10 Years of 50
Last week, 50 Cent released a new mixtape called The Big 10 to commemorate the ten year anniversary of the release of his first mixtape, 50 Cent Is The Future. Perhaps you’re wondering why the anniversary of one mixtape would dictate the need for the release of another mixtape. In short, the answer is that it was game-changing.
We all know that rappers are just as bad as – and maybe worse than – boxers when it comes to boasting and self-promotion and 50 Cent is the Cassius Clay of hip-hop. His self-confidence and bragging knows no bounds and, oftentimes, his interviews are even more entertaining than his music. He never tries to dodge a question and has no qualms about saying whatever is on his mind, regardless of whom it may hurt.
With that in mind, it’s hard not to think of most of Fiddy’s claims as hyperbole. However, he’s right in one respect: he changed the marketing and distribution of hip-hop and, in the process, redefined what the word mixtape really means.
“Before 50 Cent Is The Future existed, what they call a mixtape now didn't exist. A mixtape prior to that was sending sixteen bars over to [a DJ] for [his] tape,” he explained. “At that point, [with] 50 Cent Is The Future, what happened was...I saw a bootlegger, an African dude, was at the corner [selling mixtapes]. When I went there, I said, ‘What you got?’ He said, ‘Look, I got new...see? 50 Cent.’ He was selling it to me based on me, but I didn't have any photographs any pictures or anything out there, so I said, ‘I’m gonna make my own tape.’”
Before that, mixtapes were just compilations, homemade greatest hits albums, that any one of us could (and did) make on our own. After 50 Cent Is The Future, that all changed. Instead of trying to appeal via a poster and a radio-friendly single, artists could now create an entire tape – over famous instrumentals for free! – and show the public what they could offer over the course of an entire disc. A few years ago, I wondered if mixtapes are now better than albums and the fact that such a question could even be asked is based solely on the influence of Curtis Jackson.
Since then, it’s been a storybook rags-to-riches success story, with 50’s domination of the mixtape circuit garnering the attention of Eminem and Dr. Dre and leading to a recording contract that would make all three millions upon millions of dollars.
But 50’s appeal, particularly leading up to his first (major label) release was about more than just the music. The tale of his getting shot nine times was legendary and, I believe, a major reason why his once-floundering career was about to explode. Before the shooting, he was viewed as just another NYC rapper, of which there were too many to count. Yes, he had a humorous side and was already embroiled in beef, but he was a bit chubby and he employed a flow that was too fast for casual listeners so, even with the success of “How To Rob,” he couldn't get his album released.
After the shooting, that all changed. He had lost weight while in hospital so now he had a physique that lent itself to him wearing wife-beaters or going shirtless. Also, a bullet through the tooth forced him to rhyme slower and gave him a bit of a drawl that widened his appeal.
Ironically, getting shot actually somehow improved his street credibility. Up until that time, every rapper was the one doing the shooting and never getting hit. (2Pac is an exception but he's an exception to every rule.) While 50 also continued the trend, the fact that he got shot gave him a sense of authenticity and vulnerability that made him seem more genuine to the public. Not even comments from well-respected emcees like Jadakiss (“Since when has it become cool to get shot and not shoot back?”) could diminish the way the music-buying public (girls/young women and kids in the suburbs) viewed 50 Cent.
The other mixtapes along with 50 Cent Is The Future that were released before his debut album – No Mercy No Fear, God's Plan – and the compilation disc Guess Who's Back also provided the platform for 50 (and G-Unit) to make their feelings about Ja Rule and Murder Inc. very well know. At the time, Ja Rule was a staple on radio with his catchy songs that employed bouncy beats and repeatable choruses, and 50 brilliantly used Ja’s popularity against him.
Leading up to his debut, 50 constantly derided Ja in interviews, claiming he looked like a rat and only sang in his songs and while 50 has certainly been guilty of the same thing, it didn’t matter. From 2001 – 2003, 50 Cent could do no wrong and Ja Rule became soft and corny overnight. Just like that, Ja’s career was ostensibly over. Although he would try to mount a comeback (I actually enjoyed Blood In My Eye but I think I was the only one), it was over.
From there, 50’s power (and ego) only increased. He kicked The Game out of G-Unit, prevented Styles P’s album Time Is Money from being released, beefed with Jadakiss, Fat Joe, Cam’Ron and virtually every other New York rapper, released an album in which he appeared to be a comic book superhero, challenged Kanye West to a sales duel and, if he lost (he did), promised to retire (he didn’t), and became one of the most popular artists of the decade. Even when his music wasn’t top notch, his interviews were.
In the process, he not only made a great deal of money, he also branded himself and became more than a musical artist. He became a mogul. He is co-founder/co-owner of G-Unit Records, he has released his own video games, headphones, and books, he’s co-starred in a film with Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, he is a spokesman for Reebok, he made millions from the sale of Vitamin Water to Coca-Cola and his latest venture, Street King, is aimed at ending world hunger. By the way, Forbes estimates his net worth at around $100 million.
Considering how far 50 Cent has come since releasing that first mixtape, it makes complete sense that he would want to mark the occassion. His new album is expected to hit stores in early 2012, so brace yourself for an onslaught of Curtis Jackson in the coming months. The man knows how to push a product. Everyone wants to be Jay-Z, but every one of us can learn about marketing and self-promotion from 50.
It’s going to be fun to see what he has in store for the next ten years.
Pierzy writes a weekly NBA column during the season, as well as columns revolving around other sports, hip-hop, movies, TV shows, food, beer, marriage, and so many other topics. You can follow him on Twitter here.