"I never got into it for the music," 50 told Forbes not long ago. "I got into it for the business." The VitaminWater deal has proved to be his biggest payoff yet – one that left even Kanye West envious. "When I say, 'Wait till I get my money right,'" West says, referring to a lyric from the first single from Graduation, "Can't Tell Me Nothing," "people might look at me like 'Yo, you already got your money right.' But when I see 50 do the VitaminWater, I knew I didn't have my money quite right enough."
Before the Coca-Cola deal, 50 was earning $7 million annually from his investment in VitaminWater. His manager, Chris Lighty, says that a more natural brand extension for him would have been liquor: "Everyone else was thinking about being the next Patrón." But 50 had little interest in helping market a premium brand. "He says he'd rather be a Volkswagen than a Bentley," Lighty says. "You know why? Because Volkswagen owns Bentley." Mass over flash.
Citing a nondisclosure agreement, 50 won't reveal how much he made from the deal. "Let's just say that it wouldn't be a tragedy if people didn't buy my record," he says. "I wouldn't faint on the floor and start kicking." He laughs long and hard. He likes to laugh and he smiles easily, surprising given that in photos he almost always looks menacing. In real life he is anything but. He greets women with hugs and men with friendly pounds. When he is in a pleasant mood, the jokes runneth over. According to those who know him best, you get out of 50 what you give him. "You give him shade," says Lighty, "he'll give you shade. You give him the hand, he'll give you a hand, invite you to the party, tell jokes and be very endearing."
Still, the teddy bear can turn grizzly if provoked. He recently trashed his office after discovering that his upcoming single "Follow My Lead" was leaked to the Internet. "Yeah, I ripped the plasma off the wall," he says, "and broke that window. I have had a lot of miscommunication with the mother company lately." He is referring to his label, Interscope, and blames it for Curtis' wobbly start.
50 radiates confidence, but he is conscious of his stature in the hip-hop world and the way the singles from Curtis were criticized. "You care how people receive you," he says, "but you've got to say it doesn't matter in order to function." Still, he's smarting over a recent MTV Top Ten list, which ranked him as the eighth-hottest MC in the game. His former protége, the Game, is at number three. "I wrote three of the hit songs on the album that he's being recognized for," he says. "That doesn't make any sense to me."
That Lil Wayne holds the number-one spot also perplexes him: "That has to be based on his performance on other people's records, because his own records don't generate enough interest to put him at number one." That he could be rekindling a beef with the Game and starting another with Lil Wayne means, well, lil' to him. He's at his best when he has an adversary. "I create more when I'm angry," he says.
He saves the worst labs for West. "Kanye receives trophies because he's safe," 50 says, punctuating the word "safe" with a lisp and a limp wrist. "He's more acceptable to conservative Americans like Oprah Winfrey, who will have him on her show because he's not a threat to her audience."
Oprah is the epitome of a multimedia mogul, the billionaire 50 someday hopes to be, and like a schoolboy nursing an unrequited crush he has a habit of picking on her. She's lost touch with the black community, he says: "She's catering to the old white American demographic. Her views are similar to Bill O'Reilly's. She doesn't like hip-hop, and I don't like people who don't like hip-hop."
50 doesn't have Oprah cash just yet, but he is a long way from Jamaica, Queens, the working-class New York neighborhood that birthed, raised and nearly killed him. He now lives in Farmington, Connecticut, in a mansion that once belonged to Mike Tyson. Though his surroundings have changed and he's traveled the world (Beirut, Stuttgart, Lagos, Dubai, to name a few of the stamps in his passport), he insists that fame hasn't changed him. "When I was in the streets hustling," he says, "I had the same ambition that they praise me for now. It was just the wrong direction."
Now that it's focused in the right direction, 50 shows no signs of slowing down. Another 50 video game will hit next year. His cologne, Power by 50 Cent, will also be in stores by 2008. He considered naming the fragrance Relentless, "but that word doesn't translate worldwide," he says. "I want this to be an international brand, and Power translates in every language. In some countries the word 'less' in 'relentless' actually means 'less.'"
He shakes his head and shrugs.
In 50's world, less will never mean more.
This story is from the September 20th, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone.
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