50cent1.jpgLow ceilings, no windows, walls plastered in promotional stickers. It’s a small room in the basement of Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s grandmother’s house in Queens. And the way 50’s bulked up right now—training for a role in The Dance, an upcoming boxing movie with Nicholas Cage—it’s a surprise he fits in here at all.

’Course, 50’s awfully big metaphorically, too. As in, the biggest hip-hop star on the planet. He’s got the biggest portfolio, with G-Unit Records, G-Unit Clothing, G-Unit sneakers with Reebok, and a reported 10 percent stake in Glaceau Vitaminwater—the Queens-based beverage company that just sold to Coca-Cola for a cool $4.1 billion. (Some quick math will tell you that was a big day for 50.) Now he lives in the biggest mansion in Connecticut, formerly owned by the big, big, retired heavyweight champ Mike Tyson.

Despite his size and status, the dude keeps his ear to the street and his feet in some beef. We know this. We know he got shot nine times a few years back—right outside this house, in fact. We know that his first two albums, 2003’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and 2005’s The Massacre, combined to sell some 20 million copies worldwide. We know that Dipset don Cam’ron has been tryna knock his cred via Internet songs and videos and an oft-repeated cry of “Currrtis!”—this in the same spirit of former G-Unit soldier The Game’s G U-Not campaign.

We also know that, recently, G-Unit’s sales have been slipping, along with the rest of the rap industry’s, and that 50 has adopted a harder line when it comes to sponsoring his troops—except for his original soldier, Tony Yayo, whom he continues to support unconditionally, even in the face of Yayo’s March arrest on charges he assaulted the 14-year-old son of The Game’s manager, Jimmy Henchmen. (And we learned, a week after this interview took place, that 50’s upcoming album, Curtis, originally scheduled for a June 26 release, won’t be coming out until September.)

Damn, the big homie sure has come a long way. But as he sits down on the bed where used to rest his head, 50’s more Curtis than ever.

We’re in 50’s grandma’s house. The very crib where it all popped off.
We’re in my grandmother’s basement. I kinda grew up right here. You seen in the movie, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, I got into an altercation with my uncles, so I had to move from upstairs down here, and they converted this into a space for me. You got to bend down to walk in.

Right. It’s pretty much like a cell.
Yeah, it is. But you know what’s crazy? There’s, like, pinkish paneling under there. [Points to the sticker-covered wall] I ain’t like it. So I took the stickers—promotional stickers from my first record I made with Jam Master Jay: “50 Cent Means Change.” This was ’97.

There must be a thousand stickers on these walls. I mean, is this a window into how your mind works? Like, in terms of focus?
Yeah. I’ll sit there and make sure each one of them fit perfectly.

So you were living here until when?
2000. I got shot out front. I went and stayed in the Poconos after I got out of the hospital. It was me, my son’s mom and my son. I had a place that we was staying in the Poconos. And then I came back here. Then when the record took off, I went from this space right here into a 65,000-square-foot home—Mike’s house. But this is why I had to be that excessive. It had to be that big.

What’s the story behind this house? How long has it been in your family?
Prior to Get Rich or Die Tryin’, this was the largest asset in my family. It’s worth about $250,000. Now I got cars in my yard that cost $400,000. My grandmother don’t stay here no more. I bought her a house in Long Island. I own, like, five other houses.
And you wrote your new album down here?
Yeah. Curtis.

It’s musty, the floor isn’t finished... Why did you come back here to write?
I mean, it just brings memories back to me. I’m in my old space, see old faces, things start feeling the way they used to. Being able to write material from a perspective I couldn’t probably write [from] in any other space like that. And I was in one of those funky creative spaces where I couldn’t come up with nothing… For me, when I come back here, it’s like my feet are on the ground. I don’t think nothing is more painful than having known what it feel like to be successful and then having it taken away from you. So on some levels, it’s healthy for me to go ’head and come from the financial space that I’m in back to here, as a reminder, so I can actually appreciate what I’ve got.

50cent2.jpgHow did it feel coming back to this house the first time after you’d been shot?
Initially? Paranoia. It’s still like—that don’t ever go away. I think, after the experience, period, you a different person. I think anyone would. Even war. Like when you go to war. Even though you signed up and you can anticipate death being around you, the experience of having lived in those threatening situations, I think, can change your character.

So it makes me almost a fatalist on some levels. I accept the fact that I’m going to die, that we’re all going to die. But what confuses me is, people think that when I say I’ma get rich or die tryin’, they think I meant it literally. If someone you respect in the workplace tells you they going to get rich or die tryin’, it simply means they’re determined. That was my meaning for it at that point.

But I think a big part of your mystique is the potential that maybe you will die.
I will. And I’m sure that everyone else will.

No, no, no. It’s in terms of—I think fans are thinking of the likelihood of your dying a violent, hip-hop–related death.
I mean, you’re going to have random acts of violence, period. All you got to do is say to yourself, How do you actually choose to live your life? ’Cause you’ll never get the chance to live, being afraid to die. You’ll never have an experience where you’re actually free, ’cause you’re conscious and you’re afraid.

But in hip-hop, on a certain level, it’s about being accessible. And because you are who you are, it’s almost impossible for you to do that.
To be accessible. Like, when you reach a point that I’m at, when you’re an international rap star, the less common you appear, the bigger your celebrity. You know, so it’s a different thing. You got a guy out there that just sold 500,000 copies that needs to be wherever the cameras is going off at, and I’m just not in that same space.

Some of Cam’ron’s jabs are about your not being in the streets with the people.
What am I supposed to do, stand on the corner and smoke weed with him? I don’t smoke weed, and I’m not standing on the corner. For what? I stood on the corner when that was my hustle. I got a new hustle and a new concept of a corner to stand on. The same idiot that you just mentioned went on 60 Minutes and said he wouldn’t tell police about [the whereabouts of] a serial killer. Only thing missing from hip-hop is an IQ test. If you’re smart, you know that’s not the fuckin’ place to say that. Then you gotta send a statement out and apologize. What does that mean? That he will snitch?

The whole “Curtis” thing. That was Cam’s thing, his way of attacking you, and now you embraced it.
I always take things people feel are uncomfortable for me, when they aren’t, and I make them comfortable. I make them not make sense to the public.

Why would someone saying your name…
That’s another point. Like I’m telling you, you’re dealing with a real idiot. He calls me the name my mother named me, to make me feel like that’s a disrespect on some level. Doesn’t make sense. Curtis is now the name of my album.

------- Read the rest of our 50 Cent feature in XXL’s August 2007 issue (#94)