50 Cent: From hip-hop to Hollywood

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Well, it's a pretty fair exchange: in exchange for not being able to walk around in the mall, you can buy everything in it." Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent, is fairly relaxed about the price of fame. Nor does he have to worry about heeding the mantra of his first album Get Rich or Die Tryin'. Album sales galore, a burgeoning film and writing career and several sound investments – including a multi-million dollar payday when the vitamin water company he had shares in sold to Coca-Cola – have seen the latest estimates of his wealth hit half a billion dollars.

Eight years after his debut album turned the former New York drugs-runner into an international superstar, the 36-year-old proffers the following assessment of his wealth and success: "I see money as a facilitator," he elaborates. "If airlines don't have a plane that goes to where you want to go, a private jet will. If a studio doesn't go after a project and I think it's the right project for right now, I can go and get it made. I think that to some people I may appear a little off, but they're just not on the same page as me."

His back story has been told many times, most notably on that best-selling debut album, which in turn inspired Jim Sheridan's 2005 movie, starring Jackson, and in his autobiography From Pieces to Weight: Once Upon a Time in Southside Queens. Briefly, Jackson grew up in Queens, New York. His drug-dealing mother died when he was aged eight, he was bought up by his grandmother, and started dealing crack at the age of 12. Then, just days before he was about to film his first music video, the rapper was shot multiple times in front of his grandmother's house.

It was his musical hero Tupac who made the "thug life" tag a badge of honour for rappers and to start with 50 Cent tried hard to live up to the stereotype: "My first CD contained all of the dysfunctional behaviour that was affecting me. And you become your music to the general public, so I became exactly what the CD was in their eyes. Having it go on to be the widest-selling hip-hop album and sell 12 million CDs worldwide made it intense. So people have a perception of me that's going to be like that until I continue to be successful in other fields. Eventually that will open people's minds up so they think in different ways about me."

One of the ways he's trying to change those perceptions is through film. I meet him after the international premiere of his new film, Things Fall Apart, in Aruba. He wrote, produced and stars in the film, all under his real name Curtis Jackson, distancing himself from his musician persona. "Growing up, I had to be two people any way," he says. "I had to be aggressive enough to get by in the environment that I grew up in, and I had to be my grandmother's baby in the house. You wouldn't believe it, but I wasn't allowed to curse in the house at all."

I admit that I have quite a fondness for his third cognomen "Fiddy" but apparently only close friends or Robert De Niro get to call him that. Jackson met De Niro and Al Pacino when he appeared with them in Righteous Kill in 2008. "It's interesting being around them, because when you are around someone that has so much attention focused on them, I get a chance to be a regular guy on the side, so it's kind of cool to hang out with them."

Try as he might, Jackson has so far failed to find that breakout role that will make people see him as something other than a rapper-turned-actor. In his only major starring role, Get Rich... he pretty much played himself, in the newsroom comedy Morning Glory he did play himself, Righteous Kill saw him play a drug dealer who meets with an untimely death, and Joel Schumacher's lamentable Twelve found him selling drugs once again.

So it's no surprise that he had to write and produce himself to land a lead role. Things Fall Apart is another tale from Jackson's childhood in which he plays a promising American footballer whose chances of a professional career are dashed when he is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. "Charles Pringle was my best friend growing up," explains Jackson. "Some of the dialogue in the film is close to what he actually said to me. I thought to be part of a project that has some personal value was interesting. I try to be part of projects that have some sort of artistic integrity."

Kaleem Aftab

'Things Fall Apart', 'Vengeance' and 'Setup' are released later this year