NEW YORK – The story of 50 Cent being shot nine times has been repeated so often it's become pop folklore, told again and again through his hit songs, videos, cameo appearances, recent autobiography — and now, his new movie.
It's the most shocking detail in 50's bullet-ridden bio, which in abbreviated form goes something like this: Crack dealer-turned-rapper gets shot, releases mixtapes on his own, verbally slays competitors with gleeful gangsta bravado and becomes a world-famous superstar, dominating the rap game.
But while the film "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" relies heavily on 50's well-publicized exploits, the rapper says it also showcases overlooked aspects of his life.
"The part that's been pounded on by journalists and other media outlets (is) the shooting part. I think that overshadows my talent to an extent," says 50. "For me, I think when (fans) watch the actual film they get a chance to see more about my experience than I've been able to deliver to the general public through my music."
The film chronicles a character named Marcus, who, like the real-life Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, starts dealing drugs after his mother, also a dealer, is slain. The movie Marcus moves up in the crack organization and finds a mentor in one of the lieutenants. But when Marcus tries to forsake crack for rap to support his newborn son, things get ugly.
"It's kind of like Greek tragedy," says director Jim Sheridan, who received Oscar nominations for past films such as "In America" and "My Left Foot." "Everybody knows the ending but they're sort of horrified that they know."
Elliott Wilson, editor in chief of the hip-hop magazine XXL, says the movie will finally end the glamorization of 50's shooting.
"That was one factor of his life," Wilson says. "But I think it opens up a whole new chapter."
If the shooting chapter has gotten dog-eared due to multiple readings, that's because 50 has recycled it so often. More than just part of his backstory, it's at the forefront of all his work: Sounds of gunshots are almost as prevalent as drumbeats on his records, and when he made his debut, his trademark became his bulletproof vest, highlighting the fact that he considered his life in constant danger. And his beefs with rappers like Ja Rule, whose career 50 largely destroyed with his unrelenting verbal jabs, made him rap's muscular, menacing schoolyard bully.
But buried underneath the thug imagery is what kept 50 on top — his music.
Even those who grow weary of his shtick and dangerously overexposed image can't resist 50's songs, which are driven by catchy choruses, alluring hooks and clever rhymes that rise above run-of-the-mill gangsta raps. And while his lyrics are dangerous and menacing, they don't alienate the way some other raps do because of the cloak of humor that often envelops them.
"He's funny, he doesn't take himself too seriously," says Sheridan. "I think that's one of the secrets of his success, that it's a contradictory image."
Jimmy Iovine, who has released both of 50's multiplatinum albums as chairman of Interscope Records and has shepherded the careers of rap superstars like Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre and Eminem, called 50 an "exceptional song writer, like 'Pac was."
"He's the Smokey Robinson of the hip-hop era," says Iovine. "People don't realize and always forget that you don't get to where he's gotten without real talent."
50, of course, agrees.
"People say all kinds of things about me ... You know what they don't say? I can't make good music. Because I'm only here based on that," he says. "A lot of rappers, they can put together a punch line ... (but) they can't write a song to save their life."
His talents stretch beyond songwriting. He's a deft self-promoter, from the hood to the suburbs to the international audience. He's definitely gangsta, but has an almost genial personality that sets him apart from the typical brooding rapper. In interviews he's engaging and direct.
"50 is born with something that God gives you called charisma," says Iovine.
His debut album, also called "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," was the top seller of 2003, moving more than eight million copies in the United States alone. "The Massacre," his follow-up, has sold about five million so far and is the top seller of 2005.
50 also has his own sneaker line with Reebok; his own record label, G-Unit, featuring popular rappers like Young Buck, Tony Yayo, Mobb Deep and Ma$e; the G-Unit clothing line; and a video game, "Bulletproof," debuting this month.
Ubiquity has a downside, though. Even before the movie, there were whispers of overexposure. But 50 isn't worried about becoming another Ja Rule — a superstar who got taken out by the hungry newcomer.
"That happens when you don't continue to create quality material. If you leave yourself one dimensional or you don't give them enough of you as an artist, they'll lose interest. You've got to kind of create something new that makes it more exciting."
And he knows that he won't be able to rap from the mind-set of the corner hustler forever: "Eventually, it won't make sense for me to write from the same perspective anymore."
After all, this is a man worth a reported $50 million who resides in tony Farmington, Conn., in a 48,500-square-foot mansion once owned by Mike Tyson.
But 50 insists his wealth hasn't isolated him from his fans — or made him any less hungry.
"When I wake up every morning, I'm reminded that the man who had it before me made $500 million in his career, and doesn't have it anymore."
"This is where my work ethic comes from. I don't think ambition is a learned behavior — I think it's a part of your character. If I was standing on the corner and I was hustling, I would stay there as long as there was money coming in. So I continue to create new products and release them, as long as I'm in a successful space."