As he adds more business ventures and philanthropic efforts to his resume, 50 Cent has found himself in a curious spot. Battling not only album delays but also a rapidly shifting hip-hop landscape, the man who exploded onto the scene with the inescapable night-out anthem "In Da Club" is once again hungry, and acutely aware that living legend-status doesn't necessarily come with influence or relevance.
Consider this: When 50 Cent dropped "Get Rich or Die Tryin,'" it was still vaguely acceptable for his mentor Eminem to refer to homosexuals using gay slurs, rap was becoming the dominant music of American party and radio culture and Snoop Lion was still a Dogg.
So, yes, time files. In an interview about his upcoming performance at the X Games, I asked 50 to lay aside all album delays, business stresses and take a look at his own legacy. If he never released another song, would he be pleased with his legacy? "I'm comfortable," he says. "I've made some of the right steps. Of course I've made mistakes, and some of them aren't visible because of momentum, but I know I made them."
That's about all he has to say on the music. "At this point, I feel an extreme interest in philanthropy," he continues unprovoked. "And not just in hip-hop or music, but my peers. Young entrepreneurs, you know? I want to promote conscious capitalism. According to World Bank numbers, 10 percent of business could alleviate all extreme poverty. If we adapt models where we have things like my Street King project, which provides a meal for every drink sold, or SMS audio which, provides meals through FeedingAmerica..."
There's clearly a lot on the man born Curtis Jackson's mind, but the message to which he constantly returns is a simple one: "Things could be worse."
"It has been a consistent theme in hip-hop culture that if it ain't about money, it ain't about shit," he says. "That has been so present because a lot of the artists come from low-income situations and the visible restraint is financial. So it bleeds into the music. I have problems in front of me. My grandmother is in the hospital right now, and I love her dearly. But it could be worse. It could be a lot worse. To adapt that type of thinking, where you can sustain a positive mood, long-term, would be the goal."
I let him continue. "The only thing we have in life that's really precious is moments. Right now, we're sharing. We're sharing this moment, this time. Because you can't get it back. I could be somewhere else, you could be somewhere else. So if you can't figure out how to make something special out of it, or how to enjoy it, then you lost."
Making something of a moment is a little harder in today's music climate, if only because moments are at once shorter and influenced by a greater number of forces. Ten years ago, Twitter, Instagram, search engine optimization and hashtags weren't a part of a performer's calculus -- especially a "gangster rapper," which is what 50 started out as before becoming a bonafide pop star. Jay-Z -- with his lyrics about Windows 7 and "planking" -- is an example of a rapper who is exceedingly talented at making the most of today's hashtag world, but not everyone does it so gracefully. While he abstains from criticizing the current generation of rappers wholesale, 50 agrees that part of the problem is that today's performers are so eager to find and chase the latest trend.
"I think it was a big problem 10 years ago too, but we didn't have the social media to see it," he says. "When you have artists that don't have a Plan B, they have to emulate what's working. If you have no choice and what you're doing has to work, you go, 'What's working right now?' And you try to make a song that sounds like what's playing on the radio, even if it's not what you would do as an artist. And you can do it, but not as good as the guy who is in his pocket when he's doing it."
(Quick note: 50 says he has no favorite rappers, only favorite "moments," but he thinks Drake is a guy who seems to always "be in his pocket," which is "relationship-based content." "He can do that with his eyes closed, standing on his head," he said. "And that was cool -- that was a cool choice." He also believes Busta Rhymes "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See" was a moment. "Busta Rhymes wasn't even a person at one point. He was an animation. Busta Rhymes was a character.")
Ten years ago ("In Da Club" turned a decade old this past January), 50 was "what's playing on the radio," and a "bottle full of bub" was all mainstream partiers used to underwrite their club nights. While that single -- and 50's ensuing, relentless string of hits ("Magic Stick," "Disco Inferno," "Just a Lil Bit," "Piggy Bank," "21 Questions," "So Seductive," "Candy Shop," "P.I.M.P.") set the pace for radio-friendly hip-hop for a few years, the explosion of electronic dance music and the resurgence of street rap from the likes of Chief Keef have shifted pop-rap from a weed and drink game to an MDMA one.
50 knows it. On a remix of Keef's "Hate Being Sober" (Keef and 50 are both signed to Interscope), 50 raps that his female companion is "like a hot tamale when she pops a molly" ("molly" is a common term for MDMA). I ask him how he strikes the balance between keeping his music fresh for new listeners without straying from his own "pocket," and what he would say to those who object to his stab at molly rap. "When you're writing a record, I'm writing, and the girl that I'm with is actually popping a molly," he says. "And between me and you, she was. You see what I'm saying? It's within the experience."
"When I write those things, about the lifestyle, I'm going to inject things that are around that apply to me," he continues. "I'm not even aware of it at the actual point, it becomes clear to me afterwards. And it's a joke to me -- 'popped a molly I'm sweating, woo!' It was something that you go, 'Oh, OK.' It was just a good line."
The line, off internet meme-cum-rapper Trinidad James' "All Gold Everything," crystallized what other performers like Tyga had been toying with for the past couple of years. The song has since been certified Gold. "Then," 50 exclaims, "It's real! It's something that becomes socially acceptable, because it's mentioned a lot, and it becomes like, 'Yeah, no problem. Let's do it.'"
It's at this point in our interview that a publicist informs us that we need to wrap things up, so I ask 50 to reflect on slightly more productive days and name his favorite song off each of his albums.
He's game: "Off 'Get Rich or Die Tryin,'" one of my favorite joints -- and I never really get to play it -- is 'I Know You Like My Style.' From 'Massacre,' and this was clearly my favorite -- 'Baltimore Love Thing.' On the 'Curtis' album, it was 'Strong Enough.' And on 'Before I Self-Destruct,' 'Crime Wave.'"
After a beat, he continues. "As you notice, it's never really the big, commercial record. There's a song called 'We Movin' on Up' that I did and I took a sample with Russell Simmons and I said, 'Sometimes it's better to put a drum beat with nothing but a drum beat,' and then the drums come on [makes drum noises]. That record is something that I really enjoy because it takes me back to what I was thinking and the space I was in creatively when I made it. It was just positive energy."
Before we hang up, I ask if there's a particular song on the forthcoming "Street King Immortal" that's his favorite. "I haven't put it out yet," 50 sighs, citing structural changes at Interscope ("we have a new president of music and he brought over a new president of what would be urban, or black music"), the passing of legendary hip-hop manager Chris Lighty and other business woes as the reason for the many delays of the album, which still doesn't have a final release date.
"I didn't want to release my stuff and be stuck in the middle of the that while the record was out and have that damage my brand," he says, obviously frustrated. "I don't want to let summer pass though, fuck! I'm ready -- I just have to get everything else ... in the pocket."
This story appears in the Issue 52 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, June 7.