But Jam Master Jay’s touring schedule didn’t allow him to concentrate on 50, so the hungry MC decided to go elsewhere. In a local barbershop he met Cory Rooney, Senior VP at Columbia Records and member of the Trackmasters production troupe (whose label was then a subsidiary of Columbia). He played his tune “A Hit” for Cory in the car. But Cory wasn’t paying attention. He was on the phone. Former Fat Boy Prince Markie Dee was also in the car, but he was talking to someone out the window. When the song finished, Cory asked Markie, “What do you think?” Markie was non-chalant: “It’s alright.” 50 was mad pissed. “Man, gimme my tape, you niggas is mad old school,” he remembers saying. “And it fucked they head up that I would say that. They both was kinda offended.”
A week later, Cory, who had gotten 50’s number through a contact at the barbershop, called 50 at 2 a.m. He was going upstate to work with the Trackmasters and wanted 50 to come. 50 thought it was a setup: Did he rob one of Cory’s people? “I was like, ‘Nah, we could go tomorrow,’” says 50.
He went the next day. It was his big break and he was focused. “You can’t figure you gonna get rich by accident ‘cause too many niggas is trying,” 50 says. “That’s like thinking you gonna hit the Lotto and you ain’t buying no ticket.” Eighteen days later he had recorded 36 songs. “I didn’t care about being on Trackmasters or Columbia Records,” he said. “I figured coming back home with 36 Trackmasters [records] would get me a record deal. Fuck if it’s by them or who it’s by. It was a hustle to me.”
Trackmasters wanted him. But he was still signed to JMJ. “When I got on Columbia I had to give Jam Master Jay $50,000,” he says. “It was a business situation. I learned how to make the records, so I don’t regret it now, but $50,000 was a lot of money back then for a nigga fresh out the hood. I’m thinking it’s cheaper to kill him. I give a nigga 10 cent, blow his fuckin’ head off. But I said, ‘Let me do what I’m supposed to do.’ If I ain’t take in the things he showed me then, it wouldn’t be possible for me to make a dollar right now. So I regret even having those thoughts run across my mind.”
Eight months later, Curtis took 30 minutes to craft “How To Rob,” a song that name-checked over 40 rap and R&B celebrities, and threatened to relieve them of their jewels and cash. “At that point, I’m the only nigga that could have did ‘How To Rob,’ ‘cause I didn’t have relationships with niggas where I had to get on the phone and explain myself. It was like, Yo, it is what it is, and if you got a problem with it, let’s do whatever you wanna do. I’m not calling niggas to say, ‘Yo son, I put your name on a record.’ You call one nigga, now you gotta call everybody.
50 had cross-marketing plans that included a Celebrity Deathmatch video. It was a joke that went beyond keeping it real. It told the truth: Niggas is hungry, they will try to jack you. People got upset. Many people.