50 Cent

50 Cent

If 2Pac and Biggie have been the principle role models for aspiring rappers since their respective deaths in the mid-'90s, then Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson earned the distinction of being their star student. As a rapper, he rose from modest roots to become an award-willing, commercial star. As an entrepreneur, he created a brand for himself through Hollywood and product endorsement. Jackson surpassed his forebears in terms of the breadth and level of his capital success. In 2007 Forbes placed him at No. 2 on their list of "hip-hop Cash Kings" in terms of income; he ranked behind Jay-Z and ahead of Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs. Jackson both followed and built on 2Pac and Biggie's paths to success through constant networking, and deliberate appearance and placement in the public eye.

The Queens-native's life retold the rags-to-riches narrative as a brash get-rich-or-die-trying story. Raised by his cocaine-dealing mother and his extended family, Jackson himself became involved in drug dealing. After two subsequent run-ins with the law, he tried his hand at rapping in the mid-'90s. He fell under the tutelage of Run-DMC DJ and producer Jam Master Jay and made his recording debut with one of Jay's groups Onyx. In the late '90s Jackson was signed to Columbia and recorded the officially unreleased album Power Of The Dollar in 2000. He sparked controversy for one of the album's released tracks "How To Rob," which comically detailed how Jackson would take advantage of a number of other popular rappers. Many of the cited artists responded with their own diss records, which drew more attention to the upcoming rapper. That same year Jackson was shot at his home.

After recuperating, Jackson returned to recording mixtapes with his G-Unit crew, one of which, Guess Who's Back?, prompted a meeting with rapper Eminem and producer-rapper Dr. Dre. The three worked with long-time music industry executive Chris Lighty to release Jackson's highly publicized Get Rich Or Die Tryin', in 2003. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, sold 872,000 copies in its first week and to date 6 million copies, and was nominated for a Grammy.


Mirroring the hyperactive celebrity gossip culture of the '00s, Jackson was constantly in headlines from the early to late '00s. He released three more albums (2005's The Massacre, 2007's Curtis, 2008's Before I Self Destruct), started a subsidiary label G-Unit Records, acted in high-profile motion pictures, beefed and reconciled and beefed again with numerous other rappers, and loaned his namesake to a name-brand shoe line, jewelry, beverage, deodorant and sexual prophylactic. Through sheer volume alone, Jackson's exposure to the public was unprecedented.

Jackson's fifth album, Black Magic, is scheduled for release in 2010. ~Dan Nishimoto

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