50 Cent released his debut single “In Da Club’’ 18 years ago. In that time, the track has become a go-to for birthday celebrations, while he has transformed from a hitmaker into a television giant. Fans used to line up at stores to buy his latest albums or his G-Unit sneakers, and now millions of viewers tune in week after week to catch the latest episodes of one of the many shows he has created. 50 has proved to be a force in television. He founded a film production company named G-Unit Films in 2003, but it folded before it was revived it in 2010 as G-Unit Films and Television Inc. He started selling projects to different networks, including the hit Starz drama Power, which debuted in June 2014. 50 starred in the show as Kanan Stark, and also served as co-creator and executive producer. Viewers loved Power so much that they extended the universe with two spinoff shows Power Book II: Ghost and Power Book III: Raising Kanan, with more spinoffs in the works. The original series brought fans together every Sunday night on social media, and people’s love for Power has poured over into the spinoffs.
Although he started out with a groundbreaking music career, 50 has cemented himself as part of the culture in various ways. He has done everything from acting to directing, launched various business ventures, and even continues to harness his influence through social media. Along with his music career, 50 has also tried his hand at being a movie star, acting in 2005’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’, 2011’s All Things Fall Apart, 2018’s Den of Thieves, and more. Regardless of his accomplishments or his résumé, some people refuse to see him as anything other than the rap star he started out as. He quiets the doubters by reminding himself of other movie stars before him who had similar journeys. “You hear people say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to work with a music artist or a rapper.’ They don’t mean Will Smith,” 50 told Complex during a recent Black Mafia Family press junket. “Will Smith is a rapper. Mark Wahlberg is a rapper. The biggest actors are rappers. I hold onto that because the success of Will Smith in this area, the success of Mark Wahlberg, the success of guys that chose the music path first and then went over to that, it allows me to be comfortable if they’re saying that, ‘He’s a rapper.’”
50 is now focused on bringing stories to life in the unique and captivating way that only he can. He has a great eye when it comes to spotting stories that people gravitate to because of the importance he places on authenticity. “With finding a series, people are finding me. People trust me to do it versus the others, like Hollywood itself. With the hustle and the shuffle, they don’t know what exactly to expect from a lot of these actual projects and these deals. If I can get to it, they know I’m going to make sure that it’s all the way right,” he said, calling out shows like Game of Thrones. “There won’t be no Starbucks cups in the shot in a time period when Starbucks wasn’t present. In the Tupac movie [All Eyez on Me], they had him smoking a hookah. I was like, ‘What is going on bro?’”
The shows 50 has created, aside from Power, have been based on real people and stories that he deemed unique. “Things stand out to me when they feel like they’re a one-off like it doesn’t happen all the time, and when it has layers to it. I go, ‘Oh, this is a great story.’ The Isaac Wright Jr. story was incredible. This guy was wrongfully convicted, sentenced to 70 years plus life, and represents himself. He does seven years in the time and never stops representing himself until he gets himself out of the actual situation. That’s one. Period. That’s just one person I can think of that has had that journey,” he said about his 2020 ABC show For Life, which ran for two seasons. “For you to fight and fight until you fight your way out of that situation is unheard of almost. That story was definitely worthy of a television show. The timing of it, too, it came out during the pandemic when you saw more images of law enforcement and crazy stuff going on.”
The multihyphenate star is gearing up to release his latest offering on Starz titled BMF, which is short for Black Mafia Family, premiering Sunday, Sept. 26. BMF is inspired by the true story of a drug and crime organization founded by two brothers named Demetrius “Big Meech” and Terry “Southwest T” Flenory in the late 1980s in Detroit. Their empire went on to become one of the most influential drug trafficking rings in the country. The brothers eventually entered the music industry through BMF Entertainment, which they reportedly used to launder money from their drug business. 50 acquired the rights to the story and sold it to Starz. “I had BMF before For Life and that one went on to television faster. It’s just the pacing of the networks that you’re at with it and the development. The BMF project I had the rights to already for about six-and-a-half years. We sold it to Starz four-and-a-half years ago and it’s finally ready to go,” the mogul shared. “BMF is a more intense version of Power to me. Power is a fictional story and it’s based on some of the things that I experienced in my upbringing. It makes it even easier to go into the ‘90s with Raising Kanan because that period is more like the Golden Era.”
50 also made sure to tell the Flenory Brothers’ story as accurately as possible. The production team receives input from Big Meech for everything from the music they use in club scenes to the style of clothing they wear. 50 even hired Big Meech’s son, Demetrius “Lil Meech” Flenory Jr., to play his father on the show. “Getting him to do that, I’m proud of that. It’s as important as the project itself that he moves forward and has a career and does something with his life in a different light,” 50 told Complex. “The suggestion of that for me is that he really respected me. He thinks so highly of me that he’s working hard enough at it to be good enough to do it. He placed me in this position like, ‘Yo, you’re here and my dad here.’” [The rapper placed one of his hands above the other, implying that the young actor holds 50 at a higher esteem than his own father.] “I moved him from Atlanta to California. I paid for him to live where he was at and put him in an acting school. During the entire time period of 18 months, he was out there and he came in ready. When you have a complete focus, you can get in there and do it in a faster window. People can be studying and taking classes for five to 10 years and without the intensity of ‘This is my sole focus right now,’’’ he said with a shrug. “It can be done in 18 months, in two years. Then the person comes in, he’s so ready, No. 1 on the call sheet, and he’s carrying the whole show.” When speaking to the 21-year-old actor over Zoom, his demeanor was so calm that it made the hectic press junket a bit more pleasant. On the show, he’s the opposite. His portrayal of his father is confident, captivating, bold, and so real, and 50 agrees. “You can see the vulnerability in his performances. The innocence of him. He hasn’t been tainted, he hasn’t been hardened by the experience,” the mogul said. “He looks like his dad and he’s the opposite. He’s everything that his dad isn’t already because it’s so early that the streets didn’t get him. He didn’t go through those experiences that changed his dad.”
Critics have argued that 50’s shows glorify the drug trade, to which he responded that there’s a separation between entertainment and reality. In BMF, the series starts off by giving viewers a glimpse into the Flenory Brothers’ upbringing and their family life to show why they made the decisions they made. “When we look at BMF, it’s a family drama, but it has those layers because of the street life choices. We went back to Detroit into the origin story so people can actually identify with how it organically happened. With the loss of the car companies and jobs and stuff that was happening in Detroit in that time period, it left a lot of people in a very bad financial state and it was affecting them and their household at the same time. For kids between 15 and 17 years old, there’s no career path in those early stages. There’s the environment itself and they chose their path early on,” the TV exec shared. “The government was at a point to say it’s their war on drugs, while they’re bringing the drugs in. When you start to look at these stories, you get an understanding of different points. There’s a pathway to all of these things. Their war was on minorities. It’s really interesting when you tell these stories because this is a big part of that time period. Like, what were the options for you to make it?”
The Grammy winner has been open about his childhood and his upbringing in Queens, New York, and how that influenced his decisions earlier on in his life before his music career. “When I grew up a lot of the times the people who looked like superheroes made those choices because they had what symbolized financial freedom to me. They had the things that said excess, the jewelry, the Regals, Bonneville, Cadillacs. They were living good compared to what we were doing. The representation of doing things the right way were my grandfather’s choices. But he had nine kids in the household, I was the new number nine, and there was nothing there because there were nine of us,” the mogul shared. “When you look at things and you allow a child’s assessment of things, that lifestyle looks great. It’s not like the guy with the nicer car doesn’t happen to have a nicer-looking woman in the passenger seat. That would be at the nucleus of why people make choices that are connected to that lifestyle. People make those decisions not looking at it and being conscious of everything. They’re looking at it and being conscious of themselves and what they want for themselves at that point, because you say, ‘Do you want to live good? Does it matter to you what path you are going down to actually do it?”
Now that he has done everything from making timeless hit records, winning a Grammy, making and acting in movies, scoring endorsements, launching his own liquor brands, to now dominating television, 50 says he’s ready to open doors for others. He knew going into this that he would serve as a bridge for other musicians and young actors by creating spaces for them to thrive. “I knew that if I connected in the right way that I would become a gateway for them to come through. Because I understand it. When they commit to doing it,” the rapper said, “you see them advance to all kinds of levels.” Some actors are getting their first shot on BMF, some musicians are also dipping their toes into acting for the first time, while other seasoned vets are happy to be part of a 50 Cent production. The series will also star Grown-ish’s Da’Vinchi (as Terry Flenory), Russell Hornsby, Michole Briana White, Eric Kofi-Abrefa, Wood Harris and Steve Harris. Snoop Dogg, Kash Doll, and La La Anthony have also signed on for recurring guest roles, while Eminem will play Rick Wershe Jr., a.k.a. White Boy Rick. “These shows don’t never really work based on one strong character. We’ve got so many good actors in it,” 50 said. “You’ve got Russell Hornsby. I got Wood Harris in there, we’ve got Steve Harris in there. We have a whole bunch of them, we got a squad on this show.”
In order to maintain the authenticity that he is known for, 50 made sure to hire some Detroit natives to join the cast and crew, including Kash Doll, executive producer and writer Randy Huggins, and Eminem, to help tell the story right. The “My Name Is” rapper hasn’t done much acting outside of his 2002’s film 8 Mile, but he was motivated to join BMF to support 50 and also because he knew his protégé would be directing and liked the flexibility that would allow. “He’s seeing an opportunity to support me in a different way on this project, it’s why he came out. I think what attracted him to it was me directing it. The pressure that he would have working for someone else and they have these expectations and things like that,” 50 said. “The set during 8 Mile, the difference in experience was that he wasn’t all the way in control. There’s pressure to be ready to go at the drop of a hat on different things, and it felt like he didn’t necessarily want to do that so much after that experience.” According to the “Many Men” rapper, Eminem works best when he’s in charge, and he’s quick to turn down any acting offers, no matter how promising the payout might be. “Em is in complete control of what he’s doing creatively. He’s in the recording studio, he’s doing his thing. He’s going to do it as long as he’s comfortable doing it—and he’s probably going to do it longer than everybody else wants to do it because he’s a lab rat and a perfectionist,” he said. “People made offers and they would approach me to make it an easier offer towards him so I would take the project to him and I’d go to Detroit. One time they offered him $8 million for us to play these two different gangs on different sides of the track. And he was like, ‘Yeah, it’s cool but I think we should do something like The Warriors!’ And I was like, ‘OK, so it does not matter that they offered you $8 million?” (It’s easy to turn down that kind of money when your estimated net worth is said to be around $230 million.)
Unlike Em, 50 is always ready to take on a new opportunity. Following his work on BMF, he says he’s now working on another show based on Bronx drug lord George “Boy George” Rivera, who was importing heroin from China in the 1980s. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for conspiracy to distribute heroin and attempted income tax evasion. When asked which one of his shows he loves the most, he answered with no hesitation. “Raising Kanan, I do the voiceovers in that show. We took the page from Goodfellas. We were looking at that layout and how Ray Liotta was the adult voice of the younger version of his character,” the rapper shared. “That’s what made us understand that it works, we can use my voice in the younger Kanan. I’m closer to that one because I have to do the voiceovers and do everything involved in it on that one.” Now that 50 gets to run things with his TV projects, he also understands that sometimes it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. “And then BMF, I actually went back to directing. With Power, I did episode 603, and then I came back again for BMF. It was different because the COVID thing had me quarantining additional days because someone tested positive. So everybody is in their little bubble. I was in the hotel for so long that I was like, ‘I’m not sure I want to be a director,’” he said with a laugh. The shows he produces don’t get much, if any, recognition during awards season—he shamelessly called Emmy voters “a bunch of Bengay my back hurt smelling ass old people” in 2019—but that’s not really his goal. His purpose now is to tell stories for his people and help open doors for actors and talent that he believes in. People may have differing views or feelings about 50’s rap career or his social media trolling, but that’s not all he is. The 50 Cent who sat in front of me during our Zoom interview was confident, self-assured, yet humble, and deeply proud of the work he has done. And truthfully, he has every right to be.
BMF premieres Sunday, Sept. 26 on Starz.