While it may have appeared that 50 Cent had a low-key 2013, as the rapper garnered more headlines for over-the-top cars and funny flight companions. But 50's been hard at work on behind-the-scenes projects, like developing his upcoming Starz TV show Power, which stars Omari Hardwick of Dark Blue and Saved fame. His most visible project has been developing his own headphone company SMS Audio. The line features headsets tailored to the comfort and ease that the Queens-native perfers in a product—sturdy as hell and battery-free. (And the noise-canceling set will block out anything, even office construction two yards away from your desk. Trust.)
The most recent additions to the line are revamped versions of the Sync and Street models, as well as its first Bluetooth-enabled speaker, which he launched last week and NYC luxury department store Henri Bendel. We caught up with 50 before a fan meet-and-greet, where he talked Miley Cyrus, his admiration for Eminem, and which of his own songs has been haunting him for years.
Interview by Claire Lobenfeld (@clairevlo)
For those who don't know, why headphones?
For me it’s an extension of my passion for music. I know other people are hearing it the way it was intended to actually be heard. [With] these products, Timbaland helped develop the sound. I sent him the DJ headset and he liked that one the most because it’s the closest thing to the [headphones] we use in the studio. Later on, he came back around and [asked to be] involved, so he ended up investing.
The new line has a wireless speaker, not just headphones. That’s new for you.
The technology is getting better and better. I only want to be involved with things that relate to my lifestyle. Music is easy. It is my lifestyle and without that none of the other opportunities would be there. They wouldn’t exist. You can find yourself get bitten by the film and television bug at points and start doing different things. I got four television shows [with] different networks now. I have a scripted show on the Starz Network. Power is actually filming [now]. Omari Hardwick is the lead. He acted on the show Dark Blue. It was amazing. You got Courtney Kemp Agboh, she was nominated for an Emmy for The Good Wife. She’s the first African-American, period, to run a show on network television [and get nominated], so it’s an accomplishment in itself. But this is a project we’ve worked on for two years, just to show you how I multi-task, [it’s in] long periods of time.
I was listening to Miley Cyrus after the [VMAs]. Because to me, [she’s making] a creative choice. That’s all. And the things she was doing, I could see Madonna doing it and being accepted immediately.
And you’ve been working on the headphone line for two years, as well?
Yup. Two years. [For a long time] I only had a 3-D rendering of what I wanted the original headset to look like. I had to acquire a company that was already functioning, with a staff, in order to make it happen fast enough.
How involved are you in testing them out? When I’m wearing your headphones, I am experiencing what is optimal comfort for 50 Cent?
Everything that I have experienced that was wrong with headsets in the past, I took out of these. I used the actual polyurethane to make it tougher, I’ve had headsets that need batteries and you end up spending a lot more putting in the batteries than what you initially paid for. Those headsets turn on in [your] bag. The battery would be dead when I got a nine-hour flight or some shit and I’m stuck there with no music.
What’s your favorite thing to listen to on them right now?
My favorite stuff? It’s changing. If I watch something and it’s on my mind, I’ll have a stronger interest and I’ll be listen more. I was listening to Miley Cyrus after the [VMAs]. Because to me, [she’s making] a creative choice. That’s all. And the things she was doing, I could see Madonna doing it and being accepted immediately. But it’s how they perceive her. And it’s not [by] that creative choice. The perception is "[You're] Hannah Montana, so stay there."
I think that’s part of what she wanted. And it’s working for her.
It works because she’s being an artist that no one expected. A real artist is going to want the ability to be free with whatever they create. When you find yourself in times of stress, but you’ve developed and you got a great idea but I got to give this to someone else because it’s just not good for me… It’s interesting... [But] I was listening to that for a little bit [to] try to see what she was thinking.
With hip-hop, I’ve had a chance to step back from it and be a fan of the culture. It’s good when you can do that—when you have the luxury. A lot of artists are lost in their ideas. This is why we have people who have huge success within the culture. [Listeners think], "It’s cool, but it’s not like when you did this. When that fist record came." [Those comments are] coming from the artist community. That’s another artist waiting for his shot or someone who feels like their friend has what it takes. He’s creating that negative energy for you. It’s very rare that artists create a record that you consider, for that period of time, the record.
With the Internet, you get more access to how much people are reacting to you. With all that mounting pressure, what do you do? I can see why you would take a step back and see what other things you like to do.
[By] not having interest in a lot of other areas, [Eminem] was able to take a step back from these records. He just goes away and then he’d just watch [other artists] and then figures out what to do next. But [he's] just not as active as all these other folks. Everything else that [he's asked to] be involved in, he says no. He says, "No" more than he says, “Hi.” The circle’s so tight... It speaks to the culture when people see themselves in [your] light, [your] greatness.
Award show committees are invested somehow because I’ve seen things that I didn’t understand. Even in my own career, the largest debuting hip-hop album wasn’t the Best New Album. It was Evanescence and they’ve been long gone.
When they look at Em and they see themselves it’s because they feel him. You see these other guys come out of nowhere almost, have huge hits. I like Eminem. I think hip-hop grew faster in different areas because of the success of his projects and there’s no other rappers doing other than whatever’s comfortable to them [despite Em's influence]. They’ll name top five MC and not have his name on it. When none of them have music that performed that well.
Is that why when you see artists you're unfamiliar with at award shows you do your research?
I’ve seen award shows and people got awards that I didn’t know. I didn’t know who they were. And I was like who is that? Why did they get the award? And then I go, I gotta listen to their record to see what is drawing people to it. Some of it is, I think, those committees. Award show committees are invested somehow because I’ve seen things that I didn’t understand. Even in my own career, the largest debuting hip-hop album wasn’t the Best New Album. It was Evanescence and they’ve been long gone.
I mean I think there is probably a stuffiness but speaking of never hearing of bands, this is actually something I saw today that I wanted to at least tell you about. Have you ever heard of that band called Arctic Monkeys? They’re a British band.
Arctic Monkeys. I haven’t.
I was watching an interview with them and they were talking about how their new album is a little bit is R&B-leaning. And they said they wanted it to sound as good in your car as when you hear "In Da Club." That you never turn that song off when it comes on. It was interesting to hear knowing we'd be talking about speakers.
You know what? That record—I don’t know. [It's] chasing me. [I keep] running from it. I made a lot of music in 2003—it’s been 10 years and that record just stands out. I guess you never get a second chance at a first impression having it be the first single off the album.
More people have heard it than "How to Rob."
And it doesn’t get old because it’s always someone’s birthday.