The idea that he has just arrived in a city that has been incorrectly labelled “the murder capital of the UK” seems to amuse 50 Cent. “It’s the murder capital? Then they’re going to love me,” he chuckles.
Later in our conversation he returns to it, seemingly impressed by the thought. “Nottingham, a rude boy town!” Of course, Nottingham isn’t any such thing. Nor is it the murder or gun-crime capital of anywhere. Anyone living here knows better. Residents of Brighton and Glasgow — recently tagged as the murder capitals of Europe if you are to believe an article on The Guardian’s website — will likely feel much the same.
What is interesting is the flippancy of his response. It is the same flippancy he adopts when I present him with questions from Janice Collins, the mother of Brendon Lawrence, the 16-year-old who was shot and killed in February 2002 on the streets of St Ann’s.
We had hoped to set up a meeting between Janice and 50 Cent, aka Curtis Jackson. He said he’d “love to meet her” but it didn’t happen. Whether he had any intention of doing so is hard to say. It could well have been the work of his record label, sensitive to the difficulties of having one of their biggest stars face an anti-gun campaigner and mother of a murdered teenager. They told us it was a “time” factor. Still, we passed on some of the questions Janice was desperate to put to the star, whose gun imagery is unsurpassed.
If you don’t know, 50 Cent raps about gun killings. Most of his publicity ‘shots’ feature him holding a gun. He had a computer game out in his name about him killing drug dealers. And on his website he shoots you. Gunfire is also an integral part of his live show, as 9,000 people found out at his Nottingham Arena concert on Tuesday night. Janice wanted to ask him: Do you think you encourage kids to pick up guns?
“I don’t think so,” he says. “If I encourage kids to pick up guns then a gay person encourages kids to be a f… to be gay.”
By way of explanation he goes on: “That kid is just so confused. There has to be negligence by having a kid… not actually spending time with their child to the point that they have their own mind, or that they understand what is right from wrong.”
You’re saying that if a kid picks up a gun because of you, then there’s something wrong with the child in the first place? “Yes. There is very much something wrong with them. It’s rock ’n’ roll. You’ve people who write lyrics to the antichrist. If that’s the case that they listen to a rock ’n’ roll song and no longer believe in God and worship the devil, there is already something the matter with that kid.”
So, as far as he is concerned, what he does is entertainment. It’s no worse than a Hollywood thriller. “They place standards on music as an art form that they don’t place on any form of entertainment. If I look in the local Blockbuster or video store and we look at how many times there’s a gun on the cover… we see it over and over. And the film isn’t good if it doesn’t look like you really blew their brains out. If you have a shooting and it doesn’t look authentic it’s not a good film.”
But they have certificate ratings to stop children seeing the unsuitable films. His website or albums are open to all ages. “Well, check this, there’s a parental advisory sticker on the album. There’s also a clean version of the record.”
More significant an influence on children than the “entertainment” he provides, he says, is the parents. So what would he say to a mother like Janice Collins, whose 16-year-old son was gunned down in the street?
“You know what I’d say? There are a lot of unfortunate things that happen in life. I’m not the person who gunned your child down in the street. I’m sorry your child was gunned down in the street but it happens. She should actually understand why the music exists.”
He goes on to say that his music is simply reflecting the reality of life, that children do get killed. “The lifestyle itself exists,” he says. “She can point at 50 Cent and say ‘You know what, this is the problem.’ You’ve got a person that may be bitter because she lost her baby. Her baby wasn’t the only baby lost in the streets to gun violence.”
Janice Collins knows this only too well and as part of the Mothers Against Guns campaign is fighting to stop it happening to others. “Her passion may be to support anti-gun or anti… anything that’s aggressive because she feels… but these are conversations she was supposed to have with her child before he ended up in that lifestyle.”
He’s back to blaming parents but in this case his argument will fall flat. I let him continue. “(Parents) don’t explore their child’s interests. What is attracting them to the things that they are doing? When your kid gets shot in the street your kid is usually in to something they shouldn’t be in to. No way am I trying to say that your child deserves that…”
It is then I explain that Brendon wasn’t involved in the lifestyle but was killed in a case of mistaken identity. “Wow! That’s the worst type of scenario but you can’t control that. Unfortunately that’s the way things are.” But it isn’t. The murder of an innocent child like Brendon shouldn’t be cast aside with a sigh of “C’est la vie”. The attitude seems to stem from the misconception that everywhere is like Queens in New York, where he grew up.
“My mom used to tell me I was the immaculate conception like I was born like Jesus, to try and make me feel special about not having a dad.” His mother died before he hit his teens in what has previously been reported as “suspicious circumstances” though he believes she was murdered. “They put something in her drink and turned on the gas.”
They never found out who did it?
He was raised by his grandparents but had already become part of a “crew” selling drugs for a living. As a result of this he was shot — nine times.
“You know how you get your ear pierced and how that feels? It’s that times a hundred. The adrenalin, the shock of it happening, takes the pain down. It hurts later.”
He adds: “The guy who actually shot me, unfortunately, a week later he was shot also.”
His escape was through music as his talent was recognised and developed by Run DMC’s Jam Master Jay, then Eminem and Dr Dre. His four albums have sold millions across the world, he’s recently filmed a movie based on his life, an autobiography is on the bestsellers list in the US and he lives in Mike Tyson’s old house, the biggest house in the state of Connecticut. He has no wife or girlfriend but a nine-year-old son.
“He’s not subjected to the same things (I was) because I’ve been able to create another environment for him,” he says, when I ask if he worries 50 Cent Jnr may slip in to the habits of his youth. “He’s blessed.”
What is clear from the 30 minutes we get together is that 30-year-old Curtis Jackson is lucky to be alive. He’s lucky to have escaped a life of crime. But he lacks any real compassion for anyone else who finds themselves the victim of gun crime. He claims to be anti-guns but avoids putting his name behind the Mothers Against Guns campaign.
“You know what, if you ask me am I for people being violent and hurting each other I’d absolutely have to tell you I’m not. But if you’re asking me to be part of a campaign what I’m going to tell you is I’m an artist and I have a schedule that allows me to do certain things and things it doesn’t allow me to do. So I wouldn’t be much help to them supporting an actual campaign to stop the violence. But, of course, I will support them not doing those things,” he adds clumsily.
A yes or a no would have sufficed. As I read back over my notes I realise there’s a real confusion in his defence of Janice Collins’ charges against him about glamorising gun use.
On the one hand he says it’s just entertainment. On the other he is reflecting reality. So which is it? I don’t think he really knows. And I’m sure he doesn’t really care. As this comment rather suggests: “If they wanna point and say ‘well you’re not making it better’, I can say, well neither is the rest of the world.”