Brian Nohe, a former executive at Gillette and a self-described garage band musician, was running a small company in Delray Beach, Fla., that made headphones and earbuds for kids when he got a call from 50 Cent. The rapper and businessman (also known as Curtis Jackson) had—like just about everyone else—noticed the success of Beats by Dr. Dre and had decided he wanted to get into the business. He ended up buying a majority stake of Nohe’s company in September, renamed it SMS Audio, and made himself chief executive. The company sells headphones for all ages now: Sync by 50 wireless headphones go for about $400 and the Street by 50 wired sets cost about $250. The company has 25 employees and sells headphones in 30 countries. Nohe spoke with me over the phone about what it’s like when 50 is the boss.
What did you know of Jackson when he approached you?
I knew of 50 as an artist, but his music isn’t what I’m used to listening to. I wanted to understand who he was as a person. My reputation is valuable to me. I tell everyone that there are three things critical to me: ethics, community, and family. I asked him, ‘What are your ethics?’ We were completely simpatico. He is straight-up. There are no curves with 50.
What else did he say?
He said, ‘I know my lyrics can be raw. That’s the environment I grew up in and in terms of my artistry that’s what I rap about, what I spit about.’ Fifty does hip-hop music but he doesn’t go out and raise havoc at night. I found him to be quite the gentleman. He’s a very good listener. … He’s humbled by his wealth. He’s got his shtick, but that’s part of the marketing. He’s creating an image. There’s a great businessman behind that.
How often do you see him?
He tends to be a New York-Las Vegas-Los Angeles-Miami kind of guy. I see him once or twice a month at his offices in New York or here in Delray Beach. When he’s here, he walks around and talks to everyone. He’s gracious. Otherwise, we text. E-mail is for official business. We’re very buttoned-up in some ways. We clear schedules, pre-program things. I don’t hit him up with requests at the last second.
How do you resolve disagreements?
He’s got a good sense of himself. He hires good people, leaves them alone to do their job and gets involved when he thinks it’s appropriate. He has good ideas about design and sound. But if he came to talk to me about HR issues, I’d be surprised. …We haven’t had that many disagreements. But I didn’t get to where I am today without knowing that when the boss says he wants to do it this way, you do it that way. But he respects me.
What’s hard about working for a celebrity?
It’s a challenge to get him to focus. He’s got a new album breaking in November and he’ll be on tour around the world. How do we latch on to that? Then there are four other people running different businesses and projects who are asking the same thing. He’s beginning to realize he needs to put more emphasis on navigating all this. … It would be a good thing to have more of a corporate structure around him.
What’s the strangest thing about working for 50 compared to, say, an executive at Gillette?
At Gillette and in other jobs, I’ve run into a lot of celebrities. I’m not quite as star-struck. I’m 60. I’m thinking: “You’ve had a great career, good for you. Let’s make this work and make some money.”
Do you always call him 50?
It depends on the circumstances. Most people call him 50 or Fiddy if they know him. But in a business meeting—especially if we’re out of the country—I’ll call him Curtis or Mr. Jackson. It’s a courtesy. But everyone always asks what to call him.