"Who the hell is 50 cent?"
-Termite, node: wankster
50 Cent (pronounced "Fiddy Cent" and slurred together if you're one of the cool kids) is arguably the hottest rapper anywhere right now, but where the hell did he come from? Over the period of a few months, he has come from being a relative unknown outside his hometown of New York to being the first artist signed to Eminem's record label Shady Records who was scouted before personally knowing Eminem. He appeared on the 8 Mile soundtrack with an accompanying song and video that immediately went into heavy rotation on BET, MTV, and radio stations across the country. Between generating a decent-sized underground fanbase, getting mad street cred for appearing on damn near every major mix tape sold in New York in the past few years, and being hand-picked by rap superstar Eminem, 50 Cent seems destined for fame and riches.
"50 is real, so he does real things." - 50cent.com supplied biography
Interscope Records is very determined to sell 50 Cent as the "real deal," as gangsta rap is all about street cred and reputation. On this matter, 50 Cent beats almost every other mainstream rapper hands down. His mother was killed in a drug deal, he was a drug dealer, he's been shot nine times (nine bullets in one shootout), he came back from nothing, and built a sizable rap empire in New York city before ever signing a major record deal.
50 Cent was born Curtis Jackson in the late 1970s in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, New York to a single mother who was forced to deal drugs in order to provide for him. When, at the the age of 8, his mother was violently killed in a drug deal gone bad, he was taken in by his grandparents and became accustomed to the workings of the street and how to make money illegally. 50 Cent (who gets his name from gangster 50 Cent of Fort Green Projects in Brooklyn, New York) thought of rap as only a hobby until the birth of his baby boy. Between his many run-ins with the law and his new role as provider, 50 decided it was time to pursue rapping seriously as a career.
Honing his Skills, First Record Deals
He met up with Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC fame and was signed to his label JMJ. 50 Cent was intent on learning the rigors of producing palatable rap music: how to count bars, the basics of song structure and importance of good production. Despite learning all this, 50 saw that he wasn't going to get to where he wanted to go with JMJ, and left the label in search of someone who could help him achieve his dream of rap stardom. He teamed up with the all-star hip-hop production duo Track Masters who recognized 50 Cent's talent for incisive lyrics and signed him to Columbia Records in 1999. Although he looks back on this time with displeasure (his biography refers to it as being "locked up in the studio"), the 18 days spent in a studio in Upstate NY produced 36 tracks which later became his breakthrough album Power of the Dollar. Although never officially released, the album was heavily bootlegged, judged a classic by Blaze Magazine, and the humorous ode to robbing a slew of industry rappers (Jay-Z, Puff Daddy, DMX, various members of the Wu-Tang Clan, even his producers Track Masters, and many more) was an instant hit for New York radio.
Misfortune and Recovery
Despite the heavy bootlegging and having to use his $2500 advance from Columbia for purchasing crack to sell to continue financing his rapping, things were looking up for 50 Cent . He had a hit single that hip-hop heads couldn't get enough of and struck an unpleasant chord with mainstream artists causing controversy. In the world of underground hip-hop there's no such thing as bad publicity. Many of them came back with their own dis songs, only helping to make 50 Cent more famous. Despite his shaky financial position, 50 Cent was beginning to make enough money from performing concerts to make a decent living. In April 2000 tragedy struck when 50 Cent was shot nine times, including a 9mm bullet to his jaw. What might have killed a lesser man only made 50 Cent stronger, more determined, and gave 50 a reputation in the streets as an OG. He was dropped from his label and after months of recovery, 50 split his hours evenly between the gym and the studio. These many hours spent working out post-recovery has given him the chiseled out of stone look he has now. Despite no label or financial backing, 50 kept recording music with his new friend and business partner Sha Money XL, releasing more than 30 tracks on various mix tapes with the sole intent of creating a buzz. In May 2002, 50 Cent independently released an entire album of new material called Guess Who's Back? Not content with one hot album, 50 Cent and his crew G-Unit (which includes three rappers and himself) collaborated on the bootleg album 50 Cent is the Future, which featured 50 and his crew rapping entirely over beats already made famous by mainstream artists.
Eminem says 50 Cent is the Future
Guess Who's Back? and 50 Cent is the Future were heard by a very impressed Eminem who brought the rapper to Dr. Dre's attention. The good doctor liked what he heard and endorsed the idea of signing a deal, and working with 50 Cent on an album. 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. After a meeting with Interscope and Eminem in Los Angeles, 50 Cent quickly signed a deal with Interscope/Aftermath (Dre's label)/Shady (Eminem's label) to release a record. Before starting production of his new album with Eminem and Dre, 50 quickly released another bootleg album of his raps over stolen beats entitled No Mercy, No Fear with the only 'original' production being Wanksta, a veiled dis aimed at 'industry' rapper Ja Rule. Although 'Wanksta' was never meant as a radio single, under the barrage of 50 Cent albums and the buzz over Eminem's words of praise and subsequent deal with 50 Cent; Wanksta quickly became the most requested song on New York radio. Capitalizing on the appropriated song's success, it was added it to Eminem's hit movie soundtrack 8 Mile and had it's own video released, quickly entering heavy rotation on MTV, BET, MuchMusic, and radio stations around the country.
50 Cent Gets Rich, Yet Miraculously Doesn't Die Tryin'
With the buzz built, a hit single that just wouldn't go away, and legions of rap fans foaming at the mouth to get 50's new CD, 50 Cent was destined for great things, or at least plenty of dough. In it's first week of release, 50's first major label debut Get Rich or Die Tryin' sold 872,000 units as stores struggled to keep up to the demand. A few days after it's release, as I walked back from downtown Minneapolis back to campus one night after a quick dinner I noticed a Sam Goody and a Barnes and Noble store that both had makeshift posters in there windows which said something like, 'We're sold out of Get Rich or Die Tryin', please try back tomorrow.' Music retailers weren't the only ones surprised at the demand for the album, even a member of 50 Cent's rap group and posse G-Unit, Llyod Banks was taken off guard: "My prediction -- I'm not going to lie to you -- it was 500,000. Then when it came back 870,000 it was like a stamp, 'OK, they understand.' When it came back again the next week with another 822,000, ah man, that's when it really set in." In fact, 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. On June 12, 2003 Get Rich or Die Tryin' was certified five times platinum (i.e. has sold 5,000,000 albums) by the RIAA.
Now! With DVD and Summer Touring-Action!
Following the unprecedented success of Get Rich, 50 and company capitalized on their good fortune and released a DVD/CD combo entitled The New Breed. Included in the DVD were interviews with 50 Cent regarding his rise to fame and being shot among other things, live performances, music videos, and behind the scenes footage from the making of those videos and various concerts. Also included is an interview with then imprisioned G-Unit member Tony Yayo on his take on 50 Cent's success. Following the release of Get Rich 50 Cent begin touring with opening Clipse at many smaller club-type venues. Given his immense popularity, he and Jay-Z were enlisted to tour on together on the extravagant Rock the Mic tour. Openers for the concert rotated with each venue, and included Snoop Dogg, Fabolous, Busta Rhymes, Sean Paul, Obie Trice and Bone Crusher. 50 Cent went on second and Jay-Z closed the performance. Despite being the hottest selling artist of the year and one of the biggest entities to hit rap music in a long time, 50 had no intention of letting it go to his head and gave Jay-Z the honor of headlining the tour. As 50 explains, "It's easy. I give him that pressure. Let Jay headline. He's got a string of records that have had their opportunity to have their moments. He can go on for a good 40 minutes with just the singles, so he should be headlining." The tour went so well that it was extended past the original end date of August 5 until August 21. The extended tour sans Jay-Z hit 13 more cities, all of them east of the Mississippi.
50 Cent and the Future
50 Cent is currently not on tour, and is preparing for his second major label release. Although originally planning on releasing a new album before the end of 2003, 50 has decided to push the album release back to February of 2004. "I was thinking of releasing the next album in November, but I'm gonna wait," 50 Cent said in April 2003. "Get Rich or Die Tryin' — I don't think it will be over by then. I still got records I could shoot visuals for. I don't want to get ahead of myself." Also in the plans are the G-Unit album tentatively titled Locked and Loaded to be released in September or November of 2003. Despite G-Unit member Tony Yayo's imprisonment on weapons charges and prior warrants, he will appear on the CD courtesy of several old verses already laid down prior to his arrest. "I had so many records with Yayo before him being incarcerated," 50 says, "that I was able to take the verses that I needed off other records and put 'em on there." If 50 has his way G-Unit's new album will be every bit as successful as his own release, "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."
50 Cent Discography:
*Although marketed as a DVD, the bonus CD accompanying it carries 3 new songs including remixes of various 50 Cent songs and a brand new song by G-Unit.
**This album was never officially released, but was heavily bootlegged beginning in 1999.)
But is he any good?
This depends on your definition of good. First off, 50 Cent is most definitely gangsta rap, so if that's not your thing you don't need to go any further. Unlike the more cerebral gangsta rappers of yore (2Pac, Notorious B.I.G., and even Dre's old group NWA), 50 Cent is firmly entrenched in the role of the modern day gangsta rapper, where all that matters is keeping it real, money, bitches, and cars. So what does he have to offer? Is he an amazing lyricist? Not especially. Does he rhyme about much more than drugs, gats, and pimping hoes? Not so much. Is he the next Eminem? Despite being scouted by Eminem, he is most definitely not like his mentor except for a few lyrical flourishes that have rubbed off on him. Is he anything that we haven't seen a thousand times before? Well, that's hard to say. 50 Cent's biggest problem all boils down to this one thing:
50 Cent was hyped like the second coming of Christ.
Between his fanatical underground fanbase in New York, his mile long rap sheet, insane production value on his latest album (with tracks from hip-hop giants Dr. Dre, Eminem, Rocwilder, Sean Blaze, and more), being hand-picked and mentored by Eminem, and a relative drought of hit rap records in the weeks and months before his album's release it's no wonder he became as big a star as he has. If you want to ignore all that and just look at 50 Cent the rapper and lyricist, he does have a few saving graces. Despite the circumstances of his upbringing and the trials he faced on his road to fame, 50 retains an bright-eyed optimism that is admirable. Despite some of his darker rhymes to subdue those looking to find a chink in his armor (metaphorically and literally, as he and his crew are known for wearing bullet-proof vests when they go out), 50 deals with his subject matter with a certain level of humor not found in most gangsta rap records. Although he most definitely 'keeps it real' and his subject matter isn't that deep, 50 Cent allows himself to have fun with what he does and knows how to make a good rap record, even if it fails to break any new ground.
If you'd like a taste of what 50 Cent is like, here is a compilation of songs I think are decent and give a good introduction to 50 Cent's style, in order of my personal preference.
· The Realest (feat. Notorious B.I.G.)
Sometimes called "Realest Nigga" or "The Realest Niggas", this song appeared on a mix tape by DJ Whoo Kid, and features never before released vocals of Notorious B.I.G. 50 jokes in an interview, "Whoo Kid is a thief. He got the Biggie vocals from somewhere and Red Spider produced it. I wrote the chorus and the third verse. I was excited, and the lyrical content was crazy. It came out tight. I rapped about Big 'cause he ain't here right now." Between unreleased B.I.G. vocals, good production, and 50 Cent's drive to do well as a tribute to Biggie, this song is one of 50's best in my opinion. (Biggie's lyrics were later released on the posthumous Notorious B.I.G. release Born Again, track seven on a song entitled "Niggas". With different beats, a differnet chorus, and a different third verse by B.I.G. instead of 50 Cent. I personally like the 'original' bootleg version released by 50 Cent and company. One of the most grating parts of the 'official' release is a sampled Curtis Mayfield screaming, "Niggas!" for the chorus. This is from (Don't Worry) If There's A Hell Below We're All Going To Go and is a sample so overused in hip-hop that it's gotten out of hand, and pisses me off almost everytime I hear it used.)
· How to Rob (feat. The Madd Rapper)
This song was 50's first big hit, and although featuring the annoying vocal stylings of The Madd Rapper on the chorus, it's a pretty funny song if you know anything about "industry rappers."
· Fuck You
Sampling various rappers saying the f-word in famous songs for the chorus (it ends up sounding a lot better than you might imagine), 50 jokes about getting shot, and how famous he's going to be and walking off with your girl. This is a good example of 50 Cent's style of 'keeping it real' while at the same time keeping things light
As far as songs off of his 'debut' Get Rich or Die Trying', I'd reccomend:
· 21 Questions (feat. Nate Dogg)
This is the second single off of Get Rich or Die Tryin', and to be honest, I liked the song a lot more before I saw the video. 50 sweetly croons out 21 questions to a potential female companion, asking her if she'd be around even if he wasn't on top of the world. This song is a suprising change of pace from the rest of the album, and with syrupy vocals from Nate Dogg on the chorus how could you go wrong? This is a good song for those of you who can't stand gangsta rap.
· If I Can't
Excellent beats, and although the lyrics are pretty straightforward ("If I can't do it homey, it can't be done") it's executed excellently with lots of interesting rhymes.
A surprisingly catchy gun anthem, where every beat alternates between a gun being cocked and shot. When I read that he was going to use gun shots as percussion for an entire song I was incredulous, but it turned out ok. This entire song is about guns and shooting your rivals, so if you truly hate gangsta rap, you'll probably not like this song.
· What Up Gangsta
Good production and a nice bridge where 50 Cent does a little singing ("We don't play around"), but other than that a pretty straight forward gangsta rap song.
- A 30-minute interview with 50 Cent conducted by Sway of Wake Up Show fame, which aired on MTV shortly after the release of Get Rich or Die Trying'
- Various visits from 50 Cent to Rap City: Tha Bassment, all interviews by Big Tigger
Disclaimer: This node is a work in progress as we have yet to see the last of 50 Cent. I also plan on adding another section entitled "The Beefs" that will chronicle his lyrical vendettas with various rappers (Ja Rule, Nas, et al.). Since 50 Cent is in the news a lot these days, and things move quickly, if you read or see anything you think should go here, please feel free to /msg me with a heads up. Thanks.
Updated 2003-08-30: I just finished a quick rewrite of this, but have yet to add the proposed section detailing 50 Cent's many 'beefs' which helped to generate a buzz for him and acted as a catalyst for his fame.
This writeup is released under the GFDL, version 1.2 or any later version.