Four years ago, 50 Cent had an epiphany about his contribution to society. "I started assessing my legacy and how I want people to remember me," he tells Rolling Stone at a press event for the second season of SundanceTV's education-based reality show Dream School. "Not as a guy who made a couple of cool songs or picked a couple of good roles in film and television, but more as someone who helped others the most. I spent so much time dealing with the business portion of the music business for [2009's] Before I Self Destruct, it gave me enough time to reflect on who I want to be."
When the rapper/businessman saw Jamie Oliver's Dream School, a 2011 British documentary in which the titular chef brings low-performing students into a specialized school taught by teachers and celebrities, he immediately knew he wanted to be involved in the U.S. counterpart. The American version premiered on SundanceTV last year in Los Angeles, with 50 Cent signing on as both producer and teacher.
Season Two, which finds 15 New York City students who have previously dropped out or been expelled getting a chance to graduate, has recruited Chuck D (who doubles as an executive producer), figure skater Johnny Weir and chef/restaurant owner David Chang, among others, as celebrity teachers and mentors. LouAnne Johnson, whose 1993 book My Posse Don't Do Homework was turned into the hit film Dangerous Minds, has also signed up to be the school's principal. The show premieres Wednesday, October 1st at 10 pm EST on SundanceTV.
"When the students get a chance to see people that are in a position that they can aspire to who have had similar tough situations in front of them, then they don't make excuses for not being successful and can identify with them," the rapper said in a panel alongside civil rights lawyer Gloria Allred, who appears as a teacher in the show. "They look at the content you create that is aimed at the dysfunctional behavior in the communities you grew up in and they know you know. It's an opportunity to utilize your celebrity in the right way."
With more than 3 million students dropping out annually in the U.S., Allred said she tried to focus on a positive aspect for each Dream School: NYC student. "We started out asking each student, 'I am unfortunate because, but i am fortunate because' and one of the students said, 'I am unfortunate because a lot of my homeboys have been killed, but I am fortunate because I still have some left.' We all can say, 'I am unfortunate because,' but we have to remember that we are fortunate in many ways."
Asked to answer the question himself after the panel, 50 tells Rolling Stone, "I am unfortunate because I'm a bad judge of character at points, but I am fortunate because I notice, so I reevaluate my decisions with people and then I move forward and continue my success."
The rapper, whose troubled drug-dealing past has been thoroughly chronicled, says he can relate and empathize with the students on the show. "These kids are smart; they're just taking on bad habits," he says. "This is probably the last opportunity for them. When I met them, they all seemed to understand how lucky they were to be in the program and have this opportunity. Even in 12-step programs, they tell you to change people, places and things. But when you go home into the same environment, you start doing things that are connected to the bad habits. But it's great that they had the support that wasn't in everybody's day-to-day."