For years now, the man who wrote Get Rich or Die Tryin’ has been getting very rich indeed—off record sales, energy drinks, self-help books, exercise routines, headphones, you name it. His newest product? A comeback record, Animal Ambition. You see, 50 Cent is healthier than you and wealthier than you, but he also believes you can get there, too, if you follow his advice. GQ‘s Zach Baron spent a month as the hip-hop mogul’s prized pupil, making vision boards, hitting the gym, and reorienting his consciousness, to see if he could get a little bit more like 50.
50 Cent says: Make a vision board. Do it tonight, when you get home.
Open your laptop. Create a new folder. Think about the things you want for your future. “I want you to Google pictures and put everything you want in this folder,” 50 Cent says. “Everything. All right?”
He’s wearing a Yankees cap and a snug, fatherly argyle sweater with horn buttons that keep getting snagged on his various enormous muscles. His beard is like the line a surgeon draws before he cuts. His office in Midtown Manhattan, where we’re sitting, is spare. On the table in front of him is a deck of playing cards with the I ♥ NY logo on them that he periodically picks up and shuffles and a white squash ball that he periodically picks up and squeezes.
All right, I reply.
50 Cent thinks for a minute. Actually, he says, my girlfriend—the one I just mentioned, the one I’d just moved in with? 50 Cent would like her to make a vision board, too. Then we’re going to compare. “Take things out of your folder and things out of her folder to create a folder that has everything,” he says. “Now the vision board is no longer your personal vision board for yourself: It’s a joint board.” That joint board will represent what we have in common. It will be a monument to our love.
But there will be some leftover unmatched photos, too, in each of our folders. And that’s what the joint board is really for—what it’s designed to reveal. “The things that end up on your vision board that aren’t in hers are the things that she has to accept,” 50 Cent says. “And the things that she has that you don’t are the things that you have to make a compromise with.” In a healthy relationship, he explains, your differences are really what need talking about. This is how you go about making that conversation happen.
“See?” 50 says, smiling. “Now, they ain’t gonna tell you to do that in no book.”
There were good reasons why I asked 50 Cent—the same 50 Cent who named his dog after Oprah, and not in a nice way—to become my life coach. He has seemed, in the decade since his first record came out, like a person with wisdom, or at least savvy. He’s published a couple of self-help books—The 50th Law, a best-selling meditation on fear and the impossibility of trust transfigured into a set of boardroom commandments; last year’s Formula 50: A 6-Week Workout and Nutrition Plan That Will Transform Your Life. In his office hangs a poster of the movie he starred in opposite Robert De Niro, Righteous Kill—a testament to an improbable second career on-screen that continues this month with his new drama series on Starz, Power. He invested early in Vitaminwater and earned $100 million. His new album, his first in nearly five years, is called Animal Ambition; maybe he’d be willing to impart some of that ambition to another man.
It was sort of a stunt, the life-coaching thing, and in the beginning I treated it that way. I liked the notion of becoming a better person. Who wouldn’t want to become a better person? But I’d also become fascinated with the ways in which 50 Cent had failed—over the course of his long career but especially lately. He was ubiquitous, sold an unfathomable number of records, and then suddenly he wasn’t and he didn’t. He was said to live alone in an eighteen-bedroom Connecticut mansion that formerly belonged to Mike Tyson, wore a bulletproof vest every day for five years, travelled in a bombproof car. He abjured alcohol. His life in 2014 seemed lonely and impossible. He was a living example of someone who had entirely captured the attention of the culture and then watched the culture speed right by. I thought I’d go to him, ask leading questions, present what I perceived to be his problems as my own—I’m 31, I’ve had some success already, but now I fear my best days are behind me, what should I do, 50 Cent?—and in doing so get him to talk about himself, about the existential predicament of what comes after success so large it can never be repeated.
But so far he was the one asking most of the questions. About my girlfriend: “How long you been together?”
“That’s new still.”
“She’s your best friend?”
“I think friendship is the strongest form of relationship,” 50 Cent says. “Don’t ever forget to be friends. And you be conscious. Because there’s a point that your friendship would develop that it has so much value that it would become priceless. And at that point, you should consider marriage.”
I’d come to hold up a mirror, get 50 Cent to talk about himself, his dreams, his fears, his regrets. Except here he was—enthusiastically inquiring about my dreams, my fears, my regrets—holding up the mirror first. He did it without irony or skepticism—it wasn’t a joke to him, even if it sort of was to me. That was lesson one.
He has led a remarkable life. You don’t need to be all that taken with the tabloid aspects of his story, the nine gunshots he absorbed and survived, to see that. His mother gave birth to him at 15. She told her son it was an immaculate conception. “To make me feel special about not having a father,” he says with a sly grin. She was murdered eight years later in a manner almost too terrible to recount—drugged by a friend, the windows shut, the gas turned on, left to die at her own kitchen table. She had been a drug dealer; at 12, he became one, too. When his debut, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, came out in 2003 and sold nearly a million copies the first week and then nearly another million the second week, he moved from his bedroom in his grandmother’s house directly into Tyson’s old mansion. There was no in-between. He’s lived there ever since, a Gatsby with no Daisy.
That first time we met, we talked about marriage and fatherhood. It was heartbreaking, some of the things he said. He’d had his first son, Marquise, when he was 21. It’s what made him start rapping in the first place—a way to live to see his son live. Now his son is 17 and they don’t speak, because 50 and his son’s mother don’t speak. They fell out over money. They were together before he was 50 Cent, and, he says, she feels she’s owed something for that.
“Me and my son, we don’t have a relationship anymore,” 50 said, squeezing the squash ball. “It’s based on his mom. He’s adopted her way of thinking.” He’s trying to do it over now, he said, with his second son, whom he had by a different woman in 2012—to do it right this time, even though he’s already split with that boy’s mother, too. “I don’t have anything negative around the concept of kids,” he said.
Women are different—harder for him, he said. He was alluding, I presumed, to problems that have been extensively documented in the press. Breakups. Allegations of domestic violence. If you’d read the papers, it was insane to ask him for romantic advice. And yet I’d asked. I wanted to know what he’d say, whether he felt that it was possible for someone to succeed where he had not.
“The one place that I will admit that I’ve been inconsistent is in my personal life,” he allowed, there in his office. That’s when he told me about the vision boards and encouraged me to go home and make one with my girl. He gave me a hug. He couldn’t remember my girlfriend’s name. “Let me know how it goes with Whatshername,” he said earnestly.
I broke the news to Whatshername when I got home. “50 Cent wants me to make a vision board?” she asked. “What do I put on my vision board?”
“Your hopes and dreams for your future and our future together,” I said.
“Hmm,” she said. She asked me what 50 Cent thought of us. She confessed to being worried he wouldn’t approve of our relationship. His public persona was so Machiavellian; does 50 Cent believe in love at all?
“50 Cent believes in us,” I reassured her.
“Well,” she said, “he hasn’t seen our vision boards yet.”
I began living like he told me to live. That first morning, I’d arrived at his office wearing jeans and sneakers, and, in time, I asked him what he thought about the outfit. He looked me up and down. “Look, GQ may send you to interview 50 Cent because you come dressed casual,” he said diplomatically. Around him and his friends, I blended right in. “But they would send the guy in the suit to go fucking interview George Clooney in a heartbeat.”
So you’re saying I should wear a suit to work?
“It’s how people perceive the person that they’re actually sending you to go interview,” he said. Me coming into work every day in Nikes: Maybe I didn’t entirely look like I belonged in a room with the type of man GQ aspires to celebrate. I looked down at my scuffed sneakers. 50 Cent had a point.
All right. I’m gonna wear the suit tomorrow.
“And when you do it, I bet you people ask you, ‘Hey, you look good! Where you going? What’s going on?’ Because it’s not an everyday thing for you. When you clean up, people notice.”
And they did—it was overwhelming how dramatic the difference was. “Whoa,” said Whatshername, when I emerged from the bedroom the following morning. “Nice suit!” co-workers said in the hall. “Do you have a job interview?” asked the woman in the office across from mine. The magazine’s deputy editor, an elegant, impeccably dressed man, strolled by my door and then stopped. For the first time, perhaps ever, he took in my outfit. “I like your suit,” he said. He summoned a photographer. “Let’s put him on the GQ Instagram,” he said to her, walking away without another word.