2006/01-02/g-unit/main.jpg50 Cent sits on a grand, plush circular settee in the grand, plush lobby of the Hotel Hermitage in Monte Carlo, France. He is, for the most part, alone. There’s a G-Unit hanger-on sitting a couple of feet away, chatting him up to pass the time. Hotel staff, ever discreet, leaves him be. A couple of guests walk by, oblivious to the star in their midst. He is clad in denim shorts; a black Champion sweatshirt, hood pulled up over his head; and black Reeboks. “RBK. Know what that stands for?” He points to the company’s abbreviated logo on his shoe. “Rich Black Kid,” he says, and his mouth parts into an epic smile. He has told this joke before, but it always works. His teeth are improbably white and wide. It’s a shit-eating grin. It is completely sincere.

It’s 6:45 p.m. Bus call for tonight’s show in nearby Nice, in the south of France, isn’t until 7. But this is how 50 Cent operates, so 20 minutes later, when his 40-man crew of fellow artists, assistants, handlers and security straggle into the lobby, no one expresses surprise. A couple of pounds are exchanged. A few nods and grunts.

2006/01-02/g-unit/1.jpg50, no matter how far he has come, is still something of the boy from the neighborhood; only now he can take his neighborhood with him. Pulled together on relatively short notice—after coheadliner Eminem withdrew from plans for an extension of last summer’s $20-million–grossing Anger Management Tour—the Massacre Tour, G-Unit’s monthlong spin through Europe, is something like a traveling thug-rap revue, a little piece of Queens, and beyond, for continental appraisal. There’s Lloyd Banks and Young Buck, of course, longstanding and loyal affiliates (Tony Yayo, still on parole, isn’t permitted to make the trip), and Olivia, who’s been laying in wait to give G-Unit a woman’s touch. And the veteran forces are now joined by a second line of attack—Mobb Deep and M.O.P., two groups not known for their easy allegiance, and Spider Loc, a surly Los Angeles Crip who stays hidden behind black sunglasses. In the hotel lobby waiting to board the buses, it’s hard to tell old crew from new. 50 needles Banks about his diamond-encrusted Statue of Liberty pendant while Lil Fame looks on. Buck and Spider convene in a corner; just a few feet away, Havoc and Prodigy are sprawled on a couch.

Off in a corner, pecking away at the keyboard of the hotel’s lobby computer, one of these crew members is not like the others. He looks toned, glowing even, with eyes that never seem to shut, even for a quick blink. He’s watching everything, repeatedly glancing away from the screen before him to survey the scene. But when the group begins to file onto the buses, Pastor Mason Betha gets up from his chair, slips on a big backpack, and falls into step with the rest.