“Expect Me To Keep Winning,” 50 Cent on His Success With ‘Raising Kanan’ and Beyond

From left: 'Raising Kanan' actor Mekai Curtis and 50 Cent. Image: courtesy of Starz

“This one is more personal. It’s my favorite out of them all so far,” 50 Cent tells EBONY about Power Book III: Raising Kanan, the third installment in his successful Starz franchise during a brief one-on-one Zoom. “It’s so exciting. This became my baby.”

Some may assume it’s simply because Raising Kanan is the prequel to 50’s own Power character but he insists its more than that. Instead, 50 shares that he’s driven by a need to document what he and many others consider a very important era in hip-hop and not just in his personal life. “The nineties changes it for me,” he explains. “The nostalgia, the time period, the clothes, the energy of the things going on and then I’m able to inject how the neighborhood itself felt into the actual story. And, I think that’s significant, because when it’s done right—like with a higher quality production value—people look at it and they just drift off into the period. They remember what it was like. That’s why it’s so important.”

In his quest to do the era justice, he left out no detail. “Even for the theme song, I had to use Keni [Burke’s] ‘Risin’ to the Top’ because at that point R&B music was so much stronger than hip hop music, [which] was still in its infant stage growing into being bigger and better,” he shares.

Creating a prequel to a Power character few viewers would say they like would be a very unlikely choice for many, but 50 Cent sees it very differently. “Kanan is such a bad character, such a bad person, that you wonder what kind of traumas, things he experienced prior to that, that made him [that way],” he explains.

Helping 50 bring the story of Kanan’s loss of innocence to life is Mekai Curtis who plays the young version of the character loosely based on details of the rapper-turned-TV mogul’s own life, captured most notably in the film Get Rich or Die Tryin, named after his game-changing 2003 debut album. Kanan is part of a drug empire in Southside Jamaica Queens his mother Raquel “Raq” Thomas (Patina Miller) runs with her brothers Lou-Lou (Malcolm Mays) and Marvin (London Brown), with his cousin Jukebox, who in the series Power puts him on the path to his dramatic death.  Curtis’ performance, the Southside Jamaica Queens native admits, has even caught him off guard.

“He surprised me with how much detail he put into his performance. Like I slur words at point sometimes. I’m not conscious of it. This is something that became a habit after I was injured because I had to wear like hooks, braces because I got shot in the face. And sometimes I have the habit of speaking without moving my mouth,” 50 explains, subtly alluding to when he was shot nine times back in 2000 before his career took off. “If you watch him, at points, he’s doing it. And I’m like he must have watched a million tapes of me in interviews and different things to add that to his performance.”

A stellar performance, however, doesn’t make a show spectacular, 50 warns. “There’s no one great person in a hit television show. It’s something organic that happens when the talent meshes together the right way,” he says. But he does note that “Patina [Miller, the Tony winner who plays Raq] just brings a different level of intensity. The only thing I’ve been next to that is as advanced as that is Nicholas Pinnock [the star of the 50 Cent-produced series For Life that ran on ABC for two seasons]. He’s another one that’s like a whole ‘nother level of dedication and discipline involved in his performance.”

And then there is fellow raptor (rapper-actor) Joey Bada$$. “Joey was a surprise. He won an Oscar,” 50 says with awe in his voice. Still he believes his performance as Unique in Raising Kanan expounds on the talent people glimpsed in his lead role in his Oscar-winning short Two Distant Strangers.

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“That’s just a blip of what he has coming,” 50 says. “When you see him as this character, it changes even what they expect from him musically. They are going to want him to be the Unique character. With Tupac, he never stopped being Bishop in Juice. Like they embraced the character so strongly that it even bled into some of his musical performances, and I think that Joey is right on that verge of people really embracing him as a big talent.”

As far as what we are seeing on television these days, 50 Cent believes that “culturally there’s a change and a shift and you see people want diversity and want projects to have multicultural [elements] in it. And I’m just becoming a leader in that.”

That’s almost an understatement. With BMF (Black Mafia Family), a family drama based on an actual drug crew ran by brothers Demetrius “Big Meech” Flenory and Terry “Southwest T” Flenory, hitting Starz September 26, and Power Book II: Ghost returning November 7, in addition to Raising Kanan on now, 50 isn’t exaggerating his pull. “I’m currently at 21 shows across nine different networks [as a producer],” he shares.

And his future in TV is only looking brighter. “Expect me to keep winning,” he says.

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