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.
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.