The next time that you are on holiday in a foreign city and a handsome black man with a bullet hole in his left cheek asks you to take a photograph of him by a fountain, help him out. It could be 50 Cent enjoying his downtime.
“If I get a weekend to myself that’s when I reflect on my life a little,” he says, “that’s when I think: I could easily be dead but God told my ass, ‘No, you ain’t done here yet’.”
In Amsterdam on tour last month the American gangsta rap star woke up in his hotel suite and had an urge for what he calls “a little taste of normalcy”. He threw on a hoody and some sunglasses and gave his ten-strong entourage of minders and managers the slip. 50 Cent then took his first break in days and went for a walk through the streets of the city.
“They got an interesting point of view on the sex industry there,” he notes, almost coyly, which is something of a surprise since the multimillion-selling man known to his friends as “Fiddy” is in negotiations about launching his own range of condoms and sex toys as we speak.
“But I didn’t spend too long in the red-light district. What I really wanted to see was the sights where regular people hang. I don’t want to sound ungrateful but sometimes I just want to feel like no one. In my downtime I don’t want people in my face.”
No one asked for an autograph. No girl asked to feel his “abs”, so hardened by gym workouts that you could grate carrots on them. These are the usual workaday duties of 50 Cent. But the man born Curtis Jackson III blended with the weekday crowd, with his digital camera, unmolested. He walked by the canal. He walked near the red-light district. Finally he found a pleasant square where he took some pictures of buildings and then asked a bystander to take one of himself. “When I get back to my home in Connecticut I put these photos on a map of the world with a pin. I’ve got them from all the places I’ve visited. I’m starting to build up a picture of where I’ve been, who I meet and what I’ve accomplished. I’m kinda making up a history for myself. I want souvenirs of the good stuff. I got plenty from the bad . . .”
Every morning in the bathroom mirror Jackson can see the bullet wound in his face from a drive-by shooting in 2000 in which he was hit nine times. His story is, by now, known well enough. Born in Queens, New York, to a drug-dealing mother, Sabrina, who was murdered when he was 8, Jackson was raised by his maternal grandparents and then became a dealer himself aged 12. But a talent for music drove him to the verge of a record deal. On the eve of signing to Columbia Records came the shooting. Jackson went to hospital. The company pulled out of the deal. Eventually he was signed by the white rap superstar Eminem, and distilled his terrifying urban tale into his 2003 debut, Get Rich or Die Tryin’. It sold 13 million copies and his subsequent output has established him as gangsta rap’s No 1 pin-up.
But offstage Jackson seems to have outgrown the persona. He’s a gently spoken, thoughtful 34-year-old. He’s astute enough to know that he cannot play the thug for ever and his business acumen has already propelled him into new and unexpected terrain.
Perhaps the most astonishing of these ventures is his self-help book, The 50th Law, co-written with the American business guru Robert Greene. In the book Jackson helps to bring the visceral survival instinct of the New York ghetto to the boardroom. Some of it is poignant: “When you’ve been in life-threatening situations you become aware that life is not for ever”; other parts less so: “I don’t regret slashing a rival’s face [as a drug dealer] and other things I’ve done because they make you who you are.”
Today he is slightly less bullish about the book and his boardroom skills. “From childhood my life has been about how to survive,” he says. “That’s not good for children. But it is a skill. It sharpens your mind. You bring that into the boardroom then you cannot fail. When it comes to discussing a risky venture, I know for sure that I am the least-scared man at the table.”
Jackson, who seems so soft and cuddly that you want to take him out and buy him an ice cream, knows that aggression will get you only so far. In fact, hanging out and relaxing is where he stumbled upon his greatest business opportunity of all. The clean-living Jackson, a former amateur boxer and regular gym bunny, says that he always liked a sports drink after a workout. This led him to invest $1 million (£660,000) in the Glacéau Vitaminwater company, which developed a special drink, Formula 50, in his honour. When Coca-Cola bought the company for more than $4 billion he walked away with $100 million.
“Yeah, that was a good day,” he says, laughing. “Some people get thirsty after a workout and leave it like that. I get thirsty and start thinking, ‘Well, if I need a vitamin water then there are probably going be a million other people working out who think the same way, too’. I don’t toot my own horn all the time but … that’s how a millionaire thinks.”
When I ask him how I can make drinking coffee, eating a croissant and zoning out on a Saturday morning into a multimillion-dollar business opportunity, Fiddy doesn’t miss a beat.
“Own the croissant factory, man,” he says, with a hint of the testy teacher addressing a dozy pupil. “Make sure your croissants are the best. And put your name on them.”
He certainly leads by example. The drinks, video games, trainers and sportswear line, fragrance and body spray, novels (he co-wrote a gangster tale, The Ski Mask Way) and autobiography — and the films and music he puts his name to — mean that he and his beloved 13-year-old son, Marquise, will never want for anything. For him, when he is not touring or recording, that is what weekends are all about.
“I never knew my father,” he says solemnly. “That’s not at all an unusual situation in the projects. You meet a kid with two parents and you witnessing something pretty special in the ghetto. Having a son was a wake-up call to me. You get a chance to do things better, do them right. It’s only now that I can fully appreciate that the circumstances of my childhood were not right. Hustling is not a life for a 12-year-old. But I grew up seeing that as normal. Marquise will not. I like that. I like knowing that he will have something a whole lot better.”
Jackson says that he is currently single. After an acrimonious split with Marquise’s mother, Shaniqua Tompkins (she sued for $50 million without success and then claimed that Jackson burnt down the house that she was living in), he says that he has neither time nor inclination for a proper relationship.
“I don’t have time, and yeah, I think every man wonders if a woman is wanting to have a relationship with him or with his wallet. Men and women are always talking at cross purposes. He’s looking into her eyes. She’s asking about his finances. I’m looking for friendship first, someone that I can have a conversation with. After that it would be her job to make a serene environment to relieve the pressures of the workplace.”
If he met the right woman he says that he might even, as a mark of respect, remove the pole-dancing pole he has in the basement of his home. For now his favourite weekends are spent back in Farmington, Connecticut, with his maternal grandparents, who brought him up after his mother’s murder. The mansion used to belong to Mike Tyson (eerily, the man rumoured to have shot Jackson in 2000 — now dead himself — was one of Tyson’s former bodyguards).
“We talk, we eat, we watch movies. People listen to my music and think I live out on the street corners or there’s the sound of shooting, but I like it quiet. The less people in my face the better. I’m happy being 50 Cent on albums and on stage but back home I’m Curtis. I like that I sleep in Mike Tyson’s old bedroom. That’s a legendary place to get a little nap.”
50 Cent’s single, Do You Think About Me, is out now
Fifty’s perfect weekend
Saks suit or tracksuit?
Tracksuit. I can do a suit for a premiere of one of my movies, but at home it feels wrong.
Breakfast smoothie or pancakes and maple syrup?
Smoothie. Well, my vitamin water if I really had the choice.
Nike Air Max or Prada loafers?
You can’t shoot hoop in Italian loafers, fool. Nikes.
Blonde or brunette?
Pass. It’s conversation that counts.
Gym bunny or yoga?
Gym. I want to stay lean, but I don’t need to be putting my foot over my head and up my nose.
Porsche or Ferrari?
Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead. I bought it as soon as it came out.
McDonald’s or Burger King?
Don’t make me endorse a burger without getting paid.
Quiet night in or red carpet do?
Red carpet if it’s one of my films.
In da club or in da pub?
Club. I never been in a pub, man.
Water or vodka?
Water. You make bad decisions on anything else.
Organic home-cooked meal or takeout?
Takeout on the weekend, most definitely.
Upstate or downtown?
Both. Downtown on Saturday. Upstate on a Sunday.
I couldn’t get through the weekend without …
A little bit of Taylor Swift on my Walkman.