50 Cent is no stranger to trouble — he's done time for drug and gun possession, been shot nine times and has more beefs than a steakhouse. But despite his controversial past, 50 says that his rise as a rapper makes him a positive example.
"I see myself as a role model because I've been taking advantage of all the options and opportunities that have been created for me," the rapper said last week in London. "They may not consider me as a role model because I write about harsh realities — the things that actually go on in the environment that I came up in — and I ain't going to change that. But what I say to the kids is, 'Watch what I do, not what I say.' "
Echoing Chuck D's famous comment that hip-hop is the CNN of black America, 50 said his lyrical content takes snapshots of what life is like in the 'hood, and it's his duty to make it an accurate reflection, however violent it might seem. "I'm giving them a photograph, a direct indication, of what this is about, what the actual story is," he said, "and then allow their imagination to go a step further."
He went on to say that the depiction of guns in films isn't questioned to the degree that it is in music.
"There are standards that are placed on music as an art form that aren't placed on any other form of entertainment," he said. "If we walk into your local video store, imagine how many times we're going to see a gun on the cover of the packaging to advertise an action film. How many war films will we find? How many westerns? See, for me to make a record, and just add a gun to it, they want to make it negative, because of their perception of me.
"If you say, 'Who do you know who has been shot nine times?' kids across America will tell you, '50 Cent' immediately," he continued. "That's because it's something [the media] decided to point out, and they make that part of the perception of 50 Cent. I could tell you about my lifestyle, and all the opportunities I've had, but they've clung to that, and every time you see me say that and read about it is because they've asked me about it. It wasn't because I wanted to talk about it. It's not a pleasant thought. It was a painful experience. But they just think, 'Gun violence.' "
50's past hurt his career before it helped. After he signed a deal with Columbia Records in 1999, the label declined to release what was to be his debut, The Power of the Dollar, within months of his stabbing at New York's Hit Factory and his shooting in Queens, New York, in 2000. He's also been "passed over" and "overlooked" at awards shows, he said, because his work is too "aggressive," although he notes that he often performs at awards shows anyway.
"It's cool," he said. "I got all the money I was supposed to get for my records, just not the trophies."
For more on 50 Cent, check out the feature "All Eyes On 50 Cent: The Sequel."