50 Cent

Though he would later struggle with the nature of his fame as well as market expectations, 50 Cent endured substantial obstacles throughout his young yet remarkably dramatic life before becoming the most discussed figure in rap, if not pop music in general, circa 2003. Following an unsuccessful late-'90s run at mainstream success (foiled by an attempt on his life in 2000) and a successful run on the New York mixtape circuit (driven by his early-2000s bout with Ja Rule), Eminem signed 50 Cent to a seven-figure contract in 2002 and helmed his quick rise toward crossover success in 2003. The product of a broken home in the rough Jamaica neighborhood of Queens and, in turn, the storied hood's hustling streets themselves, 50 Cent lived everything most rappers write rhymes about but not all actually experience: drugs, crimes, imprisonments, stabbings, and most infamously of all, shootings. Of course, such experiences became 50 Cent's rhetorical stock-in-trade. He reveled in his oft-told past, he called out wannabe gangstas, and he made headlines. He even looked like the ideal East Coast hardcore rapper: big-framed with oft-showcased biceps, abs, and tattoos as well as his trademark bulletproof vest, pistol, and iced crucifix. But all-importantly, 50 Cent may have fit the mold of a prototypical hardcore rapper, but he could also craft a catchy hook. As a result, his music crossed over to the pop market, appealing to both those who liked his roughneck posturing and rags-to-riches story as well as those who liked his knack for churning out naughty singalong club tracks. And too, 50 Cent didn't forget about his posse. He helped his G-Unit crew grow into a successful franchise, spawning platinum-selling solo albums for his group members, lucrative licensing deals for the brand name, and sell-out arena tours to promote the franchise internationally. By the time of his third album (Curtis, 2007), however, 50 Cent faced a formidable backlash, particularly among hip-hop purists, who were displeased by his turn toward crossover pop-rap and thus away from street-level credibility.

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