After his mother’s
death, an eight-year-old Jackson moved to his grandmother’s house on 161st
Street in South Jamaica, where he fell under the hustlers’ spell.
up to them because they had everything that we was looking for,” Jackson
told New York magazine “When you grow up without finances it starts to
feel like finances are the answers to all of your problems. And when you’re
like twelve years old and you’re having a hard time in school and they’re
telling you, ‘You can do well in school for eight more years and have
the things you want,’ a kid’s curiosity leads him to the ’hood.
And he finds someone who got it and didn’t go to school. They persuade
you, they tell you, ‘No, you can get paid like this.’ You go off
into a whole other zone, it’s, ‘This is how I gotta do.’ And
even if you’re only generating enough finances to purchase a vehicle,
you’re still taking care of yourself better than your people can. . .
. So I had to tell my grandmother I was in an after-school program; it gave
me a few hours to be doing whatever I had to do.”
In stark contrast
to the days of the Supreme Team’s reign, when drugs were sold on the busy,
densely populated blocks of Guy R. Brewer, Jackson hustled alone on the boulevard’s
more desolate stretches. If the multi-tiered Supreme Team was structured like
a Fortune 500 company, Jackson’s two-person crack cocaine and heroin dealing
operation resembled a corner store.
Jackson and his
sixteen-year-old partner Taiesha Douse had a simple hustle down pat—customers
would approach Jackson for drugs and he would flash his fingers at Douse indicating
the number of “nicks” (five dollar vials of crack) the customer
requested, and then Douse would bring the drugs over.
Just after 11 PM
on June 29, 1994, Jackson and Douse were working their usual hustle near 134-25
Guy R. Brewer, and just as they had done so many times before they repeated
their workmanlike scheme. This time, however, Jackson and Douse’s customer
was a Queens Narcotics officer named Kathleen Kragel. The pair were cuffed,
brought to One Police Plaza in downtown Manhattan, and booked on charges of
criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree.
problems with law enforcement were just beginning: A few weeks later, a search
warrant was issued for Jackson’s home at 145-40 Rockaway Boulevard and
cops seized seven bags of crack, an envelope containing heroin, an air gun,
and $695 in cash.
It was a small
bust that brought modest time—seven months in a shock incarceration boot
camp—and Jackson admits that he was most upset about disappointing his
grandma, especially as he had been caught with nicks at high school just prior
to the bust.
got caught I had to tell my grandma,” Jackson told Playboy. “She
asked me if the charges were true and I don’t lie to my grandma. As crazy
as it sounds, I felt like I got caught because I was hiding it from her. I told
her I did it and I told her I was going to keep doing it. . . . She said, ‘Don’t
call here when you get in trouble.’ ”
arrest on charges of criminal sale of a controlled substance had chastened him;
it was time, he realized, to find a more legitimate hustle. So Jackson began
writing rhymes and rapping as “50 Cent,” a name he borrowed from
a stick-up kid named Kelvin Martin who was raised in the Fort Greene section
of Brooklyn during the eighties.
Taking the name
of a Brooklyn hustler may have seemed an odd choice for an aspiring rapper from
southeast Queens, but Jackson felt a kinship with his namesake that went beyond
the boundaries of the five boroughs. Martin robbed Brooklyn businesses with
a sense of fearlessness that bordered on the psychotic; it wasn’t unusual
for him to hit several liquor stores in one day, often on the same block.
Martin was a street
legend, but his hustles were often comically unsophisticated; friends would
watch, dumbstruck, as he would put on a Halloween mask just before robbing a
mark. Unlike the street CEOs of southeast Queens Martin was eminently approachable,
too, and he was well-liked in his neighborhood even by the rappers he robbed.
“If I was
going to take a gangster’s name,” Jackson wrote in his autobiography
From Pieces to Weight: Once Upon a Time in Southside, Queens, “then I
wanted it at least to be that of someone who would say ‘what’s up’
to me on the street if we ever crossed paths.” Jackson’s move stood
in sharp contrast to his hip-hop peers who had assumed the names of drug cartel
and Mafia bigwigs. “I couldn’t see Gotti or Escobar giving me the
time of day.”
to apply Martin’s antiestablishment attitude to hip-hop’s iced-out
icons like Puffy, who were growing smug and increasingly removed from the streets.
“50 the street
guy didn’t care about anything and 50 the rapper wanted to be the same
way,” explains Jimmy “Henchmen” Rosemond, who served time
in a juvenile facility with Martin.
50 also looked
to Brooklyn for his rhyming style, imitating the boastfulness and fast-paced
flow of Jay-Z. He soon found this more derivative than inspired, and he sought
out a mentor at home in southeast Queens to help him refine his art.
In a stroke of
good fortune, he ran into Jam Master Jay on the streets of Hollis. “He
said he was developing his label and looking for new artists and I was like,
‘Yo, I’m a new artist,’ ” 50 remembers. “I was
hustling my way into it with conversation. I didn’t have anything to show.
But then he gave me a beat tape and I wrote some rhymes to it. He loved the
rhymes but some of them weren’t right. One was too long, one was too short.
And I was stopping when I felt like the statement should stop. He taught me
how to count bars, the song structure; all that comes from Jam Master Jay.”
Jay also cautioned
50 to resist the lure of the drug game, which 50 had yet to leave behind. “Jay
was like, ‘Stay focused,’ ” 50 remembers. “ ‘Focus
on your music if this is what you want to do.’ ”