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 mix-tape 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 never actually experience: drugs, crimes, imprisonments, stabbings, and, most infamously of all, shootings; all of this before he even released his debut album. [ 50 Cent the Rapper ]
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.
Furthermore, his distaste for flossing stunner-rappers and materialistic women -- yet somewhat paradoxically coupled with his appetite for guns, drugs, and wealth -- made him a welcome alternative to the bling-bling sect in the early 2000s. [ 50 Cent the Rapper ]
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. [ 50 Cent the Rapper ]
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 itsbaiting 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. [ 50 Cent the Rapper ]
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. [ 50 Cent the 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 mix-tape tracks (many of which were later compiled on Guess Who's Back? in 2002).
These mix-tape 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 (Raphael Saadiq's "Be Here," Wu-Tang Clan's "Ya'll Been Warned"), others mocked popular rappers (namely Ja Rule, who quickly became an arch-rival), and a few discussed his shooting ("F*ck You," among others). [ 50 Cent the Rapper ]
This constant mix-tape 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. [ 50 Cent the Rapper ]
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. [ 50 Cent the Rapper ]
Before Get Rich dropped, though, Em debuted 50 on the 8 Mile soundtrack. The previously released (via the underground, that is) "Wanksta" 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. [ 50 Cent the Rapper ]
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, bootlegging 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. [ 50 Cent the Rapper ]
The G-Unit debut, Beg for Mercy, hit the shelves in late 2003 and soon went platinum. A new mixtape series with Whoo Kid 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 28th as the Game/50 Cent 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 Cent's entourage clashed with members of the Game's entourage outside the radio station. [ 50 Cent the Rapper ]
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 3rd, but street-date violations were reported on March 1st. By March 2nd everyone from the Mom & Pops to the major chains were selling the album at a furious pace.