In the mid-2000s, there was no bigger rapper than South Jamaica, Queens native Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. With the release of his multi-platinum albums Get Rich or Die Tryin’, The Massacre and Curtis, Jackson established himself as one of the best-selling artists of the decade and with multimillion dollar licensing deals with Glacéau and Reebok, his brand was everywhere.
But as the 21st century drew on, Jackson’s commercial appeal waned and an ill-advised foray into acting dispelled his gangster mystique. Once the hottest man in hip hop, Jackson is now a successful business mogul who occasionally releases music to a largely indifferent audience. Ultimately, 50 Cent was both the beneficiary and victim of hip hop’s ever changing taste.
After a stint as a teenage narcotics dealer, Jackson redirected his energies into producing music. His early featured recordings garnered the attention of Run-DMC’s legendary DJ Jam Master Jay who helped Jackson secure his first record deal. Unfortunately, Jackson’s aggressive style, as seen on inflammatory singles like 1999’s “How to Rob,” earned him a number of enemies, one of whom plotted to end his career before it began by shooting the rapper nine times at point-blank range in May of 2000.
While recuperating from his wounds, Jackson found that his record deal had collapsed and no other label was willing to touch him. Unbowed, Jackson came out of recovery stronger than he’d entered it and released a slew of well-received mixtapes, one of which piqued the interest of superstar rapper Eminem. Eminem introduced Jackson to iconic producer Dr. Dre and later the pair collaborated on 50 Cent’s major label debut, 2003’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’. The record would go on to sell more than 9 million copies in the U.S. and almost single handedly re-popularized the grimy brand of gangster rap that Dr. Dre’s old group N.W.A. made famous in the early ‘90s and signaled the end of the era in which pop friendly rappers like Ja Rule were dominant.
In 2005, Jackson released The Massacre, a record that showed off the rapper’s softer side while also reaffirming his status as the hardest man in rap. The album sold 1.14 million copies in its first week and held #1 spot on Billboard’s Top 200 for six weeks. That same year, Jackson starred in his first film, the semi-autobiographical and badly received Get Rich or Die Tryin’.
In 2007, Jackson made a defining career decision. On the eve of the release of his third album Curtis, Jackson publicly proclaimed that he would stop releasing solo albums if his record was outsold by Kanye West’s Graduation, which was slated to be released on the same day. In the end, it wasn’t even close as West’s sonically and thematically adventurous record sold 957,000 to Curtis’ 691,000. After that very public loss, combined with the album’s poor critical reception, some in the hip hop community began to believe that the public was no longer interested in Jackson’s guns and drugs narratives, a theory that was borne out as decidedly non-gangster style rappers like Kid Cudi, Lupe Fiasco and Drake rose to prominence. Jackson later said that his record contract prevented his retirement.
Jackson’s fourth studio effort, 2008’s Before I Self Destruct doubled down on the darkness and violence and sold a mere 169,000 its first week in release and became the first of Jackson’s albums not to go platinum. While 50 Cent’s career was struggling, Curtis Jackson was doing better than ever, with an investment in vitamin water company Glacéau netting him a reported $100 million payday when the company was purchased by Coca-Cola in 2007.
While still touring and releasing the occasional single, Jackson founded a consumer electronics company called SMS Audio to break into the lucrative high-end headphone market in 2011 and formed TMT Promotions, a sports management firm, in 2012. In 2014, Jackson starred in his 19th film, a direct-to-video crime drama starring Danny Trejo and Diamond Dallas Paige and left Interscope. In June of this year, Jackson released his fifth studio, Animal Ambition, which is projected to sell 30,000 to 35,000 copies in its first week. With sales like that coupled with his huge success in other industries, Jackson seems to have wrung all he could out of hip hop.