50 Cent was born as Curtis James Jackson to a 15 year old single mother, Sabrina, who worked as a cocaine dealer for a living. Considering the circumstances, there wasn’t much to predict the success he would have when he was born in the poverty-stricken South Jamaica of Queens, New York City. His mother, who desperately tried to give him a bit better life, was killed in 1983 by allegedly a group of mafia criminals who she’d work with – Jackson was barely 8 years old. He was then taken to his grand parents’ house where he lived with his 8 aunts and uncles. In the absence of mother, who wanted him to live a meaningful life, Jackson came in touch with some dark elements of the society and spent most of his time roaming in the streets. By the time he turned 12, he was already dealing narcotics and taking drug money and guns to school. He’d frequently lie to his grandparents and pretend that he regularly attended the after-school programs.
One day, while in tenth grade, Jackson was caught having a gun and some tiny packets of cocaine at Andrew Jackson High School. He was arrested and sent to a correctional boot camp. Jackson’s grand parents trusted him and believed he’d not follow the path of his deceased mother. It was the very first time he confessed his dark secrets to his grand mother and promised her to return from the correctional camp as a normal teen.
Transitioning to a new life as a Rapper
At correctional camp, Jackson developed his passion for rapping. It was here he adopted the name 50 cent as a metaphor for change. In an interview to the Time Magazine, he admitted that the name he derived from Kelvin Martin, a notorious robber from Brooklyn. He said, “because it says everything I want it to say. I’m the same kind of person 50 Cent was. I provide for myself by any means.”
On returning from the camp, Jackson started practicing rap in one of his friends’ basement. In 1996, he was introduced to Jam Master Jay, the DJ of the hip hop group Run–D.M.C. Jay agreed to teach him the depths of rapping – how to count bars, write hooks and choruses, structure and edit songs and more. In 1999, 50 cent made his first public appearance for a group called Onyx on their album Shut ‘Em Down. He appeared in the song titled ‘React’, which drew average success.
In 1999, 50 Cent signed to Columbia Records with the help of the platinum-selling producers Trackmasters. He rose to fame with his controversial single, How to Rob. The success of the song got him several critics of which Big Pun, Kurupt, Wyclef Jean, Missy Elliott and several other expressed anger through their forthcoming songs.
Battling with Life
On 24 May 2000, 50 Cent was attacked by a gunman named Darryl “Hommo” Baum right outside his grandmother’s home in South Jamaica. He was shot 9 times from a very close range with a 9mm handgun but miraculously survived and fully recovered in 5 months. One of the gunshots hit his face, resulting in the loss of a wisdom tooth, a swollen tongue and a small slur in his voice. In his autobiography, From Pieces to Weight: Once upon a Time in Southside Queens 50 Cents writes,
“After I got shot nine times at close range and didn’t die, I started to think that I must have a purpose in life… How much more damage could that shell have done? Give me an inch in this direction or that one, and I’m gone”
Rise to Fame
After recovering from the bullet injuries, 50 Cent moved to Canada along with his friend and business partner, Sha Money XL. In 2002, Eminem invited him to Los Angeles and arranged his meeting with Dr. Dre. Together they helped him sign $1 million record deal that resulted into the release of the mixtape, No Mercy, No Fear, which was used as a soundtrack on Eminem’s semi-autobiographical movie 8 Mile.
50 Cent’s life dramatically changed in February 2003, when he released his first commercial album, Get Rich or Die Tryin The album sold over a million copies in the first 10 days and debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. In 2005, his second album ‘The Massacre’ sold over a million copies in the first 4 days. His other albums Curtis (2007) and Before I Self Destruct (2009) were equally successful.
Philanthropy and the Mission to Feed a Billion
In 2003, at the pinnacle of his career, 50 Cent started thinking about utilizing his success to make a difference in the lives of low-income and underserved communities. The same year, he founded G Unity Foundation, In the past 8 years, the foundation has contributed with hundreds of college grants and has created a community garden with Bette Midler’s New York restoration project. It also focuses on the physical & mental health of urban youth and primary, elementary and adult education.
In 2011, while touring in African countries, he came across some of the poorest areas and saw people living without food and clean drinking water. In his words, “It is such a miserable world out there.” In a TV interview he said,
“I grew up without money, but I didn’t grow up hungry. A lot of people out there are dying of hunger. It’s our responsibility to come together and do things to create a solution for this global epidemic,” 50 Cent
On returning, he collaborated with Chris Clarke, an Australian born social entrepreneur and the founder of Pure Growth Partners and together they founded Street King , the company manufactures herbal energy shots and for every unit’s sale, they give one wholesome meal to a hungry child. They have also collaborated with the UN World Food Programme and are working in the hardest hit areas of Kenya and Somalia. In an interview to Forbes, 50 Cent claimed to have served over 3.5 million meals since September 2011 and added that he was not going to stop even if he reaches the billion mark.
He appealed other people in the entertainment industry by citing the World Bank’s recent survey and said “According to World Bank numbers, contributing 1% of business to charitable organizations could alleviate extreme poverty around the world. So with conscious capitalism, I hope to influence my peers and other entrepreneurs to create a new standard of making change.”