By MIKE HOULAHAN
Most recording artists would prefer it if journalists and fans didn't know about any criminal past.
US rapper 50 Cent - performing in Auckland tonight - doesn't shy away from his dark past. In fact, he thanks his parole officer in the sleeve notes of his worldwide multi-platinum debut album Get Rich Or Die Tryin'.
"Miss Donna Harris," he says smiling.
"She was different from the average parolee-parole officer relationship. She understood we were already conditioned for those situations. She didn't say 'You're going to be a rapper. Whatever.' She said, show me some information, show me something that tells me that's what you're doing and fine, do that.
"So many people try. As soon as you say you've got a record coming out they say 'OK.' Millions of people say they've got a record coming out. She didn't do that: she gave me the benefit of the doubt at that point and the record took off, sold millions."
50 Cent - real name Curtis Jackson - is no longer on parole, otherwise he would not be sitting in a suite high up in one of Auckland's swankier hotels on this, the latest stop of his world tour.
In the last few years 50 Cent has evolved beyond being a rapper. He is now also chief executive of a record label, clothing label, a line of shoes, and is also looking at getting into movies. Whereas once he was desperately scraping to keep body and soul together - and ignoring legal niceties along the way - he now travels with an 18-strong entourage who help him keep track of business.
"I've always been a hustler because I had to hustle on the street. I don't come from much," he says.
"A lot of times it takes money to make money. Once you acquire a little finance you can make some moves. Sometimes people do the wrong thing and enjoy it, some people provide for themselves by any means. If it comes down to I've got to go out and do something or the lights are going to go out, I'm going to do what I have to do to keep the lights on.
"I don't encourage people to do the wrong thing, because the entire time I looked forward to not having to do the wrong thing any more. When I was hustling, I was hustling to try and find enough finances to make legitimate investments."
In the late 90s the up and coming 50 Cent was starting to go places. Having come under the wing of Run DMC's DJ Jam Master Jay, 50 Cent began to get noticed. In 1999 he was signed to major label Columbia Records and began recording an album.
However, 50 Cent's past caught up with him in April 2000, when someone opened fire on him while he was standing outside his grandmother's house. He was hit nine times, including a bullet to the face. The scar in his cheek is clearly visible, and he pulls down his bottom lip to show the gap the bullet left as it dislodged one of his teeth.
A legacy of the attack is the fact that when he is in the US 50 Cent now wears a bullet-proof vest everywhere - "I wear it because to me it doesn't make sense not to," he says nonchalantly, perhaps unaware how chilling his matter-of-factness is to those brought up a long way away from such routine strife.
Another, more permanent reminder, is the slight lisp 50 Cent's injuries have given him.
"In the back of my mouth there's now this little hiss. Lemme tell you, this is the voice that sells 10 million records," he laughs.
"My other voice was no good."
When 50 Cent recovered from his injuries, he found friends were few and far between. His label dropped him, and despite being a name performer in one of the music's biggest towns no one was returning his phone calls.
"After I got shot, Columbia Records got afraid of me," 50 Cent says.
"I'd been rapping about it the whole time. They got all my records talking about all my experiences, and at the time they shot me they realised it was true," 50 Cent laughs.
"I was the real deal."
Undeterred, 50 Cent reconnected with his friends G-Unit and kept on making music. A mix tape made its way to the ears of Eminem who - with his producer Dr Dre - started championing the New York MC.
"It takes Eminem, all the way in Detroit, to give me a shot," 50 Cent says.
"Now everybody in New York calls, 'Hello, can I speak to 50 Cent? Can we do a record?' Hell no."
The three of them got together to record and release one of the most eagerly anticipated rap albums in years - a record with such an amazing back story that 50 Cent admits his hype sometimes overwhelms his musical virtues.
"My past is my shadow. Wherever I go, it's going to go with me. I've accepted it, and I know I have an aura around me that isn't really nice. No matter how successful I am, I don't think I'll shake it.
"When I wrote my record I wasn't writing it to be a role model. The music on Get Rich And Die Tryin' is a direct reflection of the environment I come from. Some places they don't understand it because they're not going through the same experiences. The guys in Houston Texas writing a country song right now - I don't understand what he's talking about right now."
* 50 Cent: Get Rich And Die Tryin' is out now.
By MIKE HOULAHAN