The rapper known as 50 Cent is living proof that hip-hop is as much a lifestyle as it is a type of music. He was a star in the underground mix-tape circuit for several years, but the rest of the world did not hear about him until 2002, when his first single, "Wanksta," appeared on the soundtrack of the film 8 Mile. In 2003, 50 Cent's debut album Get Rich or Die Tryin', topped the charts and broke sales records. As a result, the young rapper was constantly in the press, and his life became an open book. This was not a "studio gangsta," meaning a musician who makes up stories about drugs, violence, and murder in order to sell records; 50 Cent was the real deal. He grew up on the streets of New York, survived being shot at nine times, and used those experiences to fuel his songs. As a result, critics noted that his music had a gritty edge, and they predicted that 50 Cent would be the next hip-hop heavyweight.
Life of a drug dealer
Born Curtis Jackson, 50 Cent grew up in South Jamaica, a neighborhood of Queens, which is a borough of New York City. It is a tough neighborhood, plagued by gang violence; it is also the birthplace of many rappers, including LL Cool J (1968–) and the female trio Salt N' Pepa. Fifty Cent was surrounded by violence from the day he was born. His mother, Sabrina Jackson, was only fifteen years old when he was born on July 6, 1976. She turned to dealing drugs in order to support her son, and eventually became one of the most feared drug dealers in Queens. Sabrina was killed mysteriously when her son was eight, perhaps the result of a drug war.
Fifty Cent was raised by his grandmother, whom he adored. However, because she had nine other children in her charge, the boy spent a good deal of time on the streets. By the time he was twelve, he was dealing crack, a strong form of cocaine that is smoked. As 50 Cent explained to Allison Samuels of Newsweek, he had to fend for himself because he did not want to burden his grandmother: "I didn't want to ask her for a pair of Air Jordans when I knew she couldn't afford them, so I began working to get my stuff and not stress her out."
"The bottom line is, the obstacles that you overcome are going to determine how great you are."
At age fifteen, 50 Cent bought his first gun, and by nineteen years old he was the neighborhood drug kingpin, bringing in about $150,000 a month. He had dropped out of high school and was spending most of his time in jail; 50 Cent was also listening to his favorite musicians, including KRS-1, Rakim, and Run-DMC, and trying his hand at writing his own rhymes. He dreamed about breaking into the music business but was not sure he should give it a try. When his son, Marquise, was born, 50 Cent knew it was time to make a change: he decided to stop dealing drugs and start making music.
Eminem: Unlikely Hip-Hop Hero
Eminem is one of the biggest superstars in the music business, but he is also one of the most controversial. His lyrics are full of profanity; his CDs are boycotted by women's organizations and gay and lesbian groups; and he makes news headlines because of his public rampages against his mother, his ex-wife, other musicians, and fans. On the other hand, Eminem, a white rapper from Detroit, Michigan, has an enormous number of steadfast followers. He also has been credited with infusing new life into a genre that some considered to be growing old and stale.
Eminem was born Marshall Mathers III in Kansas City, Missouri, on October 17, 1972. When he was young, he and his mother, Debbie Mathers-Briggs, divided their time between Missouri and Detroit, Michigan. When he was twelve, the family finally put down roots in the east side of Detroit. Because they were constantly moving, Mathers found it difficult to make friends, so he turned to television and comic books. He also started tuning in to rap music, and soon he was writing rhymes like his favorite musicians, LL Cool J and 2 Live Crew. By high school, Mathers was skipping most of his classes, and focusing his energies on his music. He failed the ninth grade, and ended up dropping out of Osbourne High School.
Mathers paid his dues over the next few years, releasing independent CDs until he was noticed by veteran rapper Dr. Dre. With Dr. Dre's help, the world was introduced to Marshall Mathers, also known as Eminem, also known as Slim Shady, the title of his 1998 debut CD. His songs were harsh, filled with references to rape, violence, and drug use. In particular, Mathers lashed out at his ex-wife, Kim, and his mother, whom he blamed for his hard childhood. Critics loved him or hated him, parents protested, but millions of people bought his music and attended his concerts.
The Slim Shady CD was followed by The Marshall Mathers LP (2000) and The Eminem Show (2002). Both sold millions of copies and earned several Grammy Awards. In 2003 The Eminem Show won the Grammy for Best Rap Album. That same year Mathers took home an Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Lose Yourself," which appeared on the soundtrack of the movie 8 Mile (2002). Mathers also starred in the film, playing Jimmy Smith, a would-be rapper who battles the streets of Detroit. Smith was a character that Eminem knew well since he moved from those same streets to become one of the most unlikely hip-hop heroes in music history.
Learns from the master
In 1996 a friend of 50 Cent's introduced him to one of his boyhood idols, Jam Master Jay (1965–2002), a member of the pioneer rap group Run-DMC. Jay was from the same neighborhood, and he saw a spark in the fledgling rapper. Soon, 50 Cent was studying with the seasoned musician. "He was really patient with me," 50 Cent told Josh Tyrangiel of Time. "I would come in with rhymes, almost free verse, and he explained that they had to fit 16 bars of music. Once he said it, I got it." In 1997 Jam Master Jay signed a production deal with 50 Cent and agreed to promote him. The songs 50 Cent produced were raw, and his lyrics were taken from his own life on the streets. As Evan Serpick of Entertainment Weekly wrote, "they reverberated with authenticity."
Fifty Cent quickly became a hit in the underground world of hip-hop. This means he was recording and releasing discs independent of any major record company. As a result, the big record labels started to take notice of the "street thug"-turned rapper. In 1999 Columbia Records signed a deal with 50 Cent and gave him a reported $65,000 advance. Jam Master Jay received $50,000, and lawyers took the rest, so, even though he was a bona fide musician with a record deal, 50 Cent had no money. He kept his "day job," which meant that he continued to sell drugs to make ends meet.
Once they had 50 Cent under contract, Columbia was not sure what to do with him. Tired of waiting to release his first legitimate CD, 50 Cent cut his own single called "How to Rob." The song was an attempt to get noticed by his label. As 50 Cent told Serpick, "I needed them to stop and look at me." "How to Rob" did get Columbia's attention, and everyone else's attention in the music world since it was filled with 50 Cent's plan to "rip off" every hip-hop star around. In his lyrics, 50 Cent warned, "I'll rob Boyz II Men like I'm Michael Bivens/Catch Tyson for half that cash, like Robin Givens." Columbia put 50 Cent's song on the soundtrack to the movie In Too Deep (1999), but did little else with their artist.
In May of 2000, 50 Cent's street life caught up with him. While sitting in a friend's car in front of his grandmother's house, another car pulled up, and the driver fired round after round into 50 Cent's body. All told, he was hit nine times, including a bullet to his hip, which shattered the bone, and a bullet to his head. Although 50 Cent survived, the close call was too much for Columbia Records, and the company dropped him from its label. Ever optimistic, the rapper returned to the mixed-tape circuit.
A fan in Slim Shady
In 2002, 50 Cent wrote "Wanksta," the song that would be his ticket to the big time. "Wanksta" was a bouncy party tune, but it was also a direct jab at 50 Cent's archenemy, rapper Ja Rule (1976–). The feud between the two musicians began in 1999, when Ja Rule was robbed and then accused 50 Cent of being involved in the incident. In the song, 50 Cent claims that his rival is merely a gangster wanna-be: "You say you a gangsta, but you never copped nothing'/You say you a wanksta and you need to stop frontin'."
Fifty Cent delivered "Wanksta," along with a few of his other songs, to Paul Rosenberg, manager of the hottest rapper of the moment, Eminem (1972–). Eminem immediately called 50 Cent and asked him to come to Los Angeles. In June of 2002, 50 Cent signed on the dotted line for a reported $1 million, and was the first rapper to be promoted by Shady/Aftermath Records, Eminem's personal record label. According to Serpick, it was a "match made in hip-hop heaven."
Unlike Columbia Records, Shady/Aftermath immediately put 50 Cent to work. Later in 2002, three of 50 Cent's songs, including "Wanksta," appeared on the soundtrack to 8 Mile, a movie loosely based on the life of Eminem. "Wanksta" received a lot of radio air-play, and listeners lined up to buy a CD by the new rapper. As a result, 50 Cent and Eminem went into the studio to work on 50 Cent's debut disc. Eminem produced several of the songs; other tracks were produced by hip-hop legend Dr. Dre (1965–). The CD, titled Get Rich or Die Tryin', was released in February of 2003, and it immediately broke records. Just days after it debuted, it sold almost one million copies and made it to number-one on the Billboard charts.
Get Rich or Die Tryin'
Get Rich or Die Tryin' sounded like an anthem for 50 Cent's life. He took shots at other rappers in such songs as "U Not Like Me," where his target is Sean "P. Diddy" Combs (1971–), and he included dance cuts, like "In Da Club," which became an immediate hit single. However, as David Browne of Entertainment Weekly explained, 50 Cent spent most of Get Rich or Die Tryin' "riffing on his crime-ridden past."
Almost all the songs talked about drugs, guns, and death, and all of them were definitely R-rated. Fifty Cent, however, was not apologetic about his lyrics. As he told Ebony magazine, "I curse to express how I feel.... The things I've been through made me the way I am today." Fifty Cent also addressed his future in Get Rich or Die Tryin' and the fact that he is all too eager to reap the rewards of a hip-hop star. In one song, he shares that he has "been patiently waiting for a track to explode." And, according to 50 Cent's "In Da Club," he is "feelin' focus, man, my money on my mind/Got a mil out the deal and I'm still on the grind."
By the end of 2003, Get Rich or Die Tryin' had sold more than 6.4 million copies, which made it the best-selling CD of the year. It was also recognized as the biggest number-one debut by a new artist on a major record label. Fifty Cent was nominated for five Grammy Awards (one of the highest achievements in the music industry) and won five World Music Awards. The secret to the CD's success, according to reviewer Ted Kessler, was that behind the clubby dance tunes there was a "cold-blooded seriousness to [50 Cent's] stories ... that set him apart." Critics also praised 50 Cent's gritty vocals and commented that his choir-boy smile and his tattooed, well-toned physique probably helped to boost sales, as well.
Member of Da Club
Following the triumph of Get Rich or Die Tryin', 50 Cent became a full-fledged member of the hip-hop club, and started to live the Hollywood lifestyle that goes with it. In October of 2003 the boy from South Jamaica purchased the house of ex-boxing champion Mike Tyson (1966–) for $4.1 million. In addition, since his "bad boy" days were not yet behind him, 50 Cent also purchased a fleet of SUVs, all of which were bulletproof. As he explained to Ebony, "No matter how successful you are, you've ... gotta take precautions." As added protection, 50 Cent wears a bullet proof vest every day, and insists that his son also wear one. Fifty Cent's fears are not unfounded. In 2002 his longtime friend and mentor Jam Master Jay was shot and killed in his recording studio in Queens, New York.
Fifty Cent does not seem to want to shake his gangster image, but he does intend to channel it into his music and into other projects: "50 Cent is a metaphor for change," 50 Cent explained to Zondra Hughes. In late 2003, 50 Cent and his group G-Unit, short for Guerilla Unit, released their first CD, called Beg for Mercy. At the same time, the rapper announced plans to write his autobiography. He was also considering some movie offers. As for the future, 50 Cent was realistic, but hopeful. As he told Serpick, "Trouble seems to find me, so I'm kinda anticipating not everything being beautiful, or going my way. But it feels like it is right now. So far, so good."
For More Information
Browne, David. "Money Talks: It Ain't Nothing But a G Thing for Rapper 50 Cent, Who's Looking to Get Rich or Die Tryin' with the Help of Eminem." Entertainment Weekly (February 21, 2003): p. 148.
Brunner, Rob. "Cash of the Titans." Entertainment Weekly (May 30, 2003): pp. 26–29.
Drumming, Neil. "4 50 Cent: Rapper's Delight." Entertainment Weekly (December 26, 2003): p. 24.
Hughes, Zondra. "The 9 Lives of 50 Cent: Rap Star Survives Shootings, Stabbing and Death Threats." Ebony (August 2003): pp. 52–53.
Kessler, Ted. "Shady Business." New Statesman (March 31, 2003): p. 43.
Serpick, Evan. "The 50 Cents Piece." Entertainment Weekly (February 28, 2003): p. 42–44.
Tyrangiel, Josh. "Rap's Newest Target." Time (February 17, 2003): p. 68.
"Eminem Biography." Shady Soldiers Web site. http://www.shadysoldiers.com/info/biography.htm (accessed on June 27, 2004).
50 Cent Direct. http://50centdirect.com (accessed on June 27, 2004).
"50 Cent." UXL Newsmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/general/culture-magazines/50-cent
"50 Cent." UXL Newsmakers. . Retrieved September 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/general/culture-magazines/50-cent
Born and bred in the hustling streets of Queens, New York, 50 Cent became one of the most popular contemporary rappers before his debut album was even released. Prior to becoming a superstar, 50's hard-living past included time as a drug dealer and a shooting victim, but his tough background made him out to be a highly interesting character. His music—a blend of thug lifestyle and ghetto love—turned out to be just as captivating. A partnership with two of rap's biggest names, Eminem and Dr. Dre, made 50's 2003 debut, Get Rich or Die Tryin' one of the most successful debuts by a new artist in history. Wearing a bulletproof vest on the cover of his album and on stage wasn't just a fashion statement for 50; it was a safety precaution ever since he was shot an infamous nine times in 2000. From drug dealer to rap superstar, record mogul, and clothing designer, 50 Cent was as much a businessman as a popular entertainer.
Born Curtis Jackson III on July 6, 1976, 50 Cent grew up in Southside Jamaica, Queens, NY. His mother, a drug dealer, raised Jackson until he was eight, when she died in a fire at the age of 23. 50's father left shortly after she died. Then raised by his grandparents, Jackson fell into the same business as his mother in his teens, and became one of Queens' most popular crack cocaine dealers. Hustling became a way of life for Jackson, and with the money and notoriety came a life of danger and run-ins with the law.
After spending enough time behind bars, Jackson began to explore rap music as a way out of an illegal lifestyle. Calling himself 50 Cent, a meeting with Run-D.M.C.'s Jam Master Jay in 1996 gave 50 his first big break. Jay signed the fledgling rapper to his label JMJ Records and although nothing was ever released, it prompted a working relationship with the production duo Trackmasters (who had worked with Jay-Z and Nas). The New York team then signed 50 to their own label, a subsidiary of Columbia, and started work on Power of the Dollar. Before the record was released, the sessions generated three singles including one with Destiny's Child and the underground street classic "How to Rob."
The buzz from "How to Rob" was both positive and negative. In the tune, 50 rapped about how he would rob popular rappers and was just the beginning of 50's soon-to-be many lyrical feuds against others. 50's first music-related threat came shortly after the release of "How to Rob" when he was stabbed at Manhattan's Hit Factory studio. But that was nothing compared to the now famous incident that occurred on May 24, 2000. Just months before Power of the Dollar was to be released, as 50 sat in a car in front of his house, with his grandmother on the porch and his young son inside, an assassin attempted to take 50's life. Shot nine times with a 9 mm pistol, 50 was hit with bullets in his cheek, his hand and his legs. He survived and recuperated, but lost his record contract with Columbia.
In the following two years, 50 returned to rapping as a way of life, stronger than ever. With his fellow rhyme makers Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo, 50 formed the rap collective G-Unit. With the help of producer Sha Money XL, 50 and his crew began to release a number of mix tapes, which gained 50 and his friends serious underground attention. While some of the tracks had 50 rapping over other's music, his lyrics—often aggressive and dissing other rappers—were a discerning characteristic. Detroit rap star Eminem became a big fan and when record labels began to court 50 for a deal, Eminem and his friend Dr. Dre were able to not only offer 50 the best financial deal but also a friendship when they signed the East Coast rapper to their Shady/Aftermath label. "He had the style, the flow and the attitude—and he wanted it badly," Dr. Dre told Newsweek about 50's potential. Work soon began with 50, Eminem, and Dre collaborating on beats and lyrics for what would be 50's major label debut.
To introduce the world to 50 Cent—already one of the most-hyped rappers of all time, thanks to his crimeridden past and high-profile friends—Eminem included two 50 tracks on the soundtrack to his feature film 8 Mile. In November of 2002, Interscope records released the soundtrack with 50's "Places to Go" and "Wanksta." A call-out to fake gangsters (50 had already had a beef with Ja Rule), "Wanksta" became an instant radio hit. Interscope president Jimmy Iovine saw the potential in selling 50's persona, telling Newsweek that 50 was, "One of the best businessman I've ever worked with. He's got a game plan for whatever happens. But more important, he's a true artist like Marvin Gaye or the Rolling Stones. Like them, he can make truly edgy records that appeal to the mainstream and it's a gift."
Soon after the hype of 8 Mile, 50 struck gold when the single "In Da Club" blew up at radio, debuting at number one on Billboard, forcing the record label to bump up the release of 50's debut album, Get Rich or Die Tryin'. When the album was released on February 6, 2003, 50 Cent was one of the biggest names in music. His hype was backed up by record setting sales. CNN. com announced that in its first week Get Rich or Die Tryin' sold 872,00 copies making it the "biggest opening week for a major label debut by any recording artist in the SoundScan era." 50 beat out Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle, which held the previous record at 803,000 copies.
Brushes with the law, including a new gun possession charge on new Year's Eve in 2002, kept 50 in the spotlight for more than just his music, boosting Get Rich or Die Tryin' sales to over 10 million. Rolling Stone gave Get Rich or Die Tryin' four stars, noting that 50's beat makers had something to do with his success. "Dre, Eminem and a handful of lesser-known producers are at the top of their game here, concocting these alternately club-ready and spaced-out tracks out of dark synth grooves, buzzy keyboards and persistently funky bounce," wrote Christian Hoard. Singles "P.I.M. P," "Many Men (Wish Death)," and "In Da Club," were popular on both pop and hip-hop stations. 50's hardcore East Coast style was just at home in the dance clubs and streets as it was in white teenage suburban homes. With all the acclaim being thrown his way, 50 was quick to point out that he couldn't have achieved his success without help from his mentors. "I know that I absolutely have to utilize them [Dre and Eminem] for my success. I need to go to Em—he made "On Fire" a hit. I know I need Dre. You can't buy the beats I get from him without being part of the team. I got beats from The Chronic—The first Chronic!—that he didn't use," 50 told Vibe.
With the world as his oyster, 50 created G-Unit Records to release his group of the same name's 2004 debut, Beg For Mercy. With Lloyd Banks, Tony Yayo, and Young Buck riding high off of 50's success, G-Unit's debut sold over 2 million copies. Later that year, Lloyd Banks and Young Buck released their own solo albums, with 50 producing both. In February of 2004, 50 earned five Grammy nominations while continuing to top the Billboard charts for weeks on end.
For the Record …
Born Curtis Jackson III on July 6, 1976, in Queens, NY.
Signed to Columbia records, 1996; released underground single "How to Rob"; shot nine times, 2000; dropped from Columbia; made mix tapes that caught Eminem's attention, signed to Aftermath/Shady/Interscope, released Get Rich or Die Tryin', 2003; formed G-Unit rap group and G-Unit Record Company, released G-Unit's Beg For Mercy, 2003; launched G-Unit clothing company; released The Massacre, 2005.
Addresses: Record company—Interscope, 2220 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404, phone: (310)-865-1001, website: http://www.interscope.com. Website—50 Cent Official Website: http://www.50cent.com.
2004 was also a huge year for 50 Cent as a businessman. 50 partnered with Reebok for a very successful line of G-Unit sneakers, with Ecko Unlimited for a G-Unit clothing line, and while his peers were promoting energy drinks and alcohol, 50 teamed up with Glaceau Vitamin Water company for the grape-flavored Formula 50 drink.
Come January of 2005, 50 protégé The Game released his number one debut, The Documentary. The 50 and Game collaboration "How We Do" was a huge hit, but in 50-style, a bubbling feud began between the two friends, which resulted in a shooting outside a radio station. Neither 50 nor The Game was hurt—a friend was shot—and the highly publicized affair only helped both rappers' careers. Illegal copies of 50's upcoming 2005 album, The Massacre, began flooding the Internet, so Interscope once again bumped up the album's release date by a week. In brutally honest interviews and scathing lyrics on the new record 50 set out to destroy his competition in 2005. The Massacre track "Piggy Bank" outright dissed rappers New York rappers Fat Joe, Jadakiss, and Nas. "My thought process going into The Massacre took me back to the days when I was hustling," 50 said in his official biography. "I'm looking to move the competition of the block. I feel like anything less that what I've accomplished with Get Rich is a disappointment. I had time to grow during the last two years, so I just feel like I'm a better artist. The album title says it all: I want all the rappers to move the f∗∗k out of the way."
In late 2005, production began on a film based loosely on 50's life story. Starring 50 Cent as the lead character, director Jim Sheridan set out to make 50 a movie star. In a review of The Massacre, Rolling Stone's Nathan Brackett appropriately summed up 50's appeal and success: "It helps that 50 Cent is the most likeable rapper ever to need a bulletproof vest. Like his Kevlarwearing predecessor and idol, Tupac Shakur, 50 has charisma up the muzzle-hole. But where Tupac could be manic and unpredictable, 50 is so cool and easy to be around—you get the sense that if he weren't so busy getting shot, stabbed and selling millions of albums, he would be an enormously successful fraternity president or restaurateur."
Guess Who's Back?, Full Cup, 2002.
(Contributor) 8 Mile (soundtrack), Shady/Interscope, 2002.
Get Rich or Die Tryin', Shady/Aftermath/Interscope, 2003.
(With G-Unit) Beg For Mercy, G-Unit Records/Aftermath/Interscope, 2003.
The Massacre, Shady/Aftermath/Interscope, 2005.
Newsweek, February 21, 2005.
Vibe, April 2005.
"50 Cent," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 27, 2005).
"50 Cent," RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com (April 27, 2005).
"Rapper 50 Cent sets sales record," CNN, http://www.cnn.com (April 27, 2005).
Additional information was provided by Interscope records.
"50 Cent." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/50-cent
"50 Cent." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved September 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/50-cent
50 Cent 1976–
50 Cent 1976–
Rapper 50 Cent, who emerged from one of the bleaker neighborhoods in New York City’s outer boroughs, found himself an overnight millionaire with the 2003 release of his debut record, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, on Eminem’s Shady/Aftermath label. It sold six million copies, finished the year as the top-seller of 2003, and set the record for top-selling debut in American chart history.
50 Cent’s success seems doubly remarkable given his origins in Queens, New York. Unlike some rap artists, who grew up in middle-class households but adopted a more streetwise persona to gain credibility in the urban music marketing game, his background was indeed rough. He was born in 1976 and grew up in Queens’s South Jamaica neighborhood as Curtis James Jackson III. His mother, Sabrina, was just 15 when he was born, and lived out the rest of her 23-year life as one of the most feared drug dealers in Queens. He never knew his father, and was raised by his grandparents following his mother’s mysterjious, likely drug-related death in which an assailant drugged her and then turned on the gas in her home.
50 Cent found it hard to resist the lure of drug money himself, and began selling drugs when he was 12 years old. He was periodically arrested, dropped out of high school, and in 1994 served time in prison. He had been running several profitable crack houses by the time his son was born in 1997 and he decided to quit the business. “I was going to jail every other summer,” he told Entertainment Weekly’s Evan Serpick. After changing his street name from Boo-Boo to 50 Cent, which he explained was “a metaphor for change,” as he told Ebony writer Zondra Hughes, he tried to earn money as a boxer, but found a more promising avenue in music. He had long idolized rappers like KRS-One, and tried writing his own rhymes. Some made their way onto underground mix tapes, in which he rapped over others’ songs, and one of the tapes caught the ear of legendary Run DMC member Jam Master Jay. Around 1997, Jay signed 50 Cent and began working with him. “He was really patient with me,” the rapper told Time journalist Josh Tyrangiel about his mentor. “I would come in with rhymes, almost free verse, and he
At a Glance…
Born Curtis James Jackson III on July 6, 1976, in New York, NY; son of Sabrina Jackson; children: Marquise.
Career: Columbia Records, recording artist, 1999-2000; Shady Records, recording artist, 2002-.
Addresses: Office —c/o Shady Records, 151 Lafayette St. #6, New York, NY 10013-3124.
explained that they had to fit 16 bars of music. Once he said it, I got it.”
Jay produced a demo of rap songs by 50 Cent that got him signed to Columbia Records in 1999. The record label paid a $65,000 advance, but just $5,000 was left after the majority went to Jay and the rest to lawyers who brokered the deal. 50 Cent recorded 36 songs, but Columbia seemed leery about the release of the full LP, The Power of a Dollar. In response, the rapper issued a bootleg single, “How to Rob,” that was a comic take-down of a roster of famous names, from Jay-Z to Whitney Houston’s troubled spouse Bobby Brown. It generated a certain amount of street buzz, and also a fair amount of ill will toward 50 Cent. He had an altercation with a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, but worse was to come: in May of 2000, just days before the record was set to hit stores, he became the victim of a shooting that put nine bullets into his body. He had been sitting in a car near his grandmother’s home when his assailant shot him, but miraculously drove himself to the hospital, tossing his own weapon down a sewer along the way. Doctors saved his life, but one bullet fragment remained lodged in his tongue.
50 Cent asserted on several occasions that the shooting was the result of some lingering ill will over his drug-dealing days, not any payback over the bootleg single. But Columbia dropped him, and his career seemed over before it had even begun. He returned to making his own bootlegs, and gained another dose of notoriety for “Wanksta,” in which he took fellow New York City rapper Ja Rule to task. A feud between the two arose when Ja Rule was robbed of several thousand dollars’ worth of jewelry, and the suspect was later seen in the company of 50 Cent. There were two altercations, one in which 50 Cent was stabbed in a Manhattan recording studio. The wound required just a few stitches, and only heightened the tensions between the two. 50 Cent’s primary contention with Rule was his crossover to R&B and duets with J. Lo and Ashanti. “That kid is a fraud,” 50 Cent claimed in the Entertainment Weekly interview. “Ja Rule grew up a Jehovah’s Witness. While we were selling crack, he was knocking on people’s doors every Saturday.”
“Wanksta” found its way to rap superstar Eminem, who put it on the soundtrack to his hit biopic 8 Mile and signed 50 Cent to his label, Shady, for $1 million in June of 2002. 50 Cent said he was grateful for the chance that the white Detroit rapper took on him when other companies were interested in his musical talent, yet fearful of 50 Cent’s violent reputation. “Eminem was all about the music,” he told Entertainment Weekly’s Serpick. “He signed me knowing there was a possibility he was purchasing a problem.” Some cynics, however, asserted that by bringing a bullet-scarred former crack seller into his stable, Eminem gained a priceless measure of credibility that could yield an entirely new audience of hard-core rap enthusiasts.
It did. Eminem and Dr. Dre produced 50 Cent’s debut, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, which sold 872,000 copies during its first week out and 1.6 million after just 11 days in the stores. The songs steered clear of verbal attacks on other musicians, instead focusing on 50 Cent’s rough times. “Many Men (Wish Death)” chronicled the attempts on his life, but the more jubilant “In Da Club” became a dance-floor favorite. The advance buzz for the record was so great that even the austere New York Times published a thousand-word profile upon its debut. Writer Lola Ogunnaike revealed herself a fan of Get Rich or Die Tryin’. “Filled with macho tales of drugs, murder and firearms, 50’s debut celebrates life in a morally bankrupt world,” she wrote.
Most reviewers were also unapologetically enthusiastic. New Statesman writer Ted Kessler found 50 Cent’s record possessed of “something for everybody,” with the Dre/Eminem production team giving it “a dense, clubby soundscape featuring enough moody pop bounce to keep him in the singles chart until Christmas. To this, 50 Cent adds a slurred, stoned vocal style that sounds as casual as if he’s just ordering a pizza on the telephone.” A journalist for London’s Observer newspaper, Kitty Empire declared it “something of a street opera. The jousting match between the themes of life and death, of mortality and survival, in hip hop is an intricate and mesmerising one-and one that has found an especially absorbing performer in 50 Cent.”
50 Cent spent much of the summer of 2003 touring with Jay-Z, and the year ended with Get Rich or Die Tryin’ beating out Norah Jones as the top-selling release of the year. It also earned him five Grammy nominations. He moved into his new home, a 48,000-square-foot Connecticut mansion once owned by boxer Mike Tyson. He claims there is still a contract out on his life, and both he and his young son wear bulletproof vests in public and travel in armor-plated vehicles. He was also romantically linked with actress Vivica A. Fox, several years his senior. Despite his newfound fame and fortune, the gulf between his former life as a Queens high-school drop-out and the new, immensely rich music-industry player became apparent sometimes at upscale business meetings in posh Manhattan eateries. “I’m used to restaurants that sell french fries, you know what I mean?,” he said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly’s Rob Brunner. “Some of this stuff on the menu, I’m like, ‘What’s this?’ I’m experiencing different things. It’s all new to me.”
Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Shady/Aftermath, 2003. P.I.M.P., Universal, 2003.
“How to Rob,” Sony, 1999.
“Thug Love” (CD), Sony, 1999.
“Your Life’s on the Line,” Sony, 1999.
Daily Variety, February 13, 2003, p. 6.
Ebony, August 2003, p. 52.
Entertainment Weekly, February 21, 2003, p. 148; February 28, 2003, p. 42; May 30, 2003, p. 26; December 26, 2003, p. 24.
Jet, October 20, 2003, p. 32.
New Statesman, March 31, 2003, p. 43.
New York Times, February 6, 2003, p. El.
Observer (London, England), February 23, 2003, p. 5.
Teen People, May 1, 2003, p. 140.
Time, February 17, 2003, p. 68.
"50 Cent 1976–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/50-cent-1976
"50 Cent 1976–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved September 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/50-cent-1976
Best-selling album since 1990: Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2003)
Hit songs since 1990: "In Da Club," "Wanksta"
In 2003, 50 Cent became the best-selling debut artist in hip-hop history. Although commercially successful hip-hop tends to be lyrically tame and heavily influenced by R&B and pop, 50 Cent has helped prove that street-oriented rap music can be widely embraced.
Curtis Jackson was born and raised in Queens, New York. While many rappers simply rhyme about having a tough upbringing, Jackson actually experienced one. He was born to an estranged father and a teenage mother who sold drugs and was murdered when he was eight years old. Jackson was raised by his grandparents but later followed in his mother's footsteps and began dealing crack cocaine at age twelve. As a teenager he alternated between serving jail time for drug possession and making a fortune selling drugs. He also began to cultivate his greatest love: rapping. He adopted the name 50 Cent as a "metaphor for change." In 1996, a friend introduced him to Run-D.M.C.'s Jam Master Jay. Jay mentored 50 Cent and signed him to his JMJ label. Three years later 50 Cent signed a deal with Columbia Records while maintaining a positive relationship with Jam Master Jay. He scored a hit and some controversy with the song "How to Rob," a clever satire in which he rhymed about stealing from famous rap artists like Jay-Z and Big Pun.
Although 50 Cent was signed to one of the largest labels in the world, he remained in financial straits. Most of his record label advance went to Jam Master Jay, and he continued to peddle crack to support himself. Months before the scheduled release of his debut album Power of a Dollar, a rival drug dealer shot him nine times outside his grandmother's house. The assault left him with a bullet fragment in his tongue and a hole in his jaw, which accounts for his signature slur.
Soon after the shooting, Columbia Records dropped 50 Cent from its roster and shelved his album. Nevertheless, 50 Cent continued to record music on his own, supplying songs to DJs who included them on mix tapes. 50 Cent built a grassroots following and attracted the attention of other major record labels and the superstar rappers Eminem and Dr. Dre. Following a fierce bidding war, Eminem and Dr. Dre signed 50 Cent to a joint-label deal, on Eminem's Shady Records and Dre's Aftermath Records, for a reported $1 million. 50 Cent's song "Wanksta," a "dis" record targeted to rapper Ja Rule, appeared on the soundtrack of 8 Mile, the film featuring Eminem, which was the best-selling soundtrack of 2002. (It went platinum seven times in the United States.) 50 Cent collected many of his mix-tape hits for an independent album, Guess Who's Back.
50 Cent's debut album, Get Rich or Die Trying (2003), entered the Billboard charts at number one and sold more than 2 million copies in its first three weeks of release, making it the fastest-selling debut album from a major label. The album, executive produced by Dr. Dre and Eminem, immediately established 50 Cent as a superstar. The beats are hardcore and the lyrics at times unrelenting and violent, as on the song "Heat," built on a sample of a gun cocking. The dance floor-friendly single "In Da Club" topped the Billboard pop charts for many weeks.
The success of 50 Cent proves that hip-hop need not water itself down to sell records and that the American public craves autobiographical authenticity from rap artists.
Get Rich or Die Trying (Shady/Aftermath, 2003).
"50 Cent." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/50-cent
"50 Cent." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved September 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/50-cent