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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 November 2005, 11:54 GMT
Billboard row 'aids 50 Cent film'
Peter Bowes
BBC News, Los Angeles

The firestorm of controversy promoted by a few misplaced movie billboards has helped generate maximum publicity for 50 Cent's new movie, Get Rich or Die Tryin'.

50 Cent
50 Cent's film opens in the US this month

The film mirrors the life of the rapper, real name Curtis James Jackson III, as a drug dealer who turns his back on a life of crime to pursue a career in the music business.

The row over the billboards has attracted much attention in the run-up to the film's red carpet premiere on Wednesday.

Some of the posters, showing 50 Cent holding a gun in his left hand and a microphone the other, were put in areas of LA battling to bring gang violence under control.

"People need to realise that what happens here in Los Angeles is sometimes exaggerated," said Najee Ali, a community activist.

"The majority of people here in LA are people, who work every day, who are not involved in gang banging or violence. The media focuses in on people like 50 Cent who exploit those images and give Los Angeles a bad reputation."

Ultimate media commodity

Paramount Pictures responded by taking down the billboards.

Everyone seemed to be happy at the outcome. The protestors applauded the decision while studio executives, no doubt, sat back and contemplated the value of all the free publicity.

"They are talking about it on media outlets I didn't have plans to market the movie to," said 50 Cent.

"They are helping me out."

The unexpected boost to the film's pre-release hype coincides with the culmination of a carefully orchestrated marketing campaign.

The rapper is the ultimate media commodity.

50 Cent billboard
Activists staged a rally calling for the billboards to be removed

"One of the things that 50 Cent has achieved is this sort of media convergence where you have the video game and film and the album and the clothing line all happening at the same time," said Thomas DeFrantz, associate professor of music at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"He was the first to put these four pieces together and I think we can expect other artists put together even more pieces."

50 Cent has gone much further than Eminem, who also managed to synchronise the release his autobiographical movie, 8 Mile, with an album of new material.

The next few weeks will also see the release of the video game 50 Cent: Bulletproof and 50 Cent: Refuse to Die, a DVD documentary about the rapper's life.

At the end of the day, those kids are going to see the film
50 Cent, responding to poster controversy

Like Eminem, 50 Cent's film reflects his own life experience. It appears to be a recipe for commercial success.

"Hip hop was always about keeping it real," said professor DeFrantz.

"You're always trying to tell a story in the first person. What we're seeing now though is instead of a rhyme at a local performance or an album that comes out and makes some national waves, we're seeing this translated into an actual Hollywood film and a video game."

Responding to the Los Angeles billboard controversy, 50 Cent said it was ludicrous to single out his poster considering how action movies were routinely marketed.

"At the end of the day, those kids are going to see the film," he said.

The rapper implied that he was far more in tune with the realities of life on the street than some of the protestors objecting to his film.

"One of the things we often forget about gangster rappers is they are kids coming up from the real underbelly of American life," said professor DeFrantz.

Urban media mogul

"Nobody wants to actually live there and it's not a sort of badge of honour to have the life story be about being shot up, being incarcerated and being in gangs.

"He's going to tell a story through the movie but I'm sure emotionally he's going to have other stories he'd like to tell in Hollywood films."

50 Cent has the entertainment world eating out of his hand. He could go on to make more movies, seek out roles in television or, most likely, follow in the steps of Diddy as an urban media mogul.

Whatever the future has in store, 50 Cent has much riding on the success of Get Rich or Die Tryin'.

The rapper's expanding collection of spin-off products will help keep him alive in the public consciousness for a while, but it takes more than clever merchandising to sustain a career.

"People are either artists who want to make music and make headlines or they are really celebrities who are flash in the pan and grab as much (as they can) when that flash is hot," said professor DeFrantz.

"I think in future we'll see artists have a shorter and shorter window of opportunity for this sort of build-up and media convergence.

"If 50 Cent can sustain this kind of celebrity for a year or three I think that would be pretty impressive."


SEE ALSO
50 Cent gun posters to come down
28 Oct 05 |  Entertainment
Activists rap 50 Cent gun poster
27 Oct 05 |  Entertainment
Jones 'to compose 50 Cent movie'
04 Aug 05 |  Entertainment
Rapper 50 Cent ends protege feud
10 Mar 05 |  Entertainment
Rapper wins Sound of 2003 poll
24 Dec 02 |  Entertainment
Rapper 50 Cent deal to avoid jail
14 May 05 |  Entertainment

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