by Rex Weiner

Look deeply into 50 Cent’s eyes, oriental at the corners and tinged with a sparkle of fun – not the gangsta publicity shots but the babyfaced guy in a G-Unit cap sitting with me right now showing off a gap-toothed smile -- and you will know that he is not one to brood about the past. No, he is excited about the release of Massacre, the sequel to his debut “Get Rich or Die Tryin’ “which sold over 11 million copies worldwide. He’s playing tracks for me in the big round listening room in the Interscope offices in sunny Santa Monica, busily twiddling the dials and tweaking the levels of the audio equipment.

“This track was recorded out in Orlando with Eminem and Dr. Dre,” he tells me in a nasal voice stirred and slurred in the style of his South Jamaica neighborhood in the borough of Queens, New York. Delivered ever so softly, and with a shy poet’s cadence, he says, “There was something hot going down there with Em and Dre, so… “ The track’s opening cricket chirrups and Floridian swamp bass whumps say it all: at the peak of his creative powers, this guy is having the time of his life. And rich, baby. That diamond-encrusted silver cross around his neck cost $300,000 cash, and it says loud and clear that 27-year old multi-millionaire rap star has come a hell of a long way from the streets where he grew up.

But there is a lingering air of wistfulness in his shy manner, a sense that some things happened back in the day that won’t easily be forgotten. If there’s a difference between this new recording and his previous one, he says, “I’m feeling like I’ve captured everything I missed on the first album. You know, I went back to the old attitude and environment. I spent a few days in my old neighborhood….”

Going back, if there are times and places to remember and days to brood upon, then maybe one of them is June 29, 1994.

That was a bad day in South Jamaica, Queens, a New York City neighborhood that is not one of the world’s most lovely or loved places, populated by people unloved by the New York City police. On that warm summer day, one of NYPD’s undercover sisters named Kathleen Kragel, shield number 5846, entered a park in the vicinity of 134th Avenue just before noon and approached Curtis Jackson. The young man who was not yet known as 50 Cent. He was just another black youth hanging around in a sweatsuit looking like he might be up to no good.

The undercover cop asked Jackson where she might get some cocaine. Jackson pointed to a girl sitting on a bench nearby. Dealers frequently use young girls to hold the dope and handle the actual transaction, since the judges tend to be more lenient with minors. The cop walked across the park, sat down on the bench next to 16-year old Taiesha Douse, made a $20 buy, and promptly busted the girl. A search revealed 36 vials of cocaine and 12 packets of heroin in Taiesha’s underpants. The coke tested 83.6% pure – pretty good shit, man. A few weeks later, having established himself on the police radar as a dope dealer, Jackson was busted in his bedroom, in the home where he lived with his grandmother. Cops found seven bags of rock cocaine hidden in a boot and a glassine envelope of heroin under the bed, along with $695 stashed in a safe. Facing felony charges that could have put him away doing serious hard time, the teenager who was to become 50 Cent copped a plea and served seven months in an upstate New York youth camp. The terms of his release were in effect until 2001.

“Let me tell you, I learned something from that experience,” he assures me now. “Don’t say anything… ANYTHING… when the police come around. Nothing. You want to say something, you say, Can I have my lawyer, please?”

“Fif” as his friends call him, is laughing at the fact that I’ve brought up this long ago incident. But he takes pains to set the record straight about what happened that summer’s day in the park more than a decade ago.

“I’m in the park, okay. I got on a sweatsuit. I ain’t got no money, I ain’t got no job, nothing. I’m in a sweatsuit. I’m waiting on one of my homies to come around the corner.... Taiesha on a bench at the other end, doing her thing… they take me to jail for steering. For steering the sale.”

As Curtis Jackson, 50 Cent had a rough start. He grew up in the Age of Crack without a father. His mother, a crack dealer, died young under mysterious circumstances. Like many young black kids in the Crack Generation, his grandmother raised him, along with eight other children. He went into the family business at the age of 12, dealing dope and hustling. (“I sold the product but never used it,” he says). He lived by the street and nearly died by the street. Five years ago he took nine bullets from a .9mm, one in the face, over a bad hustle. By that time, he’d already become a rising force in the world of rap with his unreleased “Power of a Dollar.” His sharply satirical track, “How To Rob,” rattled rap’s highest ranks with his bitterly funny scenario in which the down-and-out, I-don’t-give-a-fuck rapper rips off all of the richest rappers, kidnapping Lil’ Kim and telling Puff Daddy, “You wanna see her again? Get your ass down to the nearest ATM,” because “If my record don’t sell I’m gonna rob and steal,” and “An entertainer can’t make bail if he broke as hell.”

Backed by his G-Unit crew, and in business with his partner Sha Money XL, 50 Cent put out the beat-heavy “50 Cent Is The Future,” attracting praise from Eminem and a deal with Dr. Dre. Pulling the trigger on his next release, “No Mercy. No Fear,” the world was suddenly introduced to the classic dance club hit “Wanksta,” a track carried to multi-platinum success on the soundtrack to Eminem’s hit movie, “8 Mile.”

50 Cent has his own movie project is in the works with director Jim Sheridan (“In America,” “My Left Foot”). “Jim is the best,” says Fif with evident admiration for the Academy Award winning filmmaker.  The movie is loosely based on 50 Cent’s life story. Terry Winters (Emmy-award winning writer for the Sopranos) is writing the screenplay.

Now, with an 18-bedroom mansion in the upper class suburbs of Farmington, Connecticut and a new recording about to be released, 50 Cent confesses to a little bit of nervousness. It’s the kind of shy nervousness of a kid who writes left-handed, putting his neatly written homework on the teacher’s desk, hoping for an A.

 “I was experiencing something that every artist goes through, and my eyes are open to it now,” he says. “In between albums there’s a shadow of a doubt that’s cast over every artist. I don’t think they doubt that I can make a good record. My first album assures them it’ll be good. But they say: Do you think he’ll have the same success he had with the first one? Because I did so well with ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’.”

He doesn’t have to be nervous. Massacre is sure to be one of the biggest hits of 2005. Starting off with a girl announcing, “To all my friends – Happy Valentines Day,” the roughly 20 tracks open with a hot burst of automatic fire and ejected cartridges hitting cement.

The big summer single is “Candy Shop.” The song was recorded in Miami and features rap diva Olivia in Fif’s first duet with a female. It’s got a groin-grabbing hook, with Olivia promising us in a nymphomaniacal sweat, “I’LL TAKE YOU TO THE CANDY SHOP, GIVE YOU A TASTE OF ALL I GOT…LET YOU LICK MY LOLLIPOP.” Fif growls back at her, in the best Howling Wolf sex-boogie tradition, “I’LL MELT IN YOUR MOUTH GIRL, NOT IN YOUR HAND.”

“Out Of Control,” produced by Dr. Dre, rocks a roller rink keyboard riff, laid down over a rolling sh-boom beat, and an irresistible dance floor groove. Then he rolls a track called “Bitch Get In My Car.” The word “pussy” is a recurring refrain. “It’s one of my favorite songs because it’s humor,” he chuckles. “PUSSY! PUSSY! PUSSY! PUSSY!” He knows it’s outrageous, and he grins. “Hey, girls I play it for actually like the song.”

He plays a track called “Baltimore Love Thing.” It’s a song about heroin, he says. “It’s about addiction. I made heroin human and imagined it being in a relationship with someone who is constantly trying to leave.” The lyrics refer to Frankie Lyman and Jimi Hendrix – Fif knows their heroin-soaked stories. He hung out with Marvin Gaye when Gaye was in the opiated throes of “Sexual Healing,” he was close to Kurt Cobain. The “heroin” character in his song threatens, “I DON’T GIVE A DAMN IF YOU ASS STARTS SMOKIN’, WE HAVE A BOND THAT WILL NEVER BE BROKEN…COME AND SEE ME, IF IT MEANS I HAVE SELL YOUR MAMA’S TV.”

“This is one of my favorites,” he smiles, queuing up “Gatman and Robin.” “It’s pop music with humor to it.” The track is a collaboration with Eminem recorded in Detroit, a take-off on the “Batman” TV series theme song, pimping the familiar cartoon bass line – once a campy Top Forty pop hit – into a gangsta groove.

Fif grew up with Motown R&B playing in the house, so his rap tastes include a true pop music sensibility. He liked Aerosmith’s collaboration with the Beastie Boys on “Walk This Way.” He’s intrigued by other crossover collaborations with JayD with Linkin Park, Nelly with Tim McGraw. “More and more, hip hop is starting to meet other genres in music,” he says, and Fif avows that he is looking in that direction. “I’d like to do something out of the box, something that they don’t allow. I want to hear what that sounds like…” When urged to name his ideal crossover duet, he says without hesitation: “Celine Dion.” Fif and I think about that for a few seconds before cracking up at the idea. But, seriously, when you get to know Fif, the only thing outlandish is the whole gangsta pose. And he admits it is nothing more than that.

“I think people have a tainted perception of me. They’re always going, ‘Hey, he wasn’t what I expected,’ after they meet me. I mean, what exactly did they expect, that I would hit ‘em in the head? I think it’s because the music is so aggressive and people use their imaginations about who I might be. But I had to come up being two people. I had to be what I had to be to get by on the street, and I had to be my grandmother’s child when I came in the home. So I straightened up. I can adjust and adapt to the environment. But I was 12 years old when I started hustling.”

So, before starting his newest song cycle he went back to the New York City streets where he had once been a 12-year old hustler. He stayed a few days in the house where he grew up. And despite the fact that he now lives in a Connecticut mansion with a lake, a tennis court, a koi pond and a fleet of ATVs that he and Olivia and G-Unit ride all over the grounds… deep down inside he’s still Curtis Jackson, trying his hardest to be his grandmother’s child. And when I ask him about Taiesha Douse, the little girl from the hood he got busted with, he doesn’t know where she is or what happened to her.

But the haunted look in Fif’s eye says every now and then on a summer’s day she calls to him still from a park bench just this side of yesterday.