Talented stars, killer physiques.Read article
It’s 12:45 p.m. in an upscale fitness studio near Wall Street. Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson stands in front of a photographer and a swarm of hair and makeup people, stylists, publicists, magazine editors, and gym workers. He’s shirtless. He’s lean. His arms and chest are massive. His skin glistens with baby oil. He’s tall—taller than you might think, if you assume all celebrities are dwarves. He’s 6’1″, 202 pounds. He should be 198 pounds the same amount he weighed on the cover of his debut studio album in 2003, Get Rich or Die Tryin’—but as 50 will point out throughout the day, he only had a week to prepare for this photo shoot. On the speakers? “In da Club,” of course—50’s mega-mega-hit from Get Rich. The irresistible bounce of the track has the crew members and publicists bobbing their heads and giggling. It all feels a bit surreal. Or redundant. Or both.
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The fact that this is happening 12 years after that song hit the radio the fact that he’s got no fewer than five projects coming out this summer, including a TV show, two movies, a line of underwear, and a new album isn’t lost on 50, who turned 40 on July 6. “In the beginning they love you,” says 50. He tells me this a couple of hours earlier, between sets of 275-pound presses on the incline bench. “Because when you win, it’s confirmation that you can come from nothing. Then, when you keep on winning and you keep on winning and you keep on winning…I think the public loves tragedy.” Build you up and then tear you down, I offer. “Yeah, that’s the process.” Everybody likes something new on the scene. “Uh-huh. Especially in hip-hop. It’s a youth culture. So it’s fast. It’s got a low-attention span. ‘Out with the old, in with the new.’ People who stick around have significance. Staying power is significant, you know? It means you have some sort of discipline.” Oh, he’s got discipline all right. In the gym and out of it. Let’s take the gym stuff first. Although he started boxing when he was 12, 50 says he didn’t really develop a love for weight training until after his well publicized attack in 2000, when he was shot nine times from close range (including once in the face). To recover, he traded New York City for the Poconos, and that’s where he found a small gym—“a country shack gym,” in his words— in Stroudsburg, PA. “I went every day because there was nothing to do,” says 50. “It became a big part of my day. I trained, and I wrote music. That was my focus.”
His weight, which was up around 220 or 230 at the time of the shooting, plunged to 168 due to a six week liquid diet. But his work in the gym helped him pack on 30 pounds of muscle. By the time he appeared on the cover of Get Rich in 2003, the public saw a shirtless young man with a shredded physique—a rapper who looked more like a linebacker and promptly bought 872,000 copies in the first four days. Get Rich became the best-selling album of 2003 and one of the best-selling hip-hop albums of all time. You probably know the rest: More hit albums followed. Then movies. Then an investment in Vitaminwater that he cashed out for a cool $100 million. Then a headphone company and a vodka brand. Not bad for a former crack dealer from Jamaica, Queens. (Or anybody else, for that matter.) These days, 50 hits the gym five days a week, sometimes six. His longtime trainer, Jay Cardiello, puts him through high-intensity workouts that might include everything from pushups and pullups to sledgehammer swings, sprints up sand dunes, jumping rope, dips, and heavy-bag punches. Then 50 will often stay in the gym after the workouts and lift weights on his own. (At one point he could bench more than 415 pounds.) Cardiello says he’s a dream client—one who doesn’t smoke or do drugs and rarely drinks. “He’s one of the most disciplined celebrities or laymen I have ever worked with,” says Cardiello, who toured around the world with 50 from 2006 to 2010 as his full-time trainer and nutritionist. “His work ethic is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched him get out of the recording studio at 5:30 a.m., and at 6 a.m. he’s in the gym. Then later that day he’d want to train again. I’d have to stop him.”
50 isn’t afraid to manipulate his weight for a role, either. For the movie All Things Fall Apart, he lost 55 pounds via a liquid diet and lots of cardio. When he was traveling during that time, he says he would jump out of the car that was taking him from the airport to the hotel and run alongside it. “The illest shit is people would be outside the hotel waiting for us, and they wouldn’t see me run in. Because they’re waiting for 50 Cent to come in the car. I run right past them in my sweat suit.”
It’s a good thing 50’s working out like a beast in the gym, because he needs the energy it provides for all his projects. First there’s his long-awaited new album, Street King Immortal, which will be released in September and features guest spots by Eminem, 2 Chainz, Jeremih, and T.I. (The first single from the album, “Get Low,” dropped in May.) Then there’s all his acting work. 50 plays himself in the big-budget comedy Spy with Melissa McCarthy and Jude Law. He portrays Jake Gyllenhaal’s manager and friend in Southpaw, a gritty, Rocky-type film from the director of Training Day that used actual HBO boxing cameramen to shoot the in-ring fight scenes. And he’s back as bad-guy Kanan on the second season of the Starz show Power, a crime drama that centers on a nightclub owner/drug kingpin. 50 also provides original music for the show and serves as its executive producer—and don’t think for a second he’s a producer in name only. “He’s all over the show,” says Courtney Kemp Agboh, Power’s creator and showrunner. “He and I will get on the phone and we’ll talk for an hour or two hours and we’ll come up with scenes or character moments or good beats. Honestly, he’s got a better grasp on story than some of the TV writers I’ve worked with over the years, because rappers tell complete stories—with beginnings, middles, and ends—in four minutes.” Agboh also notes that the show leans heavily on 50’s athleticism and physical presence as an actor. “He kicks somebody’s ass in the first episode of Season 2, and it’s a brutal fucking fight,” she says. “If you want to see 50 do awful, awful things, please watch Power, Season 2.”
Finally, there’s the underwear line for men. It’s called Frigo, (which comes from the Latin word for roast). Derek Jeter, Carmelo Anthony, and Timbaland are also involved. 50 designed his own line for Frigo called Frigo Crown, and to promote it he will appear on a billboard in Times Square later this summer or early fall in nothing but his skivvies. To prepare for the shoot, 50 worked out twice a day for a month. But just like with Power, he’s not merely a face (or body) for the project. He’s got his fingerprints all over the business. “He probably saved us millions of dollars on stupid decisions we were going to make,” says Mathias Ingvarsson, the founder and CEO of Frigo’s parent company, RevolutionWear. “One thing he said is don’t advertise too much because social media has the most power. Get a couple of big billboards in major markets and some TV ads and you’re all set. Because of him we made a campaign that cost a lot less.” His worldwide reach doesn’t hurt the brand either. “I was after 50 long before I got to the U.S., back when we were testing Frigo in Europe,” says Ingvarsson. “He’s the best promoter I think there is. In Europe everyone knows 50. China knows 50. Everyone loves 50.” Back in the gym, I ask 50 about his workload, if it ever becomes too much. All the projects, all the appearances, all the demands. “It’s nonstop,” he admits. “You keep going. It’s the whistle-while-you-work concept. When you love what you’re doing, it’s not difficult. You know, this is a lifestyle for me.” He says the key to his success—in all of these different areas—is he doesn’t see limitations. “I’ve learned enough about myself to know that I’m always going to be into something new,” he says. “It’s never going to end. I’ve been like this all my life. I always put something in front of me. I come up with something to be excited about and work on. And then I go get it.”