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50 Cent – Credible Thug

50 Cent is among one of the most popular and controversial figures in the music industry today.  Perhaps only Eminem, the Detroit-based rapper who brought 50 cent to the mainstream, is arguably a bigger entertainer than 50 cent.  With his characteristic scowl, bulletproof vest, diamond-studded teeth, and of course, the bling-bling, 50 Cent has been wowing audiences with his purely unadulterated style – big beats and sledgehammer honesty.

You see, 50 Cent have lived the life that most gangsta rappers rhyme about but have never experienced.  He’s hustled, he’s robbed, he’s dealt crack, he’s been in jail, he’s been a willing participant in his share of shootings, and of course, he has been shot (9 times) himself.  And yet, 50 Cent has shown his resilience, picking himself up, dusting himself up, getting back on the mic, and dissing anyone who dares stand in his menacing way.  His rival hates him, his associates are loyal to him, and oh yes, the white suburban wannabe-gangsta kiddies absolutely love him, making him a millionaire and an influential figure in the world of hip-hop.  

He may not be the best representative for your local church; he may not be the model boyfriend you want to bring home to meet the parents; and he may not be the “best” role-model for inner city kids (although he is) – but whether you like him or not, there is not denying that 50 Cent have led an interesting life so far, and that is a severe understatement.  If director Quentin Tarantino was to make a rags-to-riches story of the American Dream in his characteristic dazzlingly violent way, than he could make a tidy profit adapting the story of 50 Cent to the big screen.

50 Cent was born as Curtis Jackson in Southside Jamaica on July 6th 1976 in the notoriously violent Queens neighborhood.  50 cent 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 in New York City.  As 50 cent entered his teens, he became more involved in hustling following the lead of his mother, whose name held considerable weight in the streets.  50 cent grew to prominence as a criminal thug in the shady world of the underground drug trade thanks to his involvement in the lucrative crack market.  This activity would lead to many encounters with the law as 50 cent began making appearances in and out of prison.   

50 Cent continued to dabble in various criminal enterprises but also found a new passion in rap music.  By the mid-1990’s, 50 cent was turning over a new leaf realizing that there was more money and security to be made in music compared to crime.  He met with famed DJ, Jam Master Jay of Run D.M.C., the influential old school hip hop collective that made rap popular, who was impressed with 50 Cent’s emceeing abilities.  In 1996, Jam Master Jay signed 50 Cent to his JMJ Record label, although not much commercial success resulted from their partnership.  50 Cent was thankful for Jam Master Jay’s mentorship as the young rapper learned the basics of song structure, how to count bars, and of course, how to produce palatable ear-pleasing, head-bopping rap music.

50 Cent then started making headways towards stardom when he teamed up with the successful all-star hip-hop production duo, Track Masters (comprised of Tome and Poke), who recognized 50 Cent's true street credibility and talent for incisive lyrics.  The team convinced Columbia records to sign him in 1999, which eventually led to his breakthrough album, “Power of the Dollar”.  Prior to the album’s release, three singles were released that began to build on 50 Cent’s legend.  Those songs were “Your Life’s on the Line”, “Thug Love” (featuring Destiny’s Child), and the hugely popular, “How to Rob”.  The last song allowed 50 Cent to make a significant impact into the music industry, showcasing not only the production talents, but also let the world know about 50 Cent’s fearless and confrontational bravado.

“How To Rob” is a painful but hilarious ode to robbing some of the big names in rap and rhythm and blues (R&B) music including members of the Wu-Tang Clan, Puff Daddy, DMX, Jay-Z, Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston, Big Pun, Slick Rick, Will Smith, Justin Timberlake, Missy Eliot, and Big Pun.  Some of his verbal shots include:

“I'll rob Boys II Men like I'm Michael Bivins.  Catch Tyson for half that cash like Robyn Givens.”

“I'll rob Pun without a gun snatch his piece then run.  This nigga weigh 400 pounds, how he gon catch me son?”

“I'd rob ODB but that'd be a waste of time.  Probably have to clap him run and toss the nine.”  

50 Cents willingness to rap openly and brashly with lyrics intent on baiting other gangsta rappers drew attention that would eventually come back to haunt him.  Shortly after the release of “How To Rob”, 50 Cent 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 Cent’s life on 161st Street in Jamaica, Queens, 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.  Despite the close-range shots, the bullets never punctured any vital organs, and miraculously 50 Cent barely survived the ordeal.  With the bad publicity resulting from the shooting, Columbia cancelled the deal with 50 cent, and shelved the release of his album.

Although the album never did get officially released due to Columbia’s Public Relation’s worry, the album was among one of the most heavily bootlegged rap albums of all time, and was instantly labeled a classic by Blaze Magazine.  50 Cent was growing in popularity because of his growing “street credibility” which matched seamlessly with his violent lyrics and his phat beats.  Despite severing ties with Columbia records, 50 Cent began vigorously promoting himself in New York’s hugely popular mix-tape circuit over the next two years.      

During this time, 50-cent formed a collective called, G-Unit, with Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo, and began churning out mix-tape tracks.  These mix-tape recordings earned the rapper an esteemed reputation on the streets of New York.  Some of his songs mocked popular rapper, Ja-Rule, which initiated their long standing feud.  His biggest hit mocking Ja Rule was “Wankster”, which went on to become the most requested song on New York Radio.  Check out some of these classic Wankster lines:

“You said you a gansta but you neva pop nuttin'.  You said you a wanksta and you need to stop frontin'”

“Now shorty think I'ma sweat her, sippin on amoretta.  I'm livin once than deada, I know I can do betta.  She look good but I know she after my chedda.  She tryna get in my pockets, homie and I ain't gonna let her.  Be easy, stop tha bullshit, you get your whole crew wet.”

50 Cent’s constant mix-tape presence garnered unprecedented industry attention, particularly when Eminem declared on a radio show his admiration for 50.  A bidding war ensued for 50 Cent’s services, but it would be Eminem who would fend off numerous other industry figures, to sign him as the first artist to his own Shady Records Label.  Eminem was quick to get onto New York's hip-hop radio circuit with the message that 50 Cent was his favorite rapper at the moment to further add to 50 Cent’s buzz.  With the production talents of legendary Dr. Dre and Eminem behind him, 50 Cent went to work on his new CD, “Get Rich or Die Trying”.  With the buzz built and a very popular hit single, legions of rap fans were eager get 50 Cent's new CD.  The anticipation for this album was huge, and could only be compared to the elite company of Snoop Dogg (Doggystyle), Notorious B.I.G. (Ready To Die), Eminem's (The Slim Shady LP), and Tupac's post-incarceration, first Death Row Records release All Eyez On Me.

In its first week of release, “Get Rich or Die Tryin'” sold 872,000 units as stores struggled to keep up with the demand.  Not only was the album certified gold in it's first week and platinum the next, but it broke the record for first week sales of any major label debut in the entire SoundScan era.  In 2004, “Get Rich or Die Tryin'” was certified six times platinum having sold over 6 million albums worldwide.  The album featured such crossover hits as “Wanksta”, “P.I.M.P”, and “In Da Club”.  

Amid all this 50 cent continued to make headlines everywhere outside of the music studio and stage.  The media was enamored with his life story as the New York Times featured him in a prominent article, and his music received heavy airplay on MTV.  Always a gangsta, 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 was jailed on New Year's Eve 2002 for gun possession.

50 Cent’s next project was to elevate the status of his G-Unit crew.  The crew released their debut “Locked and Loaded” in 2003 to commercial success, further adding to 50 Cent’s growing empire.  50 Cent is intensely loyal to the G-Unit and has committed himself to making them every bit successful as he is.  And just like everything he has done in the past few years, everything he touches turns to gold, as G-Unit is one of the hottest rap acts right now.  50 Cent was quoted, "Now that I got their attention, I'm gonna drop the next shit on them -- the G-Unit shit, both the label and the group. ... I'm not leveling the competition, I'm destroying it!"

Its hard to say whether fame and fortune has changed 50 cent.  The man had always had a big thirst for notoriety, money, and guns, and he seems quite knowledgeable in those topics.  Although his brazen image as a true thug and gangster has lifted his status as one of the most powerful figures in the rap music industry, it is his intelligence, sharp wit, and astute business acumen that has given him staying power.  The man knows what he wants, knows how to get it, and knows how to make it even better.  He has solidified his position as an industry giant, and he doesn’t seem to be relinquishing that role any time soon.

On March 8th 2005, the next highly anticipated 50 Cent album “St. Valentine's Day Massacre” is due to be released.