me when I was under those circumstances.
That’s a generous way of looking at it.
I’m looking at it like anyone who has had success is up against their first impression. Like Lil’ Wayne is up against Tha Carter. Jay-Z is up against Reasonable Doubt. Each artist is up against their first impression. Their first record may not have had the same success as Get Rich or Die Tryin, but you never get a second chance at a first impression. And you’re recognised from the work that made you good, regardless of whether it was 1 million records, 500,000 records or 13 million records. They always go back to that first project. There’s that shadow of doubt that’s cast on every artist and that comes from the artist community. And the artists who want to be next, when you put your next one out say, “That’s cool, but it’s not like his first joint”…
That’s hard though isn’t it, living up to that pressure?
Yeah because people don’t say “It’s good but it’s not like the last movie he did” because that’s supposed to be different – it’s supposed to be a different character or different film. So you stay in that circle of people who appreciate it. The value of an awards show is just creatively to be with your peer group and in the same room as these people and acknowledge each other. Other than that, what’s the value of it? A trophy doesn’t do nothing, it just sits on a shelf.
A lot of artists are perfectionists. Do you see yourself as a perfectionist?
I always want more, too. When I was doing Get Rich or Die Tryin I was looking at the Marshall Mathers LP. I sold 13 million records but Em did 22 million on the Marshall Mathers album so there was always room for growth. I just kept working and working and I’ve been blessed with the kind of team who’s had success that’s beyond all of hip-hop. If you look at Eminem’s career and Dr Dre’s career, when you come in under that umbrella…. And I had both of them! So I put energy into other people for them to have their careers.
So you paid it back, basically?
Immediately after my first album I went to do the G-Unit album. And Interscope didn’t want Beg For Mercy. Are you kidding me? They wanted a new 50 Cent record. But I felt obligated to help them and get them into a good position. So I did the group album then put Lloyd Banks solo album out, and Tony Yayo and Young Buck and everyone else’s solo album. I set up all those guys up before I went into the The Massacre, my next record. And that one sold 1.14 million copies in four days. It’s tough, in this climate you can’t do that – I don’t know what you’d call that kind of sales. It would be adding streams, adding in YouTube plays, adding everything else. At that point it was 1.4m store-bought CDs over the counter. So it’s a lot more cash to the scenario than it is to what we got going on now…
You’ve had so many hits. Which of your songs means the most to you?
For some reason, the first song off Get Rich or Die Tryin, In Da Club. Because every day it’s someone’s birthday. That song will just not go away! I don’t like performing that song anymore but production-wise it has to be in the set. Some songs I’ve performed so much and I want to do other stuff and they go “Is he on drugs?! You’d better perform that one!”. This is the one everyone knows pretty much. It broke language barriers, it’s been played so long and it’s what they play to celebrate their birthday. It’s cool, a lot of artists have made birthday songs after. I like Jeremih’s [Birthday Sex].
It’s a genius idea to release a song about birthdays, because it’ll be played forever, right?
Birthdays, anniversaries, weddings. Like ‘Meet me at the altar in your white dress’ by Jagged Edge. I think there’s always a reason to play Jagged Edge because of that, in the set at the wedding. And 2 Chainz did ‘it’s your birthday’ [Birthday Song]…
Rap music – and its lyrics – aren’t always known for being female-friendly. I wondered what you thought about that?
To be honest, it is female friendly. It’s just the stars, a lot of things they embrace within hip-hop are damaged. And when people are at that point – like me at that point – it’s not having the understanding and it’s a lack of information. So that bleeds into the music and it’s what people are connecting with. And then when you get to exploring all of the new information and if you can get the information fast enough, your career can survive. If not, you are a tragedy and it’s going to go up but it’s going to come down a lot faster. For artists to stand out in hip-hop, there are different things going on now.
People are finding an audience before they’re finding a record company. So creatively, they’re making what they want to make. And after they start to develop a following from it, then they get a record company. There’s no artist development anymore like “let’s put such-and-such in the studio together”. They’re going with people who already have momentum.
So people will always connect to artists through relatable experiences, good or bad?
Yeah and they’re following the things that influenced them. If you think about it as far as hip-hop, it did get a little warped. Remember when R&B was love music and it was all relationship-based content? And now the R&B artists are writing the same thing as the rap artists. And it comes out a different way. Females don’t feel like they’re not involved or like there’s a lack of respect, they know what it is as far as entertainment is concerned. And I really can appreciate it when they’re good. Nicki Minaj is probably one of the hardest people to deal with, trust me. And it’s from experience – she’s from the same neighbourhood I’m from, so she’s tough. I still look at her like “I don’t care, she cussed me out and it’s fine”. I’ll be like, “OK, that’s today, tomorrow you’ll feel different”. She’s got a good heart and there’s no malice there. She may be defending herself when new girls come, like with hip-hop not having a broad spectrum at one time. There’s a lot of female artists now, there’s more than in the past.
Do you feel like the landscape is changing for women?
Yeah and as the culture is changing you’re getting more women doing it their way than there was in the past. Like Cardi [B]. Cardi is the most exciting one in a long time. It felt like everything happened for her in one year – she was in a strip club and she spent her money going to the studio because she wanted to make it work. Then when it works, it takes off…boom! She’s got married, had a baby and got the best record all of time in one swoop! In about two years.
Finally, we have to ask you a very serious question. It’s very hot here so if you were going to the candy shop to get an iced lollipop, what would you choose?
They opened a strip club out there? Candy shop is a metaphor!
Yeah, we get it. But which is your favourite ice lolly?
Power Book II: Ghost is released Sunday 6th September on Starzplay.