Curtis Jackson, known as 50 Cent, is a hip hop artist and businessman who became famous for his streetwise raps and rags-to-riches life story. After an early life of crime, drugs and violence, he turned to rap, rocketing to stardom with the album Get Rich or Die Tryin' in 2003. One of the leading figures in early 21st-century "gangsta" rap, with side projects including the hip hop group G-Unit, investments in soda water companies and video games, 50 Cent has since branched out to become an actor and businessman. His career has been littered with feuds with other rappers, arrests and legal and financial difficulties, while his recent recording output has been sporadic.
Growing Up in New York
50 Cent was born Curtis James Jackson III on July 6, 1975, in the borough of Queens in New York City. He was raised by a single mother in the rough neighborhood of Jamaica. His mom worked as a drug dealer and died in an unexplained fire when Jackson was only eight years old; after her death, he was raised by his grandmother. He had boyhood aspirations to be a boxer, and fought at junior level, but began selling drugs when he was 12. At the age of 19 an undercover police officer arrested Jackson for selling four vials of cocaine and when his home was raided three weeks later, police found crack and heroin. Sentenced to three-to-nine years, he instead went to a boot camp and got his GED. By now, he was already rapping and took on the name 50 Cent, which was the original moniker of a Brooklyn crook from the 1980s.
Hip Hop Beginnings
His first important contact with the New York hip hop scene was an introduction to Jam Master Jay from the group Run-DMC. Jay was impressed by Jackson's rapping ability and produced an album for him, but it never came out. Jackson also made a false start with the Columbia label, recording an album that was shelved before its release. That album, Power of the Dollar, was later bootlegged and showcases Jackson’s confrontational style — on "How to Rob," he details plans to steal from stars such as P. Diddy, Jay-Z, Mase and Missy Elliott.
In 2000, Jackson was the victim of a severe shooting incident that left him with multiple injuries. He returned to music after his recovery and made several low-budget recordings with his friends Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo, as a crew called G-Unit. Their efforts came to the attention of Eminem and Dr. Dre, who heard 50 Cent's "Guess Who’s Back?" mixtape in 2002 and signed him jointly to their labels, Shady Records and Aftermath Entertainment.
'Get Rich or Die Tryin''
50 Cent's debut album, Get Rich or Die Tryin,' was produced by Eminem and Dre. It was a massive commercial success that eventually sold 9 million units. Its gritty singles, including "Wanksta" and "In Da Club," were underpinned by strong hooks that helped turn them into crossover pop hits. His personal appearance – muscled and tattooed, wearing a bulletproof vest and toting a handgun – was also a strong factor in his appeal, as was the fact that his lyrics were based on real-life experiences, in a game where most rappers' boasts are idle. “His rhymes are average, but his lisp, his exaggerated delivery and the beats backing him push this collection over the edge,” raved the Los Angeles Times.
Get Rich was followed in 2005 by another hit album, The Massacre, on which Jackson continued to rap about drugs, crime and sex on tracks like "Candy Shop" and "Just a Lil Bit." He started his own label under the Interscope umbrella, signing Lloyd Banks and Young Buck, and incorporating them into the G-Unit group on the 2004 album Beg for Mercy, which sold more than 5 million copies worldwide. But subsequent 50 Cent releases, including Curtis in 2007 and Before I Self-Destruct in 2009, achieved only modest sales. But by then 50 Cent's personal history as a reformed criminal and a survivor of drugs, violence and poverty, had secured his position as an influential figure in hip hop culture.
Filing for Bankruptcy to Starting Over Again
Following in the footsteps of hip hop moguls such as Dre and Jay Z, Jackson successfully expanded his brand into other markets. He promoted and invested in Vitaminwater, a partnership that reportedly netted him $100 million when the company was sold to Coca-Cola in 2007. Jackson also founded the successful headphones line SMS Audio, and scored prominent roles in the films Escape Plan (2013), Spy (2015) and Southpaw (2015). As of 2017 he reportedly had a net worth of $150 million.
Meanwhile, he maintained a presence in the hip hop industry with the release of the album Animal Ambition in 2014, although reviews weren’t particularly warm and it sold just over 100,000 copies – a far cry from his glory days. Ongoing feuds with Ja Rule, Rick Ross and The Game also took his eyes off the prize. Jackson has two sons, Marquise and Sire, with two different mothers.
His legal and financial problems began to mount when he was sued by Lastonia Leviston, a girlfriend of Rick Ross, for releasing a sex tape online without her permission. A jury found Jackson liable for $7 million in damages in July 2015. That and another case relating to the headphone company Sleek Audio prompted the rapper-businessman to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In 2016 he was ordered by the Bankruptcy Court to pay his creditors $23 million over five years, but paid it off after only months, helped by a settlement in his favor from a legal malpractice case. That same year he also finally sold his lavish Connecticut mansion in Farmington that had been on the market for years for a modest price of $8 million. (He had purchased the home from Mike Tyson in 2003.) Looks like 50 Cent still knows how to get rich … or keep tryin.’
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