In many ways the ideal East Coast hardcore rapper, 50 Cent endured substantial obstacles throughout his young yet remarkably dramatic life before becoming in early 2003 the most
discussed figure in rap, if not pop music in general. Following an unsuccessful late-'90s run at mainstream success (foiled by an attempt on his life in 2000) and a successful run on the New York mixtape circuit (driven by his early-2000s bout with Ja Rule), Eminem signed 50 to a seven-figure contract in 2002 and helmed his quick rise toward crossover success in 2003. The product of a broken home in the rough Jamaica neighborhood of Queens and, in turn, the storied hood's hustling streets themselves, 50 lived everything most rappers write rhymes about but not all actually experience: drugs, crimes, imprisonments, stabbings, and most infamously of all, shootings -- all of this before he even released his debut album. Of course, such experiences became 50's rhetorical stock-in-trade. He reveled in his oft-told past, he called out wannabe gangstas, and he made headlines. He even looked like the ideal East Coast hardcore rapper: big-framed with oft-showcased biceps, abs, and tattoos as well as his trademark bulletproof vest, pistol, and iced crucifix. But all-importantly, 50 may have fit the mold of a prototypical hardcore rapper, but man, he sure could craft a catchy hook! As a result, his music crossed over to numerous key markets, appealing to both those who liked his roughneck posturing and rags-to-riches story as well as those who liked his knack for churning out naughty singalong club tracks. And too, 50 didn't forget about his posse. He helped his G-Unit crew grow into a successful franchise, spawning platinum-selling solo albums for his group members, lucrative licensing deals for the brand name, and sell-out arena tours to promote the franchise internationally.
Born Curtis Jackson and raised in Southside Jamaica, Queens, 50 grew up in a broken home. His hustler mother passed away when he was only eight, and his father departed soon after, leaving his grandmother to parent him. As a teen, he followed the lead of his mother and began hustling. The crack trade proved lucrative for 50, until he eventually encountered the law, that is, and began making visits to prison. It's around this point in the mid-'90s that he turned toward rap and away from crime. His break came in 1996 when he met Run-D.M.C.'s Jam Master Jay, who gave him a tape of beats and asked him to rap over it. Impressed by what he heard, Jay signed the aspiring rapper to his JMJ Records label. Not much resulted from the deal, though, and 50 affiliated himself with Trackmasters, a commercially successful New York-based production duo (comprised of Poke and Tone) known for their work with such artists as Nas and Jay-Z. Trackmasters signed the rapper to their Columbia sublabel and began work on his debut album, Power of the Dollar. A trio of singles preceded the album's proposed release: "Your Life's on the Line," "Thug Love" (featuring Destiny's Child), and "How to Rob."
The latter track became a sizable hit, attracting a lot of attention for its baiting lyrics that detail how 50 would rob particular big-name rappers. This willingness to rap openly and brashly and the attention it attracted came back to haunt him, however. His first post-success brush with death came shortly after the release of "How to Rob," when he was stabbed at the Hit Factory studio on West 54th Street in Manhattan. Shortly afterward came his most storied incident. On May 24, 2000, just before Columbia was set to release Power of the Dollar, an assassin attempted to take 50's life on 161st Street in Jamaica, Queens (near where Jam Master Jay would later be fatally shot two and half years later), shooting him nine times with a 9mm pistol while the rapper sat helpless in the passenger seat of a car. One shot pierced his cheek, another his hand, and the seven others his legs and thighs, yet he survived, barely. Even so, Columbia wanted nothing to do with 50 when they heard the news, shelving Power of the Dollar and parting ways with the now-controversial rapper.
During the next two years, 50 returned to the rap underground where he began. He formed a collective (G-Unit, which also featured Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo), worked closely with producer Sha Money XL (who had also been signed to JMJ around the same time that 50 had), and began churning out mixtape tracks (many of which were later compiled on Guess Who's Back? in 2002). These mixtape recordings (many of which were hosted by DJ Whoo Kid on CDs such as No Mercy, No Fear and Automatic Gunfire), earned the rapper an esteemed reputation on the streets of New York. Some of them featured 50 and his G-Unit companions rapping over popular beats, others mocked popular rappers (namely Ja Rule, who quickly became an arch-rival), and a few discussed his shooting. This constant mixtape presence throughout 2000-2002 garnered industry attention as well as street esteem, particularly when Eminem declared on a radio show his admiration for 50. A bidding war ensued, as Em had to fend off numerous other industry figures, all of whom hoped to sign 50, driving up the signing price into the million-plus figures in the process and slowly moving the rapper into the up-and-coming spotlight once again as word spread.
Despite the bidding war, Eminem indeed got his man, signing 50 to a joint deal with Shady/Aftermath -- the former label Em's, the latter Dr. Dre's. During the successive months, 50 worked closely with Em and Dre, who would co-executive produce his upcoming debut, Get Rich or Die Tryin', each of them producing a few tracks for the highly awaited album. Before Get Rich dropped, though, Em debuted 50 on the 8 Mile soundtrack. The previously released (via the underground, that is) "w**ksta" became a runaway hit in late 2002, setting the stage for "In da Club," the Dre-produced lead single from Get Rich. The two singles became sizable crossover hits -- the former peaking at number 13 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, the latter at number one -- and Interscope (Shady/Aftermath's parent company) had to move up Get Rich's release date to combat bootlegging as a result.
Amid all this, 50 made headlines everywhere. Most notably, he was tied to Jam Master Jay's shooting in October 2002, the F.B.I.'s investigation of Murder Inc's relationship to former drug dealer Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff, and the shooting incident at the offices of Violator Management. Furthermore, he made more headlines when he was jailed on New Year's Eve 2002 for gun possession. The media relished his life story, particularly his storied brush with death -- and not just the expected media outlets like MTV -- even such unlikely mainstream publications as The New York Times ran feature stories ("Amid Much Anticipation, a Rapper Makes a Debut" ). By the time Get Rich finally streeted on February 6, 2003, he had become the most discussed figure in the music industry, and bootlegged or not, his initial sales figures reflected this (a record-breaking 872,000 units moved in five days, the best-selling debut album since SoundScan started its tracking system in May 1991), as did his omnipresence in the media.
The G-Unit debut, Beg for Mercy, hit the shelves in late 2003 and soon went platinum. A new mixtape series with DJ Whookid also kicked off around this time. Titled G-Unit Radio, the series would introduce new tracks by the crew along with cuts from Lloyd Banks and Young Buck, who would both release albums in the coming years with 50 as executive producer. Rapper the Game would become a member of G-Unit in 2004, but by the time his solo album came out in early 2005, things had gone sour with 50. On February 28 as their collaboration "How We Do" was climbing the charts, 50 announced the Game was out of G-Unit on New York's Hot 97 radio station. After the revelation, members of 50's entourage clashed with members of the Game's outside the radio station. Shots rang out and one of the Game's crew took a bullet in the leg.
As this was all taking place, leaked copies of Get Rich's follow-up were flying across the Internet, forcing Interscope to push the album's release up by five days. The Massacre was to officially hit the shelves on March 3, but street-date violations were reported on March 1. By the next day, everyone from the mom-and-pops to the major chains was selling the album at a furious pace. Unsurprisingly, it sold extremely well, rode the top of the album chart for a while, spawned numerous hits, and kept the 50 Cent train a-rollin' mighty fine amid all the requisite controversy and plentiful paper-stacking. Later in the year, the video game 50 Cent: Bulletproof appeared and in November the rapper starred in the semi-autobiographical film Get Rich or Die Tryin'. The soundtrack for the film featured 50 and also introduced the first G-Unit-produced tracks from the veteran duo Mobb Deep. ~ Jason Birchmeier, All Music Guide
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