WASHINGTON — When 50 Cent announced that part of the proceeds from his new energy drink would be used to help fight hunger in Africa, some questioned whether his motives were genuine.
But the rapper says he's making a difference, and since a visit to the continent earlier this month, he's a changed man.
"It enlightened me in different ways," 50 Cent said. "To actually see people under the circumstances that I saw was a totally different experience. I don't think you can prepare yourself for that, no matter how many times you've seen the images."
The rapper-turned-humanitarian flew to Kenya and Somalia with World Food Program earlier this month to witness the effects of hunger firsthand. He has a goal to provide one billion meals to hungry children over the next five years. Every purchase of Street King, an energy drink the rapper promotes and launched last fall, will provide a meal for a person in need through the United Nations' program. So far, the rapper says he's provided more than 3.5 million meals.
50 Cent said he was touched by the children he visited in Nairobi, the capitol of Kenya. He said the children were oblivious to their living situation, and showed the same optimistic energy you would see from American kids on the playground.
"They have one meal a day, the same meal every day," he said. "There's nothing there – within their eyes and the way that they interacted with each other – that would indicate that they feel deprived in any way. They are the exact kids that you would see here, and that was so confusing. It made you want to pick them up and take them home with you, but you can't. ... So you have to do something that makes a difference."
The rapper, whose real name is Curtis Jackson, hopes to influence his peers in the entertainment industry and other young entrepreneurs to create a similar business model that gives back a percentage to charities.
But while art often imitates life, don't look for a softer side to his rap, which has depicted gritty street life. 50 Cent said he will always follow his grandmother's advice: "Just don't forget why they liked you to begin with."
Still, the trip did inspire him to return to the studio to record new material.
"I've put portions of my experience there in the actual songs, but it's so small that they'll have to listen to get it," he said. "I wanted to keep the record, creatively, in a space where when people listen to it, they just enjoy it before they can really understand what it was I'm saying; there's things on it that have double meanings."