From the Archives: 50 Cent, “Still I Rise” [Originally Published on September, 2001]

50 Cent_XXL_Still Rise

For the second installment of XXL‘s Get Rich of Die Tryin week, celebrating the 10-year anniversary of 50 Cent’s monumental debut, we look back at an extensive narrative penned by writer Kris Ex on 50′s imminent return to the rap game, right before his blockbuster debut which was cosigned by Eminem and Dr. Dre. Check out 50′s story before the Vitamin Water and headphone deal.

Words: Kris Ex

He’s hustled, been shot, stabbed, crippled and hated on by various rappers. Got dropped from his label, then disappeared from the game without a trace. Sorry shook ones. 50 Cent is back to break his silence and keep it gangsta.

His pendant—a platinum cross, embedded with hefty diamonds–clinks against his bulletproof vest every time he moves, which he does often. He’s an expert raconteur: his sizable, sculpted arms—adorned with elaborate curlicued tattoos—wave in the air. He breaks his sentences into punchlines, adding a smile, a “ya feel me?” or a grimace to bring his point home. “I ain’t never bit my tongue,” he says. Pause. “Once, by accident.” Smile. The rubber-gripped semi-automatic handgun never leaves his waist. Well, only once, to show the bullet wounds on his legs.

His stories spill like liquid. He’ll trace a line from the ramifications of his infamous single (more on that later), to rappers using the “tools of engrossment” (“In they music, everyone expands things.”), to Jadakiss (“He’s a hot nigga”), to touring with Nas (“The only nigga that did something for me without expecting something in return”), to regional differences in niggas’ gangsta, to “A lot of situations…”

He trails off, comes back. “I got so much to talk about that I don’t even know where to start.”

Curtis Jackson was born July 6, 1976. He never knew his father. His mom passed away when he was eight. He was raised by his grandparents, who grew up in a time when a $100 pair of sneakers made sense like Al Sharpton running for President. By age 12 he was selling drugs. “I was on the boulevard selling quarter-grams,” he says referring to the $25 pieces of cocaine. His supplier gave him five pieces. He would pay for four, the profit from the last one was his payment. Coke was as popular as weed. “I was serving it to any and everybody,” he says. He sold to his aunts and uncles, who didn’t know he was a dealer. “Seem like I’m going to the store to get a friend of mine, but I already had it.” He bought those sneakers, kept them at his friend’s house. The friend kept his sneakers at Curtis’ crib. They had different shoe sizes, so all their guardians would say is, “Damn, why don’t you tell him to take his sneakers home?”

He got schooled by older dudes. The game was good and bad to him: He got new cars like niggas got new kicks; he went into police custody like niggas go to the corner store.

“He was always the nigga having beef on the block,” says a neighborhood friend. “When he was coming, niggas was like, ‘This nigga gonna get niggas robbed, take niggas work, ‘cause he want the whole block.’ He always wanted the whole block for himself.” He robbed the competition relentlessly. One guy came at him with a gun. “Yo, my daughter gotta eat,” the guy said.

I’m not trying to take food from your daughter’s mouth,” Curtis replied. “I’m just trying to get you to do it the right way.” The guy ended up getting work from Curtis. “I gave it to him on consignment,” he recalls. “I’m not stopping a nigga from totally doing what he would do. If you do that, then niggas is gonna kill you, bottom line.”