|Artist: 50 Cent|
Though he would later struggle with the nature of his fame as well as market expectations, 50 Cent endured substantial obstacles throughout his young yet remarkably dramatic life before becoming the most discussed figure in rap, if not pop music in general, circa 2003. Following an unsuccessful late-'90s run at mainstream success (foiled by an attempt on his life in 2000) and a successful run on the New York mixtape circuit (driven by his early-2000s bout with Ja Rule), Eminem signed 50 Cent to a seven-figure contract in 2002 and helmed his quick rise toward crossover success in 2003. The product of a broken home in the rough Jamaica neighborhood of Queens and, in turn, the storied hood's hustling streets themselves, 50 Cent lived everything most rappers write rhymes about but not all actually experience: drugs, crimes, imprisonments, stabbings, and most infamously of all, shootings. Of course, such experiences became 50 Cent's rhetorical stock-in-trade. He reveled in his oft-told past, he called out wannabe gangstas, and he made headlines. He even looked like the ideal East Coast hardcore rapper: big-framed with oft-showcased biceps, abs, and tattoos as well as his trademark bulletproof vest, pistol, and iced crucifix. But all-importantly, 50 Cent may have fit the mold of a prototypical hardcore rapper, but he could also craft a catchy hook. As a result, his music crossed over to the pop market, appealing to both those who liked his roughneck posturing and rags-to-riches story as well as those who liked his knack for churning out naughty singalong club tracks. And too, 50 Cent didn't forget about his posse. He helped his G-Unit crew grow into a successful franchise, spawning platinum-selling solo albums for his group members, lucrative licensing deals for the brand name, and sell-out arena tours to promote the franchise internationally. By the time of his third album (Curtis, 2007), however, 50 Cent faced a formidable backlash, particularly among hip-hop purists, who were displeased by his turn toward crossover pop-rap and thus away from street-level credibility.
By this point in time, 50 Cent's fame overshadowed his music, thereby predicating "street" credibility issues that would haunt him in the years to follow. For instance, the marketing rollout of The Massacre carried over into ventures such as the video game 50 Cent: Bulletproof, the semi-autobiographical film Get Rich or Die Tryin', and the soundtrack to that film -- all released in 2005, along with other product. The fallout from 50 Cent's overexposure was evident via the singles from the film soundtrack ("Hustler's Ambition," "Window Shopper," "Best Friend," "Have a Party"), which failed to gain much traction in the marketplace, charting modestly relative to past singles. The next round of G-Unit solo releases (Tony Yayo's Thoughts of a Predicate Felon, 2005; Mobb Deep's Blood Money, 2005; Lloyd Banks' Rotten Apple, 2006; Young Buck's Buck the World, 2007) didn't perform commercially well, either, and it's wasn't entirely surprising when plans for another, Olivia's Behind Closed Doors, were shelved. The grim outlook didn't bode well for 50 Cent's next album, which was pushed back repeatedly and retitled a couple times. The final title, Curtis, was inspired by yet another feud, this one with Cam'ron, who taunted 50 Cent, somewhat oddly, by addressing him by his born name. After a pair of lead singles, "Straight to the Bank" and "Amusement Park," failed to connect in the marketplace, Curtis was reworked one last time and pushed back from a summer release date to a fall one (i.e., the memorable date September 11, which -- to the glee of industry observers -- pitted the album against Kanye West's Graduation). A second round of singles, "I Get Money" and "Ayo Technology," was released in the latter half of the summer, while the video for a fifth single, "Follow My Lead," was leaked to the Internet -- to the frustration of 50 Cent, who reportedly cursed out Interscope for endangering the commercial prospects of his album -- over a month before street date.