Tampa, Florida: we are in town, courtesy of Vivendi Universal Games, to interview the man who is currently the world's most successful recording artist, 50 Cent. Pitching up at the large but somewhat moth-eaten Grand Hyatt in the centre of this sleepy resort town, where 50 Cent and his G-Unit cohorts are staying in preparation for playing an Anger Management Tour gig with Eminem and his posse, uncertainty is in the air. Will Fiddy (as he is universally known) and his gang live up to their fearsome gangsta reputation? Will we get more than five minutes with the man himself? Will we even be able to understand what he is saying?
An hour or so later, we find ourselves in the company of the great man himself, and very impressive he is, too. 50 Cent's story is pretty well documented: brought up (as Curtis Jackson, according to his passport) on the mean streets of Queens, NY, by his grandparents, his determination to eke out a comfortable living led to an early career as a crack dealer. An encounter with the legendary, sadly deceased Jam Master Jay of Run DMC, led to him beginning to hone his skills as a rapper, and he recorded an album. But that never saw the light of day, when his dodgy day job caught up with him and he was shot nine times outside his grandparents' house in April 2000. The good news was that he miraculously survived, even though one bullet lodged in his mouth. The bad news was that he was dropped by his record label.
Drifting into making mix-tapes - combining his raps with instrumentals from other artists - Fiddy soon generated a rep as the hottest rapper on the East Coast, though, and soon hooked up with Eminem and the Interscope record label. Then came the album Get Rich Or Die Tryin' and 50 Cent's status as the hottest property in hip-hop was sealed. The album went on to sell a staggering 11 million copies. This year's follow-up, The Massacre, hit Number One in many countries around the world, and as is typical for hip-hop artists, 50 Cent has begun to diversify into business, with a range of vitamin waters, the G-Unit clothing and trainers range, a forthcoming autobiography, a film along the lines of Eminem's 8 Mile, entitled Get Rich Or Die Tryin', which is scheduled for release in November and, last but not least, the game 50 Cent: Bulletproof.
50 Cent: Bulletproof is somewhat shrouded in mystery, so who better to tell us about it than the eponymous hero himself? In person, although seriously muscle-bound, 50 Cent is softly spoken, articulate and considered - surprisingly, he radiates an air of calmness and authority. He explains how 50 Cent: Bulletproof came about: "All of my business ideas come from my actual lifestyle. While we're on the road, I see how much [the G-Unit] utilise the videogames systems as a form of entertainment. You know, they'll turn off the satellite television to play videogames for hours and hours at a time. So I was like: I want to be able to entertain on that format. So I approached Jimmy [Iovine, head of Interscope] and we went to Vivendi Universal and got the ball rolling. And I'm excited because it has the highest technology and I'm sure, if not the best videogame, it will be one of the best videogames you'll see this year."
Fiddy points out that the game crosses over with the film Get Rich Or Die Tryin': "I used the writer from the film, Terry Winter, because I spent over three months with him, giving him information that allowed him to compile the actual screenplay. He took that information and created a theme and the dialogue for the film." Essentially, 50 Cent: Bulletproof is a fictional account of what may have happened in 50 Cent's life if he hadn't achieved success as a hip-hop artist. It starts with Fiddy getting shot, and develops into a third-person action-adventure game in which Fiddy and his gang - including the G-Unit members Tony Yayo, Lloyd Banks and Young Buck, plus Eminem and Dr Dre - exact revenge on the shooter or shooters.
50 Cent: Bulletproof is noticeably violent - is Fiddy worried about the accusations of glorifying violence that will be flung his way when it launches? "You know what? It's no more violent than anything that we show in an action film. They said I glorified violence, but I don't glorify violence, I acknowledge it. You know, because it's going on in the environment that I come from." Tony Yayo - whose new album Thoughts of a Predicate Felon is about to drop, also has plenty to say on the matter: "The videogame is crazy. I think Banks is picking locks, Buck is the fastest runner, Fiddy's kicking everyone's ass - it comes out in November. It's mature, for the mature crowd only. It's not really for little kids. Hopefully they won't steal it from their moms and dads, brothers and stuff like that."
G-Unit member Lloyd Banks is also keen to talk about his role in 50 Cent: Bulletproof: "My character is a lock-picker. You play as 50 and then you bump into us - you know, as you would in the street, I guess. Throughout the game, you can call on them, and we give each other advice throughout the game. The game is crazy - the graphics are incredible. The shot they got of me - on point... I mean, you can tell, mounted, down to the jury. It's amazing, because I'm a videogame-head - I'll probably be the first one to buy it."
Like all male Americans, Banks admits to being a particular fan of the NBA and John Madden games. But what of Fiddy? Is he a gamer? "I actually enjoy old videogames. I like Pac-Man, Tetris and Centipede, you know? Like, before they started having 50 buttons - back then when they had a joystick and one button (laughs). I enjoy those games, but my son is the best - with games like NBA Live, and football games, he goes crazy." Does he beat you? "He whups me: terribly. Sometimes I don't want to play with him."
So there you go: he may have been shot nine times, but 50 Cent is happy to admit that his son beats him at videogames. Mind you, he has so little to prove these days, that it seems as though all the posturing is behind him. Recently, after details emerged of Eminem's painkiller addiction, it was announced that this September's Anger Management Tour dates in the UK have been cancelled. But with Tony Yayo's album and a remastered version of 50 Cent's The Massacre to promote, it looks as though the G-Unit will be coming to these shores in September. And their show is quite an extravaganza - check them out and see what all the fuss is about.