SMS audio

50 Cent uses The Force to sell headphones

February 10, 2014: 1:20 PM ET

The rapper talks consumer electronics, mobile gaming, and partnering with Lucasfilm to launch Star Wars-themed headphones.

By John Gaudiosi

140122160212-50-cent-stormtroopers-620xaFORTUNE -- Having sold over 30 million albums worldwide, Curtis Jackson is best known to millions of rap fans as "50 Cent." The rapper has also had success in Hollywood, starring in films like biopic Get Rich or Die Tryin' and action film Righteous Kill. And he's ventured into the video game realm with console games Bulletproof and Blood on the Sand.

Since being discovered by Eminem and Dr. Dre in 2002 and debuting with 2003's Get Rich or Die Tryin', Jackson has proven to be a shrewd business investor with ventures like G-Unit Clothing Company and Glaceau Vitamin Water (KO).

"Vitamin Water would have been a huge success without my participation, it was organic that I actually got involved, and I created a huge separation between them and companies like SoBe Water," said Jackson. "They were successful first because I came around it, but that category was definitely a category of interest. It's like when you look at the state of America in general now, it should be more interested in healthier products and healthier food."

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Jackson has been focusing a lot of his attention lately on SMS Audio, the company he launched in 2011. He recently made a trek to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas to debut his new line of products and find inspiration on the show floor to use next generation technology.

Last year at CES, he saw waterproofing technology from H2O. "Later on we found the right technology to use in our new line of SMS Audio Sport products," said Jackson. "This year I was looking at things like Samsung has coming out because their screens are getting so thin. They can do things with actual screens that one day we may not have to use paint to put on things. Screens will go places that people haven't actually seen them."

Technology has long been a fascination of Jackson, who back in 2003 helped Steve Jobs introduce the iPod to the masses with the music video for "P.I.M.P."

"Jimmy (Iovine) and Steve Jobs had been meeting over the course of a weekend, and they asked me if I thought I could sell the iPod," said Jackson. "I said, 'I could sell the iPod, I'm the hottest thing out there.' And they gave me $150,000 to put it in the video."

These days, Jackson is selling his own line of audio products. One of the most interesting announcements from CES 2014 was the partnership between SMS Audio and Lucasfilm to launch a line of limited-edition Star Wars SMS Audio "Street by 50" model on-ear headphones in Q2 2014 for $200. This line of headsets was modeled after characters like Boba Fett and Stormtroopers and symbols from the Empire and Rebellion.

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"LucasFilm has maintained a quality standard since the '70s, and I really admire the brand," said Jackson. "They have been on the cutting-edge of technology decade after decade, and it's the same brand equity and technology innovation that I want to mirror at SMS."

When he entered the crowded celebrity audio headphone market, which had major players like Beats by Dre, SOULby Ludacris and House of Marley; Jackson knew the first thing journalists would ask was why buy your product over everything else that's actually there. So he came out with things that weren't actually in the marketplace.

"The first SYNC by 50 headset used the same Kleer technology that Mercedes utilized to allow the car to speak to itself without wires going around it," said Jackson. "That allowed the headset to be away from a single source of music 50 feet and four people to sync the headset up to have the same musical experience. I looked at Bluetooth because I wanted to do wireless because of my actual lifestyle, and running on a treadmill with wires didn't work, but back then Bluetooth technology wasn't as good as it is now. I always try to take things that I would want in a superb product myself, create it, and present it to the public."

In addition to a full line-up of new headphones, SMS Audio was testing the waters with new audio products like the SYNC by 50 Wireless Speaker. Audio is becoming just part of the music experience, thanks to advances in technology and affordable pricing.

"I'm starting to see the visual content that's connected to music become more valuable, and it's going to be as important as the actual song itself," said Jackson. "People are buying cell phones with cameras that are connected to their social networking because they're on Instagram and other social platforms that require the photographs. And because some of the cameras on the phone shoot in HD quality, you could -- with the right lighting -- shoot in-studio videos and upload them from your actual phone to YouTube. It's important that you actually document and keep content rolling for people to sustain their interest."

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But there is a negative side to everyone having a camera easily accessible, and not just for celebrities.

"We'll have real privacy issues soon because there's no place you can go where a person doesn't have the ability to document what you're actually doing," said Jackson. "With Google glasses a guy walking around can take your picture anytime, anywhere, without you knowing. So don't be surprised if they have a picture of you at the urinal, where you wouldn't actually pose for them."

In addition to running his audio empire and writing music, Jackson is currently working on a new mobile game.

"I'm a big Tetris fan and I used to like Outrun, so it'd be interesting doing something like that," said Jackson. "I want to do something that's mobile first because I did the big console games before and I'd like to try and get into the mobile space. The phone's become a necessity today and there's a lot of interesting stuff going on there."

Just as there's a lot of interesting stuff coming from Jackson these days, and not just in the form of music.

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