What is it about American, mostly, bad-boy rappers who also know how to do well as media magnates? On 7 April, 50 Cent, real name Curtis Jackson, will be the celebrity everyone wants to see at the World Premiere Screening of Power, an eight-episode drama set in the nightlife of American clubs, crime and cocaine.
The screening (see 50 Cent on the left in photo)takes place at MIPTV, the annual international TV-industry convention held in Cannes. Previous red-carpet celebrity guests have been stars of the big screen: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Priestley, Derek Jacobi, Famke Janssen, Joseph Fiennes, Bond girl Eva Green and Mad Men star Jon Hamm, to name but a few.
50 Cent is joining that stellar line up as executive producer of Power. Although the series was created by Hollywood showrunner Courtney Kemp Agboh, stars fast-rising talent Omari Hardwick and is co-produced by US media conglomerates CBS and Starz, 50 Cent is credited as the fulcrum that made the series happen. In addition to executive producing, he will make guest appearances acting in some episodes.
But just because the Grammy Award-winning hip-hop star behind now iconic albums Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and The Massacre is walking the red carpet in Cannes does not mean he is giving up the day job as a music artist.
In February, he announced he was leaving Shady Records/Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope Records, the group of labels he had been signed to for 12 years.
He was going independent with his own label G-Unit Records, which will be distributed by Caroline International, the Capitol MusicGroup/Universal Music Group subsidiary. Animal Ambition, his first album under the new set-up, is scheduled for a 2-3 June release.
His independent streak sticks out a mile as he was prepared to leave Eminem’s Shady label and producer superstar Dr Dre, who helped propel him to musical stardom selling more than 30 million albums worldwide. That includes the 9 million units Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (one of the most lauded – or hyped - albums in hip-hop history) sold in the US alone.
So what is he doing mixing with TV stars in Cannes? He is not even doing it as an acting vanity project, but as an executive producer partly responsible for ensuring its commercial success.
50 Cent belongs to a generation of hip-hop stars that has wanted to do more than just rap. In addition to owning his own label G-Unit, he has investments in his SMS Audio headphones, the sports-energy beverage brand SK Energy Shots; the G-Unit Clothing apparel line; the book publisher G-Unit Books, which includes his own best-selling titles From Pieces to Weight and The 50th Law; plus the film-production joint venture Cheetah Vision.
This excludes the video-games licensing deals, brand endorsements, and a private-investment portfolio for the multi-faceted, multi-talent Mr Curtis. His fortune has been boosted by the cool $100 million he earned after the Vitamin Water brand and its parent company Energy Brands, which he financially supported, were sold to the Coca-Cola Company in 2007.
He has acted with Samuel L Jackson, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in Hollywood movies. In the pipeline is the production of a Cheetah Vision flick starring Nicholas Cage and Mickey Rourke.
Not all 50 Cent’s ventures have been successful. He has even admitted that the 2008 global economic crisis hurt his investments badly. But that did not stop him from being one of Forbes magazine’s Top 5 Cash Kings in its most recent 2012-2013 rankings of the highest hip-hop earners.
But Curtis Jackson, whose troubled past includes dealing drugs before he was a teenager, getting shot at nine times, and being arrested for selling cocaine, is not the only bad boy of rap to have found alternative outlet for his creativity in the media business.
Another rap star Sean Diddy Combs is also on Forbes’ list of the richest entertainers, earning more than $50 million in the year to June 2013. The revenues came from his Bad Boy record label (Janelle Monae is on the roster); his designer-fashion label and fragrance brand Sean John; the Blue Flame advertising agency, plus a restaurant chain. He is involved in the Ciroc vodka brand and he recently launched his own music cable-TV network Revolt. The bad boy reputation, while not directly related to the Bad Boy brand name, stems from alleged assault and fire-arm charges he incurred in the past.
In his lyrics, rapper/entertainment mogul Jay Z refers to shooting a sibling, selling crack cocaine and being shot at. Today, he is worth $42 million. Income comes from Roc Nation, his record label and music/sports management company; his investment in the fashion brand Rocawear; the 40/40 sports bar he co-owns; and the Carol’s Daughter beauty-products line. He recently sold he stake in the Barclay Center multi-purpose indoor arena in New York, and his shares in the Brooklyn Nets NBA professional basketball team.
If mega producer Dr (born Andre Romelle Dre) has any notoriety in his biography, it will refer to him being a constant school drop-out. Today, in addition to the platinum sales for his recordings, he is a platinum millionaire.
This follows the sale of his stake in the ubiquitous Beats by Dr Dre ultra-audio headphones brand. He and business partner, Interscope Records co-founder Jimmy Iovine, have now embarked on their most ambitious venture yet - Beats Music, the streaming-music platform out to give Spotify a run for its money.
Other rapping millionaire moguls and magnates include Pharrell Williams, Chuck D, Kanye West (mostly for fashion design and architecture) and Tech N9ne via his Strange Music company.
So should you come across 50 Cent, or Mr Curtis Jackson, mixing with the great and the good in the TV industry, do not express surprise. The last thing the rap community wants to see are sad middle-aged rappers still only singing about selling drugs, being shot at and…nothing else.
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