He was not an imposing figure.
As the door cracked open, I could see him sitting on a couch sipping a Diet Coke, waiting in a patient repose. The bodyguards didn’t say a word, ushering me into the room with an assured, military-like calm.
His assistant smiled with a dual-purpose intent: don’t make this difficult for yourself or him. I nodded knowingly, having spent a few short minutes with other world-renowned celebrities in my time, and took my seat.
Curtis James Jackson III, better known as 50 Cent, reached out and offered a warm handshake. We gripped and grinned, and I started setting up my recording equipment. “Just need a minute to setup here,” I said.
“Are you getting along okay?” he said, nodding in the general direction of the showfloor. I was attending CES for my tenth year in a row. The gala event, exactly like going to a Best Buy with better lighting, happens every year shortly after everyone in Las Vegas has worn off their New Year’s buzz.
To be honest, racing across countless red-carpeted hallways to meet with harried public relations agents who were only marginally interested in showing me yet another smartphone protective case was taking its toll on my psyche. In one booth tour, I was interrupted by another journalist who feigned interest in a Toshiba add-on battery pack. That’s right, the old ‘feigned interest in a battery pack’ trick. Nice. In another tour, my friend – a photographer who tags along each year for the free food – noticed that the woman demonstrating a Herculean touchscreen display for Hitachi was the same hired gun who got married in a mock wedding ceremony for Sony consumer products the night before. How convenient.
“It’s a bit overwhelming, all this chaos and confusion,” I said.
“For the grand purpose of it all,” he joked. And I understood what he meant. Middle-aged dad making his way through the dark recesses of a massive convention center in Sin City, scraping together notes about routers and tablet computers. Ostensibly, I was here to ask about a new pair of headphones. In my mind, I had another intent. Who was this man who had survived an attack by a crazed gunman and starred in one blockbuster sensation after another (who can forget Gun or Morning Glory?). What made him tick? What does he eat for lunch? What brand of socks does he buy?
I can’t say his albums The Massacre or Before I Self Destruct had a profound effect on my perception of reality or made me want to reevaluate my life choices, but this was Fiddy, the king of all gangland rap. We’re talking about a legend, a living rhyme machine. He opens doors and we walk through them. I sat in a mild stupor for a few brief moments, gathering my courage and my wits. He had one of those piercing stares. And then, a surprise.
He reached across the couch and rubbed my shoulder.
“So what do you want to ask me about?”
“Well, tell me about your new headset,” I said, a little stunned.
“What do you want to know?” he joked.
I picked up the headphones. Stalling, I started asking about the features. Pristine quality, he said. The bass moves you. He wanted to create headphones that matched the quality of his music.
“Have you been over to the Soul Headphones booth?” I asked, thinking on my feet. Wrong question. The company, fronted by another rapstar named Ludacris, also had a booth at CES, but it was much flashier and staffed by women wearing gold outfits and knee-high boots. “No,” he said. I wasn’t sure if I had offended him, or if there was a rift between Fiddy and Ludacris. I was not up on my gangland lore. In all honesty, I’m more of a Death Cab for Cutie fan. “Let me tell you something,” he said.
At this point, my friend gave me a few sideways glances. Fiddy started explaining how he got involved with a few start-ups and the challenges of stardom. He shared how the expectations are so high when you are famous. He said all of the business management stuff is harder when you’re on tour and writing songs. He rubbed my shoulder again. We laughed.
And here was my big surprise. 50 Cent, like other celebrities, understands the business of relationships, and he is remarkably profound. He knew his role – peddling a new set of headphones – was another step on the ladder of success, but he wasn’t taking the job too seriously. Maybe it all came easy to him, apart from the bullets and the bodyguards. But his main insight was that he didn’t need to be insightful, he just needed to be Fiddy.
My take: he has a natural gift of persuasion, and it works equally well in the music studio as it does on the red carpets of Vegas. My ultimate response? After I left, I asked the public relations agent if I could test out the new headphones. Wow, Fiddy. The bass really does move you.