Rap star 50 Cent, controversial for his music and “gangsta” style, has amassed nine top 10 hits while selling more than 20 million records. This week he makes his debut as an actor in a movie based on his life called “Get Rich or Die Tryin'.” NBC's national correspondent Jamie Gangel sat down with him at his crib in Connecticut.
Behind that trademark tough guy scowl, behind the gangsta image, behind those explicit lyrics is a polite, soft-spoken charmer.
Jamie Gangel: You don't smoke.
50 Cent: No.
Gangel: You don't drink.
50 Cent: No.
Gangel: You don't swear. [Laughter] You don't swear sometimes. [Laughter] Do you think you're misunderstood?
50 Cent: A lot.
Meet 50 Cent, real name Curtis J. Jackson III, who still can't quite believe that in the past five years he has become a superstar.
Gangel: Can I ask you how much you're worth?
50 Cent: I got some paper now.
Gangel: I hear a lot of numbers thrown around ... 40 million ... 50 million ... 60 million ....
50 Cent: Around 60 ... umm hmm.
That's right — 60 million dollars — some of which he used to buy his 75,000 square foot Connecticut mansion from boxer Mike Tyson.
Gangel: How many bedrooms and baths?
50 Cent: 18 bedrooms, 37 bathrooms.
Gangel: Five Jacuzzis, what do you do with all those Jacuzzis?
50 Cent: I try to use them!
It's a long way from the streets of New York, where 50 Cent grew up — a childhood of violence, drugs and prison, all portrayed in the new movie of his life. By the time he was 8, his mother, a drug dealer, was killed. By 12, he was on the streets. And even the tough love of his grandparents couldn't keep him out of prison.
The turning point: the birth of his son Marquise, now 9 years old.
The movie has already generated controversy for its graphic scenes, including one that reenacts 50 Cent being shot in front of his grandparents' house.
Gangel: Do you think it glamorizes violence?
50 Cent: I don't think it glamorizes violence at all. I think it's what the film is. I think it's art imitating life.
But critics charge that 50 promotes violence and is irresponsible in his music. And whether parents like it or not, he connects with kids — black and white.
Gangel: You ask any parent who hears your music, and inevitably you hear why is it sexist, why is it racist, why is it homophobic. To use an old-fashioned world, a lot of it is vulgar. Is that a fair criticism?
50 Cent: To some people, if you write a description of a woman from man to man or doing different things and you use the terminology “ho,” it's vulgar. But there's people who behave that way. So it's just my choice as an artist.
Gangel: You use the N-word constantly.
50 Cent:Oh, see, but that — that is not —
Gangel: That makes parents crazy. I'd kill my kids —
50 Cent: Oh, if they said that.
Gangel: If that ever came out of their mouths.
50 Cent: Well, I understand that, 'cause your culture is different. Like when I'm saying that it isn't — I'm not using that as a racial slur. You know, in — in the neighborhood, they'll say, “What's up? That's my n-----. Yo, come here.” They're not offended by it when you say that. You just — it's just the slang that we use where we're from.
Gangel: Isn't it demeaning to use that slang?
50 Cent: No, I — it depends on the actual person and how they actually using it.
Gangel: You can get away with it.
50 Cent: I do. All the time. [Laughter]
Well, not all the time. In the interest of record sales, 50 records two versions of his lyrics. Guess which one his 9-year-old listens to?
Gangel: Do you let your son listen to it?
50 Cent: Yeah. He listens to the clean version of it. Without the cussing and swearing and stuff.
Gangel: Why do you think your music is so popular with white suburban kids who don't know anything about where you're coming from?
50 Cent: Same reason why people pick up the newspaper every day. They pick up the newspaper and see someone else's experience, which is harder than theirs, and go wow, that was terrible.
And apparently, bad news is good business. In between recording sessions, 50 Cent is a workaholic who has built an empire — clothing, sneakers, a power drink, video games — all based on his gangsta image. And 50 also admits that those infamous hip-hop feuds keep people talking.
50 Cent: You know, good press, bad press, it's all press. You know, and that's the honest truth.
Gangel:Are you in danger?
50 Cent: I don't feel like I'm in danger.
Gangel: But sometimes you wear a bulletproof vest.
50 Cent: Yeah.
Gangel: Is that for show or for safety?
50 Cent: It's for safety. I mean, I understand the possibilities. I've actually been shot nine times before.
Gangel:You're so big now. You're number one. Ever think, You know what? I'm gonna keep my mouth shut. Enough. No more dissing. No more feuding.
50 Cent: I think that that's not competing anymore.
Gangel: [Laughter] Ahhh. And you like it.
50 Cent: A little bit. I like it. You know? 'Cause I mean I feel like that's the part of it that — that is — that drives you, the competition.
So don't expect the lyrics or the image to change anytime soon.
Gangel: You scare people.
50 Cent: I know I scare people. That's actually my job. That's why they buy my music. I scare them for — $16.99. And they — and they buy the record. And they're entertained by it.
Gangel: It's not for real?
50 Cent: That's my job. [Laughter]