PRISTINA, Serbia (Reuters) - 50 Cent has the smile many in Kosovo hope to have soon.
In an electrifying, open-air concert on a freezing night, the rapper from Queens, New York became the biggest star to perform in Pristina, a poor city that aims to be capital of the world’s newest state when Kosovo breaks away from Serbia.
A lot of people thought he would not come, given warnings of a violent crisis from some sides in the standoff over Kosovo. Riot police were in evidence round the stadium.
“I haven’t missed a show date in my career,” said 50 Cent, who has the twinkling eyes and wide grin of a man that fought his way to success through dark times and against tough odds.
“I’ve been to Iraq. I performed for the soldiers. I’ve been to Israel. I’ve been to Beirut. They actually bombed the week after I left,” he told Reuters in an interview on Monday before going on stage before a sell-out crowd of 25,000.
“I won’t get a chance to see the world, like the entire world, unless I go everywhere. I see my music break through language barriers.”
50 Cent performed in a soccer stadium between the ruins of a Serb police station bombed by NATO in 1999 and a railway yard where thousands of Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanians were deported by Serb troops.
“They live in the same type of environment that on a smaller level we are subjected to where I’m from. I know exactly what happens when the guns come out. Maybe that’s why they (identify) with me,” he said.
The 32-year-old hip hop artist grew up on the non-luxury side of New York City, was orphaned early on and spent years dodging death in a drugs-and-guns scene until his strong talent for stories in rhythm and rhyme came through.
He has nine bullet scars and a growing list of hit albums in his straight-talking style to prove it.
The 90 percent Albanian majority in the province of Kosovo, vowing to claim statehood soon despite Serbia’s opposition, can identify with that: they were second-class citizens for years until they fought their way free at a heavy cost in lives.
“It’s necessary for you to get by under those circumstances, and (the audience) make it apply to what they are actually doing,” the singer said of his music’s global popularity.
50 Cent takes no political line in the Kosovo dispute between the West and Serbia, now shaping up for what Serb ally Russia said on Monday could become an “uncontrollable crisis” that Moscow blames on a reckless West.
Washington and the European Union say they will recognize Kosovo independence as the only way out of an impasse, after NATO and the U.N. took over the province in 1999 to halt massive ethnic cleansing by Serb forces fighting an Albanian insurgency.
“I’m from Jamaica, Queens,” said 50 Cent. “So for me to come out here and see 25,000 tickets sell out in eight hours is amazing. I’m probably more excited than the average fan.”
His presence in Pristina delighted young Kosovo Albanians looking to the future. There were nearly as many fans outside the stadium as inside.
“It was super. Tonight we saw 50 and we hope that the next thing we’ll see is independence,” said teenager Edona Ahmeti.
Russia is not the only power worried about violence in Kosovo if it carries out its vow to declare independence in the first months of next year. The NATO-led peacekeeping force of 16,000 troops in the province is on heightened alert.
“It’s tough to say what my personal thoughts are. I don’t want to run the world. But it won’t prevent me from coming to entertain,” said 50 Cent.
“I don’t know what to say to them under these circumstances. Maybe just stay cool.”
Editing by Ralph Gowling
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