The Individual Freedom of 50 Cent

50 Cent’s life story as narrated by Robert Green in a speech to Yale students breaks down the key to 50 Cent’s success to 50’s early realization that he was an individual, alone in the world, responsible for every one of his decisions, and that he had to succeed without help from others. Is such a solo effort to succeed in the cards for everyone? No. But without the freedom to succeed no great and difficult success or new thing would ever happen.

A few years ago, I was contacted by 50, Curtis Jackson, out of the blue. He was a big fan of “The 48 Laws of Power.” I had known that there was something going on in the hip-hop world. Jay-Z had been quoting the book and Nas had quoted one of the songs and lyrics. So, something was happening. But 50 wanted to meet me. I had no idea, but I was excited by that. So we met. We kind of hit it off in a very weird way.

You can’t imagine two people from two more different backgrounds in the world than he and I. But there was something about us that really clicked. We decided based on this to do a book together. I decided after meeting him and spending some time with him that this guy is really different. Now I live in Los Angeles. I’m not somebody who is generally star struck. I am not really interested in celebrities. They bore me. They don’t interest me. So it wasn’t a celebrity thing. There was something about him that was really interesting. He is really different. He had a kind of calmness. He had charisma, power. He had power.

So I wanted to figure out what made him different. Why is he like this? Maybe we could learn something from him and I would express that in the book. We would spend a long time talking about his life. And in talking about his life, I began to see a pattern.

I don’t know how familiar you are with this. But at the age of about nine years old, he started hustling on the streets in south side Queens, dealing drugs. He did that because he realized that school was a complete dead end for somebody from his background. That only suckers went into school. The schools were really bad. They led to really bad jobs. The only people he could see in the hood that had power were the hustlers. So he was going to become a great hustler. Nine years old is kind of early to start hustling, but that’s what he did.

So he was sitting there hustling on the streets. Soon he discovered that hustling wasn’t what he thought it was. It was actually quite boring. Day after day at 6:00 in the morning, you had to stand on the street corner. Nothing would happen. You just had to think about whatever. You had no books, nothing to read. No music. Nothing to listen to. Just waiting for people to buy your drugs. It was so boring, and it wasn’t glamorous at all. And on top of that, it was a trap. Hustlers don’t get out of their life. Most of them die, very few of them live past the age of 25, or they are in prison for most of their lives. To think that you are going to succeed in hustling is an illusion. There is a limit to it.

So, I am going to get out. And about at the age of 15, which is also a bit precocious, he decided he was going to get out of hustling and he was going to become the only other thing he could think you could become, which was a rapper.

So now he started learning how to rap, and he met Jam Master Jay and he apprenticed with him. He started getting reasonably successful. He had record labels interested in him. Then he realized that this was yet another kind of trap. The trap was that the record label owned you and they would develop artists very quickly and then get rid of them as soon as they were not so hot anymore. So you usually have a couple of years of power and success, and then it all faded and you were miserable and then you went back to drugs or dealing or whatever.

It was almost worse than being a hustler, being a rapper. To have power in that world was extremely difficult. And he got fed up with it. He decided to leave it. He decided he was going to go back into hustling. He went back into hustling. This is when he was about 18, maybe 19, I don’t remember exactly.

That is when he got shot. I’m sure you all know the story. From a beef that was going on, an old beef, somebody came up to him while he was sitting in the backseat of a car and shot nine times a few feet away from him. One of the bullets went right through his mouth.

He miraculously survived that. It was coming out of that experience that he had his own turning point in life. He determined after that that he was not going to give up. He was not going to get depressed. He was not going to go back into hustling. He was going to launch his music career, but he was going to do it all on his own, all by himself.

He was going to launch a mixed tape campaign on the streets of New York like no one had ever seen before. Because he didn’t have a record label, he was going to be able to be as nasty and violent and tell all kinds of stories, the reality of the streets, because there was nobody there who was going to censor him and say, “‘We can’t get that on the radio. We don’t want you to say this or that.”

“Fuck all that. I’m going to say exactly what I want. And I’m going to put it out on these mixed tapes. I am going to create a hard sound that is going to kind of reflect the violence that I have known my whole life, and I am going to do everything myself. I am going to package it. I am going to do my own artwork. I am going to mix it myself. I am going to have a group of people around me, but I am not going to depend on any record labels.”

He did that with such energy and such drive and such love for it that after two years of this campaign, Eminem got one of his mixed tapes and thought this was the greatest thing he had ever heard. He signed 50 to his record label at Interscope. And then the rest is history.

When I was looking at this, the pattern that I saw was that this was somebody that refused to be dependent on other people. He refused to go for the usual traps in life, in this case, hustling on the streets or being a rapper with a good label. He was supremely realistic. He saw through all the bullshit that the world put at you, and he saw this is where the power lies in life. I am going to go towards it. I was thinking, why would somebody like this be so realistic, so pragmatic and so sharp in his thinking, when a lot of his peers were not like that? A lot of his peers got totally seduced by the idea of becoming a great hustler.

I determined it is because of his very unusual background. 50 never knew his father. To this day he doesn’t know who his father was. His mother was killed, murdered when he was eight years old. He lived with his grandparents, but basically he was alone. He had no peers. He had no adult supervision. He was basically thrown out onto the streets of Queens with nobody. Nothing. No protection. No parental support. But on the other hand, which we would almost assume is a very negative thing, on the other hand he had nobody telling him who he should be, what he should do, what defines him.

He had to do everything himself. He had to decide who he was, who he wanted to be, without the usual crutches that most of us have. And I decided, I determined that in fact, this reality of his, this, what I call his existential reality, that he was basically alone in the world and had to do things for himself and define who he wanted to be, that is actually the reality of each and every one of us. But we are not aware of it.

We have the illusion that parents, that friends, that all of our support network is going to help us out in the end, that we can define ourselves through other people, by conforming to a group, by being like other people, by doing what other people tell us to do. But that is actually the illusion. That is actually the con game that goes on. The truth is, you are essentially alone in life. You were born alone and you are going to die alone. And although you have these networks of support and they are real and you do have parents, on the other hand, it is really up to you to define who you are and what you want in life.

What 50 had, and what most really powerful people have in life is a sense that they are unique, that there is something very different about them. And to the extent that you bring out your uniqueness in life, that you become more of an individual, that you bring more of your individuality into play, the more power you are going to have.