“D--n, you know we only have 30 minutes for this panel, right?” Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson joked as he strutted out onto the Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall stage on Wednesday (Feb. 5), following moderator Van Jones’ lengthy introduction of the guest of honor, 50 himself.
The crowd, who had just experienced the advance screening of his upcoming legal drama television series For Life, erupted with laughter. But there was a mutual understanding in the theater that it would be hard for anyone to sum up 50 Cent’s decorated career within a short intro.
For Life is an American legal television series created by Hank Steinberg and executive produced by the Queens rapper. The series is based on the true story of Isaac Wright Jr., who was imprisoned for a crime that he did not commit, then studied to become a lawyer while incarcerated and fought to overturn his life sentence. The new series is set to debut tonight (Feb. 11) on ABC.
“When Wright] was telling me the story, I was Googling it to make sure he was telling me the truth,” 50 tells Billboard while at ABC’s New York City headquarters, a few hours before the For Life premiere.
For someone like 50 Cent who has achieved coveted mainstream success with shows such as Power, one of Starz’s most watched programs, eager storytellers pitch their ideas to him every chance they can get. But as an experienced producer and tastemaker, he already knows what he wants.
“I look at producing like finding the most significant stories, and then you come to a point where the facts are better than fiction,” says 50. “For this, it wasn’t just the saying ‘one in a million.’ He really is just the only one.”
Something he and his newest one-in-a-million protagonist have in common is the ability to shapeshift to fill the shoes of roles he never imagined he could be in. The rapper says when he stormed into the mainstream in 2003 with his legendary debut album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, he didn't know he was even capable of producing television shows. Although he hadn't foreseen this career path, 50 always knew there was a key to sustaining long-running success -- "the ability to evolve,” he says.
Since his debut, he’s gone on to earn notoriety under many different labels, including actor, entrepreneur, and producer. Regardless, looking down from his mountaintop of various achievements today, being an artist remains the most valuable role to him. This is mainly because his roots as an outspoken rapper continues to allow him to say what he wants, which he knows is the main reason people seek his voice.
“Out of everything, I absolutely still value my title as ‘rapper’ the most,” he says. “If I f--k up, they’re going to say, ‘Rapper 50 Cent f--ked up.’ That’s what will come across the television. They’ll call me ‘music mogul’ or a different title in between time when positive things happen. Because I’m a rapper first, I’m still able to say things most people won’t get away with and not lose opportunities.”
Through all his titles and endeavors -- whether they’re within music, film, fashion, or even the alcohol industry -- 50 pursues them head-on, without a shadow of doubt, and doesn’t look back.
“I just don’t work with things that I don’t believe in,” he says. “For example, I’ve worked on Power for years before it was even picked up. I wound up recording 11 songs that were representations of each of the characters because we were talking about having music that was up to standard. I just knew we could make it work because of what the story was based on.”
With his evolution as a public figure comes the clear maturation as well. Over the years, 50 has gained a reputation as someone who always fearlessly marches to the beat of his own drum. However, the recent Power season six theme song debacle -- where he debuted a new version of "Big Rich Town" with guest features from Trey Songz and A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, but then changed it back after complaints from fans -- showed 50 has mastered the balance between knowing when to do what he wants, and when to listen to the masses.
“The newer theme song was actually performing well on the radio. It was me, Trey Songz, and A Boogie, and people will buy a song with the three of us right now,” he explains. But when Power fans started to push back on the change, all pride aside, 50 considered the now irreplaceable presence of “Big Rich Town,” which is so widely loved that he regularly performs it during his sets.
“When you’re going from something like that, a song that people are so acclimated to, and people buck at me that they don’t like the new song, I had to stop and ask myself, 'What do I even win in the fight?' I just didn’t see what I would gain out of not putting it back,” he says.
While reflecting on his career -- from his 2003 debut album hitting No. 1 on the Billboard 200 (and staying there for a while), to 2020 where he’s spearheading a new ABC television show -- he leans back, readjusts his stylish paisley suit, and calmly states his satisfaction with where he stands.
“There’s no real competition for me,” he concludes. “I’m so different from these other guys who are producing television shows. It gives me a clear lane.”