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Last Updated: Friday, 17 March 2006, 08:17 GMT
50 Cent: Money Machine
By Elliot Choueka
BBC Money Programme

50 Cent
50 Cent: "I don't see a limit. I feel like I can make billions and billions of dollars."

Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson is one of the biggest names in music today.

Arguably at the very top of his artistic game, 50 Cent (or Fiddy to you and me) isn't content with simply topping the charts.

His goals are much bigger. He wants business success in everything from footwear and clothing to condoms and sex toys.

"I don't see a limit. I feel like I can make billions and billions of dollars," 50 Cent tells the Money Programme.

Through his G-Unit business, 50 Cent is a brand in his own right.

The world's big brands are desperate to tap into the youth market, and today, that means getting close to some dangerous stars.

With 50 Cent on top of the pile, he's an obvious partner.

He now has his own gun-based video game, Bulletproof, and his deal with multi-national sports brand Reebok created a stir when their first TV advert with him was pulled, because of claims it glorified violence.

Backfiring business risk

Reebok declined to talk to the Money Programme about its partnership with 50 Cent, but his business manager, Chris Lighty, is more than aware of the dangers for the company.

50 Cent's 'bad boy' image predated his endorsement. So why did Reebok choose him in the first place?

"Of course the corporations have to look at it as a business risk, because they don't know if they will revert backwards," he says.

As it turned out, Reebok was right to be nervous.

They got 50 Cent to front their international campaign.

The television advertisement focused on the fact that he was shot nine times.

But complaints in the UK that it glorified violence forced them to pull the commercial.

But it's not just Reebok.

Hip-hop culture is full of expensive designer brands from Mercedes to Louis Vuitton to Courvoisier. You name it, they'll rap about it.

For the companies involved, that can lead to a big sales boost or it can lead to some very unwelcome publicity.

Brand plugging

For Cristal Champagne, it was a bit of a surprise when they became the rappers' champagne of choice.

Frederic Rouzaud from Champagne House Louis Roederer - the manufacturers of Cristal champagne
They should drink the Champagne, not pour it over each other, its maker says

Cristal's managing director, Frederic Rouzaud, says he was a little taken aback when he heard his brand mentioned in rap songs.

And how did he feel when he saw 50 Cent pour expensive Cristal over a dancer's backside in one of his videos?

"I would prefer to drink it," he says diplomatically.

"They should drink it."

Not one for doing things the standard way, 50 Cent takes brand plugging to a whole new height.

In his videos, as well as the big brands, you'll get a face full of G-Unit, the brand that is Fiddy himself and thus the key to his multi-million dollar business.

Watch his music videos or play his shoot 'em up computer game and see G-Unit plastered over anything that moves - clothes, shoes, jewellery, women. You name it, it's branded.

Big flop

In his music, 50 revels in his violent past as a drug dealer.

The presence of guns and violence are not far from many of his music videos.

But for industry watcher, Lucian James from the San Francisco-based Agenda, 50 Cent and his fellow hip-hop stars have been extremely canny.

Chanice Payne, Charlotte Payne and Emma Rose
Chanice, Charlotte and Emma love 50 Cent

"What people like 50 Cent have been able to do is to kind of repackage their early lives in a way that is a lot more brand-friendly, so there's an edge that's associated with it, but it's not something that the brands perceive as a real risk to them."

For some big brands, trying to buy cool has failed.

McDonald's, the world's biggest fast food chain, is desperate to keep in with the youth market and saw hip hop as the key to a piece of the action.

Last year, they offered to pay artists to rap about Big Macs.

The deal was cash per airplay for any song featuring a Big Mac.

Not surprisingly, the idea never flew, as not a single band would take up the offer from McDonald's.

DJ Semtex, hip-hop DJ for the BBC's 1Xtra radio station, says artists don't want to be seen to be bought.

"I think the problem with McDonalds is they were too blatant with their aims of what they wanted to do within hip hop.

The way that they came up the scene was like 'yeah, we're going to get into this culture and we're going to exploit and make some money and you're going to buy our food'."

But if companies are desperate to get on with 50 Cent, the same cannot be said for parents, who are upset by the language used in songs like I'm Supposed to Die Tonight, Gunz Come Out, P.I.M.P. and Wanksta.

We spoke to Wendy Payne and Wendy Rose whose daughters Chanice, Charlotte and Emma are huge 50 Cent fans.

"When he says motherf*****, I don't like that at all," says Ms Rose.

"It's not always necessary, the constant swearing," adds Ms Payne.

Gangsta mobile

Not one to sit still, 50 Cent is pressing on with another new business plan, namely a push into the world of mobile phones with the creation of the G-Mobile brand.

His people won't tell us which mobile phone company they're hoping to work with, but for any big corporation seeking to cash in on the 50 Cent brand, the risks remain.

"Hip hop is such a huge global diverse thing that really references the whole of youth culture," says Mr James.

"There's a relevance in hip hop for all brands.

"But that said, it's a pretty snaky medium for brands to get involved in and bigger, slower moving traditional companies have a lot of trouble.

"It's essentially the same struggle that a lot of brands have being cool. Cool travels very quickly and you risk... chasing it and always being a step behind."

So for the big companies, tying in with 50 Cent remains a gamble.

But for the man himself, it's a win-win situation.

As well as more music, he's now planning another videogame, more films and lots of new G-Unit gear. He thinks his career as a money making machine is only just beginning.

"My lifestyle has changed so dramatically in a three-year period," says 50 Cent.

"Now it would be extremely difficult for you to make me believe I can't do something that I put my mind to.

The Money Programme: 50 Cent: Money Machine. BBC Two at 7pm on Friday 17 March.

Watch clips of 50 Cent on the BBC's Money Programme

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