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Future Stars: 50 Cent

By: Sacha JenkinsEven bullets can’t keep Eminem’s favorite new rapper down

Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson is the kind of ex-hustler who plays to beat the odds. He’s bold enough to show you his cards,then tell you he’s still going to win large. And he’ll stress that he’s got no time for small-time stakes. “That shit is bullshit,” the 25-year-old South Jamaica, Queens, native says of his former gig as a curbside pharmacist. “Even when you’re peaking in the streets, you might have a big-ass Benz out front, but you paying a car note, living with your moms.”

“Wanksta,” the hypnotic underground single 50 Cent released last year, can still be heard blasting out of every self-respecting pimp-mobile on the East Coast. In New York City proper, 50’s upcoming debut album, Get Rich or Die Trying, is the most anticipated thing outside of the second coming. Unsurprisingly, the gifted MC is now rolling with hip-hop’s dynamic duo, Eminem and Dr. Dre. In 2002, Em told anyone who would listen that 50 was his favorite rapper. Em’s people then hit 50 with a seven-figure Shady/Aftermath recording contract, and “Wanksta” ended up on the smash 8 Mile soundtrack. “50 is exciting because he’s the first edgy street thing to come up in a long time,” says Paul Rosenberg, Goliath Artists honcho and Eminem’s manager. “He’s got a lot to say–from being clever to dangerous. Plus, his flow is so effortless, yet so creative. It’s simple, but it’s not.”

Em and 50 cliquing up is the tightest of fits. Both rappers bring the drama–to their babymamas, random pop stars, and (in 50’s case) any rapper worth his weight in platinum. In ’99, 50 lived out his jack-a-rapper fantasies in the playful “How to Rob”; Jay-Z slapped back with venomous verbals. “Em is like the white 50 Cent,” 50 says. “He uses his life experiences to write his music–and me too. But my life has been a little more violent.”

That’s quite an understatement. In 2000, the rapper, who was then signed to Columbia Records, was shot nine times at point-blank range (including one 9mm bullet to the face). “The worst part wasn’t getting shot,” he says. “The worst part was not knowing what you’re gonna do after you’re shot.” (Columbia dropped him soon after his wounds healed.) “I’m sure a lot of people counted me out, but bouncing back is defining who I am.”

Bouncing back from adversity is something Curtis Jackson has been doing his entire life. His mom–a member of a Queens drug posse–was murdered when he was eight years old. Then there was the time in 2000 when he was attacked by a mysterious crew inside the Hit Factory studios in Manhattan. (Hip-hop insiders pointed to 50’s ongoing feud with Ja Rule and the Murder Inc. label.) And, most recently, Jackson’sfriend and mentor Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell was murdered in Queens. “Nobody’s exempt in the ‘hood,” he says. “This much is clear now.”

So Operation Bounce Back continues. Today, 50 is in the Manhattan offices of Interscope Records, looking to tie up loose ends for hisrecord. He’s making sure things go right this time. “I think Columbia was afraid [to work with me],” he says bluntly, “because there’s no Plan B. They’re thinking, ‘If we fuck up [50’s] project, how do we explain to him that we fucked up?'” Which is a valid question. How do you tell someone like 50 Cent that his album is a flop? “You don’t explain it to me,” he says, sounding like Bill Gates onstage at some gung-ho computer expo. “You fix it.”

He means “let’s work together to fix this” rather than “fix this, or I’ll fix your face.” For a dude who’s had his life on the line so many times, 50 is the most straightforward, rational individual you’ll ever meet. The way he raps is a reflection of his personality–cool, calm, calculated, yet freestyle all the same. “I think consistency is the key to all success,” he says, his expression growing very serious. “This is what I want to do with my life. This is it.”

Three More Rappers to Watch

Who: The Philadelphia hotshot hooked up with fellow Illadelphian Beanie Sigel and signed to Roc-A-Fella Records. He rocked the world withthe singles “Roc the Mic” (off 2002’s State Property soundtrack) and “Line ‘Em Up.”
Sounds like: The long-lost cousin of Cypress Hill’s B-Real. Pitches crack cocaine and the Koran with equal intensity.
Upcoming: His solo debut, Philadelphia Freeway, is out now.

Kanye West
Who: The Chicago-born producer behind Jay-Z’s tastiest fruit. After serving as half of Roc the World–Roc-A-Fella’s in-house production team–Kanye is finally letting his raps speak for him.
Sounds like: Common (Sense) resurrecting his original B-boy essence on Jay-Z’s The Blueprint.
Upcoming: His debut is set for 2003 and promises cameos by Scarface, Ludacris, and Jay-Z.

Jin Tha Mic
Who: The most successful Asian rapper since 2 Live Crew’s Chris Wong Won. After winning seven consecutive Freestyle Friday battles on BET’s 106 & Park, he slugged himself a deal with the Ruff Ryders.
Sounds like: (Mad) Skillz in a freestyle battle against the L.O.X. His alliance with the double R assures he’ll be coming double hard.
Upcoming: His debut is slated for spring.