“I’m going to get what I can get”

New York Rap artist Curtis Jackson, better known as 50 Cent, is the best selling musician of this decade. He openly talks about his endless obsession with money.

By Peter Hossli

50cent.gif50 Cent, how did the Dow Jones Index do today?
50 Cent: My stocks are way up, but I don’t know about the other guy’s. I only check on stocks I have a personal interest in. I don’t care about the index.

These days, you seem to make way more money with your investments than with music. How come?
50 Cent: When it comes to money, I leave all options on the table. Lately, the opportunities that have come my way besides music were just perfect. They paid off in a big way.

You invest on Wall Street. What fascinates you about the financial world?
50 Cent: The gangsters on Wall Street are more ruthless than the gangsters on the street. There people know that their stock won’t do well – and they still sell it to you.

You’re a former drug dealer. How does a street gangster deal with white-collar gangsters?
50 Cent: I only care about business and nothing else. And I make sure that people I deal with know that they can’t bullshit me.

Most savvy businessmen have business plans. What’s yours?
50 Cent: I don’t have a huge map that leads me to where I’ll be in ten years. But I always come up with new ideas where I invest my time and energy – and my money.

You have not much of a formal education. How do you decide on your investments?
50 Cent: Whatever I do on Wall Street, I work with advisers. But for example my investment in Vitamin Water was more a reflection on my healthy lifestyle. I have to keep myself fit in order to go out and do the kind of high-energy performances that my audience expects from me.

Vitamin Water gave you ten percent of the company for an endorsement of their products. Earlier this year Coca-Cola bought Vitamin Water for over 4 billion dollars. You made about 400 million dollar on that deal. Will you call yourself a dollar fifty now?
50 Cent: No, I’m still Fifty Cent. But you can call me Curtis.

Your real name is Curtis Jackson. You’re new album is called “Curtis”. In the video for the song Ayo Technology you’re wearing a suit and a tie instead of baggy jeans and oversized t-shirts. Do you want to be seen more as a Wall Street than a mean street persona?
50 Cent: I don’t necessarily want to be seen as a Wall Street person, but definitely as a businessperson. A suit means business. The song Ayo Technology has a more mature vibe than my earlier stuff. So I need to wear more mature cloth.

Your fans love you as a gangster from the ‘hood, a former drug dealer and prison inmate, a guy who got shot nine times and survived. How do you keep that rough image while controlling hundreds of millions of dollars?
50 Cent: This is easy, I’m just who I am. I haven’t changed that much. People who know me from my time on the street know that I always had these habits and mannerisms. Now I just have the finances and relationships to make things happen.

What did you learn from hustling drugs that you could use to hustle yourself?
50 Cent: On the street I had to remove people without physically hurt them. I’m doing the same thing today.

How do you actually do that?
50 Cent: Once I was hustling on my block. Other people came in and were doing the same thing. So I had my people coming in and rob them with guns. Since they had no guns, they had to leave. At the same time I developed a clientele that realized that my business was more consistent then theirs. After that everybody realized that I was running the street. But then I offered the other guys an opportunity to work for me.

You push people out, and then you make them work for you. How do you translate this to your current business affairs?
50 Cent: It’s the same thing. I apply pressure to artists that can’t really compete with me until they submit. Then I give them an opportunity to come back to work for me.

Money plays a tremendously important role in your life and your work…
50 Cent: … when I grew up, finances appeared to be the answer to all my problems. Once I required a bit of money I realized that there are always new obstacles. It’s not until you get the money that you see there is always a new problem.

So you need to chase more money. Where do you get the energy to relentlessly do that?
50 Cent: It’s not energy. It’s ambition. And ambition is not a learned behavior, it’s part of a person’s character. Some people genuinely do not have ambition. The guy standing with a cup on a street corner doesn’t have ambition. A woman who is just attractive and associates stability with marriage doesn’t have ambition.

How do you keep your ambition going?
50 Cent: Every time I move to a different level financially I run into a group of people that makes me look cute. They make me look that I really need to go back to work. If I earn 400 million dollars, or 500 million dollars and I run into a guy who just made 5 or 6 billion dollars, and he tells me, “I heard you had a good year”, that makes me feel really bad. It’s tough for me.

So you want to beat that guy?
50 Cent: Its more complex than that. The driveway of a guy’s home who has 5 billion dollars is not different from the guy who has 500 million dollars. Both can afford the same luxurious things. The difference is that the richer guy has much more finances freed up to generate more money. This justifies him spending his money frivolously.

What does money mean to you?
50 Cent: It’s freedom. Money is freedom. After I’m done with this interview I’m on private plane that takes me to the town I want to go. And I’ll be back tomorrow morning. I can’t have that kind of freedom if I don’t have the finances to do that.

On “Curtis” you rap that there is “never enough dough”. This can hardly be true.
50 Cent: There is never enough money because there isn’t. A person who is truly a hustler or a truly ambitious businessperson doesn’t go out and say, “okay, I made enough, I’m going to go on an Island and sit under a palm tree”. They keep working. The mannerisms and behaviors that got them to the point where they’re successful are real. These things are going to continue to thrive them to do different things.

This sounds like a hamster race without an end. What’s your goal?
50 Cent: I’m going through a tunnel that won’t end. I’m always looking forward to moving to the next level. All I do, at some point, I pamper myself a bit. Some people are happy if they’re house is paid for and their car is paid for. Then they wait for retirement and live off their meager savings. I’m going to get what I can get. And I’m going ahead and I’ll burn it all.

What you actually burn it on? It can’t still be gold chains, diamonds or muscle cars.
50 Cents: Oh no, I’m beyond that. I spend it all on my life. I buy homes. People still talk a lot about Mike Tyson’s home I bought up in Connecticut…

… for 18 million dollars.
50 Cent: I own six other homes. I spent 26 days in that Tyson house last year.

Money savvy people put their money into Swiss bank accounts. Do you?
50 Cent: I don’t even know.

You’re famous for having been shot nine times. People agree your survival jump-started your career. Have you ever calculated the value of each bullet hole?
50 Cent: No, but I shall soon do that. I know those holes are worth a lot.

What did that shooting teach you that you use in your businesses today?
50 Cent: I learned to keep boundaries. People around me often forget that they’re working for me. Some of them get to comfortable. All of sudden a security guy thinks he’s my friend. I need to be very careful because in the end, it’s me who is running all this shit.

On “Curtis” you also rap that you run New York…
50 Cent: … I do.

What does Michael Bloomberg say about it?
50 Cent: I run New York music wise. He runs it from a legal standpoint. But Bloomberg might as well misinterpret that song, because I do have a strong present on the street. And I might just be saying that I do run New York. Period.

On the street, the pimp is the only one with money. That’s way he runs the streets. Are you the pimp now?
50 Cent: Some people in New York still have more money than I. But they have less influence in the music scene than I have. In my art form, nobody can beat me. New York City is a tough crowd. They won’t accept anything. You can have a smashing hit anywhere else and then you come here and they look at you and they say, “yeah, that was cool, now do something else”. New York is not an easy crowd to win. I won them based on my consistency.

Most rappers would not get away with saying that they run New York.
50 Cent: Competition comes as part of rap. I’m the only one you can safely say he runs New York because of what I’ve done. People agree and say, “yes you do”.

Not everybody likes it. Some rappers, like Common, criticize you for being focused on money, and on business but on not the music.
50 Cent: I tell him to stop writing his music and start focusing how he’ll pay his bills. Common Sense is not one of the guys I’m pointing to and say I can’t stand him. In fact I look as his music and say, “hey this is cool”. But he’s not been provided the opportunities to do business on the level I do business on. I can’t blame a person for not viewing things from my perspective if he hasn’t seen that perspective.

How do you measure yourself against other rappers?
50 Cent: Record sales are a direct indication of my music connecting to the public. If I generate enough interest, people go out and purchase my CD. That indicates to me people are enjoying my music. Right now, record sales generally go down because of technology. For long I’ve been on the roof of those numbers. I’ll find out whether this is still true when my CD comes out on September 11.

It is a Tuesday. Is the release date for “Curtis” just regular Tuesday for you?
50 Cent: Yeah. It’s an actual workday, not a national holiday. Everybody else goes to work, so why should I not go to work?

Online, people have speculated that you’re over musically.
50 Cent: Listen, in this business people want to see you go up and then fall down. I felt a lot of resistance. This changed instantly once I released the song “I Get Money”. With this, I feel I’m starting my career over again. Everybody’s mind has changed with that song. The guy who was going on the Internet last week and wrote, “I don’t like 50 Cent, 50 Cent is garbage”, he goes now, “Oh, this one is hot, I can’t wait to get his album”.

For the first time you work with producers other than Dr Dre and Eminem. Why change something that works?
50 Cent: My problem with Interscope Records [Eminem’s and Dre’s record label] is that they have a cookie cutter mentality. They want to stick with formulated work all the time. They put out cool work, but I’m a creative person. So I can go to the studio with someone else that has creative energy and come out with something that needs to be heard.

You don’t need Interscope anymore?
50 Cent: I didn’t say that. But what I do say is that I don’t need music. I really don’t need music. I made enough money in the last four years that I die before I finish spending it.

What do you actually need to do?
50 Cent: Nothing. If you told me today “nothing that you’ll ever do in entertainment will work”, that’ll be fine for me. I’m financially stable that I wouldn’t need anything from anyone for the rest of my life. I don’t even need my business deals outside of music.

How does this notion change you?
50 Cent: It relaxes me. Because I’ve already assured myself that I can enjoy some of the finer things in life, all based on a three-year work period. Just my basic investments with the banks bring me millions of dollars each year. This does not include my endorsements. I will never go back and get a job.

You have all this money, but as a felon you have no political rights. You were never able to vote.
50 Cent: I can vote now.

Oh, you can? Who will you vote for in the Presidential election of 2008?
50 Cent: I don’t know yet. I’m still thinking.

In what direction are you thinking?
“We don’t go there, please”, yells a publicist in the back. “You have one more question.”

In 2005, Kayne West criticized George W. Bush for his inactions after hurricane Katrina. You came out and defended Bush. Why?
50 Cent: I look at George Bush and see a gangster. He wants to do the right thing as far as his perception of the right thing is. And he wants to maintain order. I called him a gangster because he is a special guy. All gangsters are special people. They have less compassion than an average human. Gangsters want what they want. And they get it.