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Jamaica’s ‘Own Bad Guy’
50 Cent Making Good In The Music Biz

By Shams Tarek

If you don’t live in a cave, chances are you’ve heard the name 50 Cent.

In his recent DVD “The New Breed,” 50 Cent describes a 2000 attempt on his life in front of his South Jamaica home that left him with nine gunshot wounds, a distinctive mumble and material for many of his future songs.
Courtesy Interscope Records  

But for those who don’t know, here’s a debriefing.

The 26-year-old South Jamaica native-born Curtis Jackson is the hottest act in hip-hop right now, with popular appeal that stomps every other musician in the country—of all musical genres—flat.

International hip-hop sensation 50 Cent was raised by his grandparents in this house in South Jamaica.
Courtesy Interscope Records

The Andrew Jackson High School dropout’s first major-label album, released February 6, broke records by selling more copies in the country in its first week—over 872,000 according to SoundScan, the reporting agency used to make the industry-standard Billboard sales chart—than any other artist since 1991, the year SoundScan started tracking the numbers.

More likely than not, 50 Cent sold more copies of “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” in that first week than any other artist in American history.

And he’s been in and out of the country’s number-one spot for record sales since then.  Every new single brings a spike in his record sales, a bigger lump in his wallet and just more national spotlight on what he calls “Southside Jamaica Queens.”

Beginnings In The ‘Hood

Now an international hip hop star, 50 Cent’s life growing up in South Jamaica has become one of legend, played out in his lyrics, videos and media interviews.

50 Cent’s first major label album has been in and out of the top of sales charts since it came out in February.

50 Cent was thrust into local folklore right from his birth, as his mother was already a well-known drug dealer when he was born.  She died when he was eight years old, after which he was raised by his grandparents.

By the time he was 12, 50 Cent was selling drugs on “the strip:” New York Avenue, now known as Guy R. Brewer Boulevard.  His mother’s reputation brought him respect: “That’s Brenda’s little boy,” other hustlers would say, 50 Cent says in a DVD documentary released with the first few copies of “Get Rich…”

After 50 Cent dropped out of high school, he was making big money on the strip.  He bought a Land Cruiser and a Mercedes-Benz 400SE by the time he was 18.  He was known to be a cunning businessman on the street, driving out competition by intimidating them into carrying weapons, which would cause them to scatter whenever police came around.

A period of a few years in and out of jail followed during which 50 Cent earned his GED.  When he got out, with years of drugs and violence under his belt, he met another Southeast Queens legend and started a relationship that would change his life forever.

The Jam Master Jay Connection

A friend introduced 50 Cent to Hollis native Jam Master Jay, the DJ from Run-DMC who is widely credited with creating modern hip-hop and was killed execution-style in a Merrick Boulevard recording studio last year.

Jay took 50 Cent under his wing, teaching him how to construct songs in a basement recording studio in Rosedale and letting him record a few tracks.

50 Cent recorded a few tracks and toured under Jay’s mentorship, but joined with Columbia Records when he wanted to record a full album.

Police have allegedly questioned 50 Cent after Jay’s murder, but it’s unknown whether he was questioned as a suspect, a witness or just as one of the many rappers and Southeast Queens “hustlers” who may know who would want the rap pioneer and father of three dead.

It wouldn’t be the last time that police would find themselves questioning the increasingly popular rapper in relation to gunplay—he was arrested last New Year’s Eve for having a gun in his SUV while outside a Manhattan club.

Officers and detectives from the 103rd and 113th police precincts, as well as the Police Departments’ public information office, wouldn’t comment on the investigation.

50 Cent Refund On Life

50 Cent was well on his way to stardom while at Columbia Records, but an assassination attempt in the spring of 2000 put things on pause.

He describes it in vivid detail on his DVD, whose title is the same as the album it was released with, as well as on a new DVD he released on April 15 called “The New Breed.”

He was sitting in a car parked in front of his grandmother’s house in South Jamaica when another car pulled up next to him.  A gunman got out of that car and pulled a nine-millimeter handgun on 50 Cent, firing a number of shots.

50 Cent was hit nine times, with one bullet tearing a hole through his cheek and gums.  The rapper said he reached for his own gun to shoot back, but was shot in the hand before he could do that.

Laughing at near-death, 50 Cent shows his various wounds in the documentary, including a missing tooth.  He carries around the bullet that stopped in his mouth, a small mangled mass of lead.

The gunman was himself murdered three weeks after the attempt on 50 Cent’s life—as related in a line about karma in “Get Rich…”—but the rapper has denied responsibility in interviews.

A Legend Is Fortified

Columbia Records, worried about the violence surrounding 50 Cent, didn’t return his calls after the shooting.  In a rare but sincere display of sensitivity, the rapper called Columbia’s rejection worse than someone trying to take his life.

“That’s worse than getting shot,” 50 Cent says on his DVD.  “Getting shot is, to me, after I’m patched up, I’m gonna be alright.  We see niggas get stabbed.  We see them get shot all the time in the ‘hood.  So if a nigga’s shot and he alright, you move forward.”

But the rejection didn’t slow 50 Cent down.  He hooked up with business partner and friend Sha Money XL, with whom he recorded over 30 songs, all of which appeared exclusively on the mixtape circuit, a gray-market network of compilations sold on the street.

An independent album, Guess Who’s Back? came out in the spring of 2001, followed by the prophetically titled—at least in terms of the hip-hop world—50 Cent Is The Future, which featured remakes of already popular rappers like Jay-Z.

Stardom came down on 50 Cent hard and fast soon after, when Eminem, possibly the world’s most famous rapper right now, started going around in the media dropping 50 Cent’s name as “my favorite rapper right now” and the future of hip-hop.

Looking past the stigma of violence and toward record-breaking album sales, Eminem signed 50 Cent to his own label, Shady Records, and brought along longtime collaborator Dr. Dre—another hip-hop household name—to produce 50 Cent’s first major label album. Major California label Interscope Records has since taken over marketing duties for the album.

Reality MC

Even though he’s since moved out of his grandparents’ Southeast Queens home, 50 Cent constantly talks about his old neighborhood in interviews and documentaries.

In one scene from his DVD, he’s sitting on his grandmother’s porch when a police cruiser starts coming down the block.  He runs inside, he says, because he’s got pistols on him, a common practice.

“Niggas don’t be on the strip live where the strip is at like that with the pistols,” 50 Cent says, “but in the back, everybody be hauling; you gotta be.”

In another scene, he talks about the street of private homes where he grew up—published reports say it’s 161st Street—and how he thinks it will get worse in coming years.

“While we’re sittin’ here,” the rapper says by a small green lawn, “we’re a block from the projects.  It might feel like a residential area, like it’s okay and it’s not gonna go down, but it will; this is the best place for it to happen.”

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