50 Cent goes from bullets to billions
50 Cent. Picture: Supplied

The day after Grammy award- winning rapper 50 Cent ended a 12-year relationship with the Shady/Aftermath/Interscope label group in February, he released The Funeral via business website Forbes.

The interview and song were a chance to flex his new independent status, but Fiddy was sure to credit Shady boss Eminem and Aftermath chief Dr. Dre for their support in launching a career that has shifted 30 million albums so far.

"I'd like to thank Eminem and Dr. Dre for giving me an incredible opportunity," 50 Cent, whose real name is Curtis Jackson, repeated in a press release. "I've learnt so much from them through the years."

There seem to be no hard feelings, perhaps because Jackson and his G-Unit label shifted distribution and marketing to Caroline, still under the Universal umbrella.

Noticeably absent in the parting words was (now former) Interscope co-founder Jimmy Iovine who left the company along with Dre when Apple acquired their Beats Electronics company for $3 billion on May 28.

Among Jackson's vast array of products or endorsements is SMS Audio headphones, a rival to the Beats by Dre brand - the cornerstone of their lucrative company along with the Beats Music streaming service.

During an interview about his first post-Interscope album, Animal Ambition, the 38-year-old rapper wondered aloud whether his recent records were sidelined due to the competition between the rival headphones.

"Is it my record, am I not connecting properly, or is it because I'm connected to SMS Audio that I'm not receiving the proper treatment," Jackson said from his New York office. "I mean, that's the question to ask."

The rapper let fly with an expletive-laden spiel about Iovine's $3 billion deal. The gist of it: forget CD sales, focus on flogging headphones.

Jackson, who was infamously shot nine times in 2000, said the skills he learnt surrounded by drugs and violence on the streets of Queens, NYC, prepared him for the boardroom.

"Oh, absolutely," he said. "I've had some people around me that are tougher than the guys I met in the neighbourhood. Trust me, I'm talking about boardroom gangsta s… here."

Not that Fiddy has missed his paydays. When his career was riding highest after the multi- platinum success of 2003 album Get Rich or Die Tryin', rather than simply endorse yet another product aimed at fans, Jackson invested in vitamin water company, Glaceau.

The 50 Cent-Vitaminwater deal was unveiled in late 2004 - the rapper was reported to have up to a 10 per cent stake in the "smart water" company. Less than three years later, Coca-Cola bought Glaceau for more than $4 billion. According to Dan Charnas' riveting book, The Big Payback - The History of the Business of Hip-Hop, the rapper's final windfall was thought to be $60-$100 million. (Fiddy celebrated the deal in 2007 single I Get Money: "I took quarter-water, sold it in bottles for two bucks . . . Coca-Cola came and bought it for billions. What the f…?")

Charnas describes the rappers who leveraged their hip-hop success into megabucks as those with "the soul of a poet, and the instincts of a killer" and 50 Cent definitely fits the bill.

Back when Columbia Records dropped him in the wake of the shooting, Jackson tricked bootleggers into thinking he was still signed to the major label so they would sell his mix-tapes. The ailing rapper remained hot property and subsequently landed the Interscope deal.

Besides headphones and packaged water, the occasional actor and licensed boxing promoter has endorsed or invested in film production, footwear, clothing, fragrances, video games, publishing, dietary supplements and even condoms.

"Just things that relate to what I'm doing in my music and lifestyle," Jackson said. "The condom company . . . I saw an opportunity to reactivate the importance of safe sex. At the time I had Magic Stick as a big hit record and (thought) Magic Stick condoms would be a cool way to do a safe sex campaign."

The campaign for Animal Ambition - the tagline: "an untamed desire to win" - saw 50 Cent release two singles, Hold On and Don't Worry About It, online with videos on March 18.

A new music video followed each week up to the album's release on June 2 in the US (May 30 in Australia).

Fiddy will release his second independent album, Street King Immortal, in September.

The almost non-stop release schedule is geared to keep fans engaged.

He said it's the artist's job to be proactive. "I don't think the record company's responsibility is to build momentum. Interscope is a reactive company . . . I don't sit around and wait for them to build anything for me."

Eminem recently called, said Jackson, shocked that his former protege was releasing so much music.

"I'm going to forever be down with Eminem," he said. "I love him . . . because he provided a way for me to have success to begin with."

From bullets to billion-dollar deals, hip-hop is as much a business juggernaut as a cultural force on a global scale.

Jackson recently spent five days in Poland promoting SMS Audio (as well as Animal Ambition) and saw proof of this firsthand.

"It's amazing, man, because our culture has exploded to the point where even if you haven't chosen hip-hop as a genre of music for your personal pleasure, you're aware of the people who are relevant to the culture," he said before adding with a laugh: "You can't miss us."

The West Australian

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