Boxing taught 50 Cent how to defend himself

Rapper 50 Cent (left) plays the manager of Jake Gyllenhaal's boxer character in Southpaw.
Rapper 50 Cent (above) plays the manager of Jake Gyllenhaal's boxer character in Southpaw.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

As he promoted his new movie Southpaw last week, rapper and business mogul 50 Cent found himself in probably the last place he wanted to be: a room full of reporters on the day he declared bankruptcy.

His supporting role in the Antoine Fuqua film - where he plays the manager of Jake Gyllenhaal's boxer character - meant the 40-year-old star, whose real name is Curtis Jackson, had committed to attending a press event in Beverly Hills.

Cue a series of awkward exchanges with Life and other reporters, who had been instructed not to ask the star about his financial or legal troubles, or risk having their interviews cut short.

"Fiddy", as he is known among fans, shows up smiling but subdued. Dressed in a sharply tailored three-piece designer suit, he proceeds to answer questions about the film, which he explains is about a subject close to his heart - boxing. A licensed boxing promoter in real life, Jackson says his friendships with top fighters such as Floyd Mayweather Jr "are what led me to being involved in this movie".

"And where that pays off is it gave me more information on the sport,'' says the musician behind mega hits such as In Da Club and Candy Shop.

Everyone is only half-listening to him, though. The elephant in the room is the bankruptcy news that had broken that morning, a fall from grace for one of the biggest names in hip-hop, whose net worth was estimated at US$155 million (S$212 million) by Forbes magazine just two months ago, thanks to his record sales and savvy investments in beverages, clothing and technology.

Some have speculated that the bankruptcy declaration is largely a tactical move to protect Jackson and his finances after a court ordered the star to pay US$5 million in damages to a woman named Lastonia Leviston. Just days earlier, a jury in New York had concluded that the star did not have her permission when he posted sex-tape footage of her online - and made crude comments about it - to taunt one of his hip-hop rivals, Rick Ross.

The rapper - who has two sons, aged 17 and two, with two ex-girlfriends - gives few hints about what he might be feeling about these legal and money woes, rarely looking at anyone in the eye as he talks about the movie.

The film - which sees Gyllenhaal's character, Billy, go from humble beginnings to stardom, only to lose everything and find himself at the bottom again - is not dissimilar to Jackson's own story.

Speaking about where his love of boxing began, the artist indirectly references his troubled childhood growing up in Queens, New York, where he was born to a teenage mother who later became a drug dealer, a profession Jackson would fall into as well.

"When I was 12, boxing was a more affordable programme to teach you to defend yourself than karate. It required only handwraps, a mouthpiece and a membership to the boxing gym in the neighbourhood. So it was more cost-efficient," he says.

Asked if he ever worries that his friends and business partners will desert him if he loses everything, which is what happens to Billy in the movie, Jackson shakes his head vigorously.

"No, no, no," he says. "The biggest tragedy for each individual is our pain is tailor-fitted to us."

Jackson also mounts an interesting defence of his character Jordan, the manager who deserts Billy when he is down on his luck.

"The sport will make you as cut-throat as that character is because Jordan doesn't have bad intentions.

"If it makes money, it makes sense," he says, quoting the character's justification for his actions, which could well be the star's motto, too, these days.

Alison de Souza

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2015, with the headline 'Boxing taught 50 Cent how to defend himself'. Print Edition | Subscribe