50 Cent - Biography
By Paul Glanting
Considering his harsh upbringing, extensive criminal record, and hard-hitting lyrics, it’s questionable whether anyone, himself included, ever imagined 50 Cent would reach such an incredible level of fame. Rappers who brag about their supposed involvement with crime have become so common that any attempt to separate the genuine from the fabricated is futile. However, 50 Cent has nine bullet wounds to show for his journey into malevolence.
50 Cent was born Curtis Jackson III in 1975 to a fifteen year-old cocaine dealer in the Queens neighborhood of New York City. When he was just eight years old, his mother was murdered. Jackson eventually followed in his mother’s footsteps by selling drugs. While Jackson was growing up in the 1980s, an infamous Bronx-born thug named Kelvin Martin was building an infamous reputation by robbing and killing local hustlers. He also gained notoriety for supposedly stealing jewelry from prominent rappers LL Cool J and Rakim. Martin’s nickname within the underworld was 50 Cent because he would apparently rob anyone regardless of how much money they were carrying. Jackson adopted this alias for himself, stating that he felt it represented his will to provide for himself by any means necessary.
In the 1990s, 50 Cent began dabbling in rap music and was introduced to Run DMC’s DJ Jam Master Jay. The legendary DJ showed 50 Cent how to construct songs and record records, and provided general business mentoring. This connection lead 50 Cent to his rapping debut in 1998 on the song “React” from fellow Jam Master Jay protégé Onyx’s album Shut ‘Em Down (1998 Def Jam). 50 Cent and Jam Master Jay parted ways, but he soon caught the attention of the production team Trackmasters who then got the young Queens rapper a deal with Columbia.
50 Cent began working on his debut Power of the Dollar (2000 Columbia), which included the Destiny’s Child-assisted “Thug Love” as well as the humorous, yet controversial, “How to Rob.” Perhaps an homage to the crook from whom he takes his name, “How to Rob” features 50 Cent explaining how he would mug essentially every noteworthy rapper from Jay-Z to Busta Rhymes to Lil Kim to the Wu Tang Clan. While 50 Cent insists the song was intended as a joke, many rappers were not amused. Big Pun, Jay-Z, Kurupt, Sticky Fingaz, and Ghostface Killah angrily responded to the song, thus causing a commotion that effectively created a buzz about the rapper and his debut. However, on May 24 of 2000, 50 Cent was ambushed in front of his grandmother’s house and shot nine times. One of the bullets pierced his left cheek, tearing out a wisdom tooth and leaving 50 Cent with a slight slur. While 50 Cent was recovering in the hospital, the management at Columbia Records got word of the shooting. 50 Cent was dropped from the label and Power of the Dollar was shelved, although the album has been heavily bootlegged.
Due to the shooting, 50 Cent had essentially been blackballed from the industry. Determined to get his name out there once again, he began vigorously recording songs for underground mixtapes. He compiled many of these songs with several tracks that had been originally intended for Power of the Dollar for the independently released Guess Who’s Back? (2002 Full Clip) in 2002. The mixtape album features a pair of songs assisted by fellow Queens rapper Nas, who was one of the few rappers mentioned on “How to Rob” that got the joke.
Guess Who’s Back? found its way into the hands of rapper Eminem who, along with Hip-Hop innovator Dr. Dre, would help mold 50 Cent into one of the most lucrative rappers of all time. Eminem and Dr. Dre signed 50 Cent to a joint deal on Aftermath/Shady Records. One of the most hyped Hip Hop albums of all time, 2003’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2003 Interscope) was powered by the infectious single “In Da Club,” which featured Dr. Dre’s intense orchestration as a launching pad for 50 Cent’s hedonistic gloating. “In Da’ Club,” “21 Questions,” “P.I.M.P.,” and the other singles from Get Rich or Die Tryin’ helped the album grab the Billboard’s number one spot and stay there for twelve weeks. Other songs such as “Wanksta” and “Back Down” would ignite a dispute with rapper Ja Rule. This would be the beginning of many feuds 50 Cent would find himself in. Get Rich or Die Tryin’ has gone on to sell 9 million copies and when it was released, it was the second best selling album of the decade, behind only Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP (2000 Interscope).
50 Cent began his own label called G-Unit Records as a subsidiary of Interscope. He signed rappers Young Buck, Tony Yayo, and Lloyd Banks. He later signed Los Angeles-based rapper The Game. 50 Cent then released The Massacre (2005 Interscope), which sold over 1 million copies in its first four days. While most of the reviews for The Massacre were favorable, it was essentially unanimously agreed that the album did not live up to the hype it garnered. 50 Cent’s bent for feuds continued with the album’s song “Piggy Bank,” which took lyrical jabs at fellow New York rappers Jadakiss, Nas, and Fat Joe. Also, he felt his friend and label-mate The Game was being disloyal by refusing to participate in the ongoing war of words and tumult arose between these two as well. The Massacre was nominated for a Grammy in the “Best Rap Album” but lost to Kanye West’s Late Registration (2005 Def Jam), foreshadowing another feud that would soon arise.
In 2005, 50 Cent starred in a semi-autobiographical film named after his first album Get Rich or Die Tryin’. The film was not popular with critics but commercially his marketability certainly shined through. Get Rich or Die Tryin': The Soundtrack (2005 Interscope) is a showcase of the artists on the G-Unit record label. The single “Window Shopper” takes more shots at rivals Nas, Ja Rule, Jadakiss, and Fat Joe. In the song’s posh Monaco-based music video, 50 Cent brags about his ability to purchase absurdly expensive items.
Curtis (2007 Interscope) is largely inspired by 50 Cent’s life before he had worldwide acclaim. It has been reported that he wrote several of the songs for Curtis while spending time at his grandmother’s old house in Queens. Curtis was slated to release on September 11, 2007. Meanwhile, fellow rapper Kanye West had also decided to release Graduation (2007 Def Jam) on that very same day. This led to the two Hip Hop heavyweights agreeing to have a public showdown. 50 Cent stated that if Graduation sold more than Curtis, 50 Cent would cease to make albums. Although Graduation sold more (957,000) than Curtis (900,000) in its first week, 50 Cent did not retire from his musical career. While the competition was good for the sales of Curtis, being juxtaposed with Kanye West, who is critically seen as an ever-evolving artist, hurt 50 Cent’s reputation. The most consistent complaint about Curtis was the claim that 50 Cent was repeatedly telling the same gun-toting stories over and over against uninspiring beats. 50 Cent’s relaxed flow, something which critics seemed to feel set him apart on earlier releases, was growing stale. Content-wise, the album is certainly less dark than previous releases and this dynamic can be seen through the collaborations with commercially viable heavyweights such as Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke, and Mary J. Blige.
50 Cent’s forthcoming Before I Self Destruct (2009 Interscope) has been described as an aggressive album, returning to the vibe of his earlier releases.
In Hip Hop, there is probably nobody laughing harder than 50 Cent; the Queens-bred rapper has endured music industry politics, a slew of disputes, prison, and even gunshots. As evidence by 50 Cent-themed video games, movies, energy drinks, appearances on shows like The Simpsons, and even his stake in African platinum mines, 50 Cent is one of Hip Hop’s most recognizable figures and certainly one of the true household names of the genre. 50 Cent’s take-no-prisoners approach implements a survival-of-the-fittest ethic into Hip Hop, and 50 Cent has proven that he is among Hip Hop’s fittest.