50 Cent and Change

Thug rapper got rich, without dying. Now with a video game, a movie and another big album to his name, he's trying for even more.


NEW YORK — NEW YORK- - In publicity shots, he's mean and threatening - all muscles, tattoos and bullet wounds. His lips are usually tight, his eyes like razors. But here in his hotel suite at the posh Essex House Hotel in Manhattan, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson often flashes a toothy, boyish grin. He's easygoing, downright gregarious.

The rapper reclines in a plush chair, swimming in dark jeans and a black and white pullover from his G-Unit clothing line. Sometimes, he jumps to his feet, lithe and animated, to illustrate a point. After a while, it feels as if you're talking and laughing with a down-to-earth cat from the old neighborhood.

But "Fiddy," as his fans call him, has long left the block.

The "blingage" he sports - a mammoth cube-shaped platinum and diamond ring, a large diamond crucifix on a long platinum chain - symbolizes his success. A burly bodyguard sits outside the door. Home these days is a sprawling mansion in Farmington, Conn.

"If a person says that money doesn't change you," the 30-year-old rapper says, "it's because they haven't made enough."

Since rocketing into the pop stratosphere two years ago with his Dr. Dre and Eminem-produced debut, Get Rich or Die Tryin', the story of 50's journey from New York drug hustler to multimillion-selling hip-hop superstar has almost become urban folklore.

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The fact that he had been shot nine times - once in the face - was among the first things mentioned in the flood of press he received when his first album came out.

And now, 50 has embellished the details of his dark, violent past for the big screen. He makes his acting debut in Get Rich or Die Tryin', a movie about a drug dealer who turns his back on crime to pursue rap. It's directed by two-time Oscar winner Jim Sheridan, best known for his work on such films as In America and My Left Foot. Loosely based on the rapper's life, Get Rich or Die Tryin' hits theaters Wednesday .

The movie is just one of his several recent projects that embody the 50 Cent character. His graphic autobiography, From Pieces to Weight, was published in August, garnering mostly positive reviews. The Massacre, his second album first released in March, was re-issued with a bonus DVD in September.

A video game, 50 Cent: Bulletproof, lands in stores Nov. 22.

"The game never touches on 50 as the rapper," says Andre Emerson, Bulletproof"s executive producer. "It's an over-the-top crime conspiracy that concentrates on 50 as a street hustler, a fictional character."

Talent set him free

All of the new ventures are part of Fiddy's G-Unit empire, which includes clothing, shoes, a record label, music production, even vitamin water.

"So many people in the same situation I was in weren't blessed with the talent to write music," the performer says, in his surprisingly soft voice. "This has allowed me to escape, then open up other business opportunities."

50 Cent's massive success is yet another example of how market-savvy entertainers must be to stay relevant these days. But what's especially interesting is what Curtis Jackson III sells to mainstream America: the mythic black thug. It's a perpetuation of an old image in hip-hop - the violent, callous, misogynistic gangsta - that goes back to Easy-E and NWA in the early '90s. The formula, like Fiddy's new movie, is cliche-ridden and predictable. But it's not going away anytime soon.

"America is still afraid of menacing young black males, except when they're at a distance in the movies (and) on CDs," says Andrew McIntosh, a sociologist at Lehigh University, where he teaches a hip-hop history course. "White America can get a glimpse of that life without the dangers. I hope we're not enjoying it, because that says something perverse about our country."

If 50's record sales and chart activity are any indication, mainstream America loves the guy and his exaggerated tales of his life in the 'hood. The Massacre is the biggest album of 2005, selling 1.14 million copies in the first four days of release. It has sold nearly 7 million copies. (His 2003 debut sold 10 million.)

Earlier this year, 50 became the first artist since the Beatles to have four songs in the top 10 on Billboard"s Hot 100 chart. Get Rich or Die Tryin', the movie, is poised to do big business at the box office with heavy promotion from Paramount Pictures and MTV, the machines behind the flick.

Posters featuring the shirtless rapper holding a sleeping infant have sprung up throughout Baltimore. A different image was used on billboards around Los Angeles, Fiddy with a gun in one hand and a microphone in the other. Two weeks ago, activists in the LA neighborhood of Hyde Park, an area affected by gang violence, called on Paramount to remove a billboard next to a pre-school. The sign has since been removed.

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