I’m having a tough time deciding how to address you. Should I call you Mr. Jackson, Curtis, Fifty, or maybe Mr. Cent?
My friends call me Fifty, but you can call me Curtis if you feel like it.
All right Curtis, were you always a good businessman even before you became a musician?
Yeah, I did pretty well. You mean selling drugs?
Yes, were you a better drug dealer than others?
Yes, I did really well until the police came a few times. See, when you make the wrong decisions in business you lose money but you don’t lose time and time is very precious because we don’t know how much we have.
So time is more precious than money?
That is always easier to say when you have lots of money…
But of how much value is your money if you die ten minutes after you get it? Think about how many times you smile if you see a kid doing something. The innocence of that, that is priceless. If you ask a person about the last time they smiled or felt good, they will tell you that is valuable.
Okay, if time is precious what is money?
Money is freedom. It is the ability to do things as you come up with it. I used to think that money was the answer to everything because the big problem in front of me was financial. Every idea I came up with I needed the money to do it. You sit there and create these scenarios in your head and then if you have money it only gives you the ability to come and go as you please if you have an idea.
Now that you have all the money in the world, what gives you the ambition to actually keep on going with it instead of just sitting back and relaxing?
If you are ambitious, you are running in a tunnel that never ends. You will always find something new to go after. If you would have asked me for one wish in 2003 I would have told you that I want my music to be a success. But now I know what that feels like and you can’t match that anymore because the first time you feel something it’s different. In hip hop music you create metaphors constantly, so try to imagine creating a metaphor for having sex for the first time. It’s monumental. Create a metaphor for the first time you were in love, that’s monumental. Or the first time an addict got high, you can’t recreate that. I got high for the first time with Get Rich or Die Tryin’and I have been trying to achieve that feeling again since then, all the time.
You make music, films, perfumes, clothes, shoes, condoms, and pretty much every other imaginable merchandise. How many hours a night do you mange to sleep?
I probably sleep as much as you do, about five to six hours.
I actually get a bit more than that.
(Laughs) I oversee all my projects and deal with portions of the information but I delegate the responsibilities as well and hire people for certain positions. A lot of my employees are actually smarter than me and have achieved a higher level of education. Some of them are even Harvard graduates. I put these guys in positions to run my companies.
Do you hire people strictly based on their educational background?
Not necessarily just the educational background but also their experience in their fields. My choice always depends on what I want to accomplish with a certain project. Based on the résumé alone you could sometimes hire the wrong person and then later realize that they might be qualified but they can’t actually execute. If that happens you fire them and hire someone else.
You wear a lot less flashy jewelry when you promote your business ventures than when you’re promoting your music. Is this an effort to project a different image?
The guy that has on athletic inspired clothing might be someone that you could point to and say, “That’s hip-hop.” The baseball hat, the different things, the do-rag, I suppose could be something you would identify with me as an artist. When you start to dress with more casual clothing or more professional clothing, like a suit, people start wondering. The jewelry I think comes from not having. From not having, you aspire to live life on the highest level possible. When you start off not even being able to fantasize about buying your own car, you buy one as soon as you’re able to.
How does that relate to music and your image as a musician?
Well if you’re writing about a high level lifestyle in your music, you want something that conveys that it’s real. A lot of those diamonds that you’re talking about on those artists are not real. I’m going to be honest with you, they put it on as a part of their presentation. Not all of them are blessed with the same level of success that would allow them all to have it, but it’s something that you consistently see within the culture. And it’s cool because you can’t say, “Well he has it and I don’t so I’m not as important as he is.”
What do people expect when they meet you in person?
The expectations of me are based on the material, based on the content. People have expected me to be incarcerated or go through things that I went through before I was successful, but because I have been through them there are other things I want to do. I look forward to being successful doing different things and that changing my image. Sometimes I leave a conversation and people are surprised that I am the nicest guy because they expected that I would shoot them or something. You know what I am saying?
I wasn’t quite yet imagining that you were going to shoot me…
Good, I didn’t do anything differently than what you would do, it is basic interaction with someone and it’s somehow surprising. I think people got that idea from the content of my first album. When your back is completely against the wall, you become a victim. You have to do exactly what you have to do to prevent becoming a victim. That is what the aggression in that first record was from. Some people misinterpreted it, but it’s just because they didn’t have that experience. The things you go through make you who you are.