He was a career criminal at the age of 12, was shot nine times in an attempt on his life and last November was the toast of the Mobo awards â€” but what interests rapper 50 Cent most is his new trainers
In the foyer of the Landmark Hotel, a painfully well-to-do place in west London, a group of men move through the foyer to gratifying effect. Thin-blooded business types stare as the posse, dripping with gold chains, roll through reception lugging sacks from McDonaldâ€™s, the smell of which has in seconds obliterated that of the hotelâ€™s carefully arranged orchids. On the day of their arrival, 50 Cent and his 18-strong entourage were held for several hours at London-Heathrow airport while customs officials checked that none of them had outstanding warrants.
â€œThey was cool,â€ says Fifty, in the laconic drawl that characterises his rapping. Outside the hotel room, three Buddha-shaped security guys inhale burgers while inside, Nancy and Diana from Reebok balance pairs of trainers in what they hope is range of the photographerâ€™s lens. I ask 50 Cent if success is making him soft. â€œNah,â€ he says. â€œNo. I use my real-life scenario, things that I see going on around me, because Iâ€™m sure people can relate to that. I donâ€™t trust it if you just use your imagination to make up things. Cos thereâ€™s a higher chance that people arenâ€™t IDing with you.â€
Paradoxically, the wounds that Fifty sustained when he was shot, put to great promotional use in the creation of his image, make him seem softer in the flesh. A bullet that entered his cheek has left him with a dimpled scar and a lisp â€” he canâ€™t say â€œthâ€ â€” which takes a lot of the menace out of the word â€œdeathâ€ when he raps it. In the song â€œMany Menâ€, Fifty lisps winsomely, â€œMany men wish deafph â€˜pon me, many many many many men, wish deafph on me.â€ He opens his mouth and shows me a jagged gap in his bottom row of teeth where, he says, the bullet passed through. â€œIt changed my voice, yeah. The teefph â€” thereâ€™s a little more air, and it makes a hiss sound.â€
50 Centâ€™s mother, Sabrina, was 15 when she had him. His father was never around and even before Sabrina died Fifty lived mainly with his grandparents. â€œTwenty-eight years ago, having a teen pregnancy wasnâ€™t as common as it is these days. When it happened, she started to hustle to provide for me. You know? And... she, she got killed. And after she got killed, I stayed with my grandparents. But she was in the streets so much, I stayed with them before, too.â€™â€™
One of the weirdest things about becoming successful, he says, has been hearing commentators and critics, academics and journalists analysing life in his old neighbourhood from their position of luxury outside it. â€œI was really closed in. Iâ€™m from Queens, New York City, and I hadnâ€™t seen very much more than that. I mean, Iâ€™ve been places where Iâ€™ve heard references to â€˜gun cultureâ€™. And, um, where Iâ€™m from, we donâ€™t even speak like that. Itâ€™s just a part of that environment.â€
When he was 12, Fifty started hustling on the street to take the financial pressure off his grandparents. It was, he says, a simple case of economics. â€œMy grandparents had nine children, and they raised them at a time when shoes might cost $10. And times have changed: your shoes will cost you $125. Big difference. I wasnâ€™t comfortable asking them to provide for me like that. So I asked the people who appeared to have it, who I had met through my motherâ€™s activities. People who had really nice cars and seemed to have the finances. They gave me an opportunity to hustle. So I started that early.â€™â€™