Born Curtis James Jackson III in Queens, NY, superstar hardcore rapper 50 Cent -- more than any of his contemporaries -- lived out the mythology of the "urban gangsta," to such a degree that he's quite fortunate to be alive, let alone a pop-culture superstar. The product of a broken home, 50 Cent survived stabbings, shootings, crack dealing, multiple incarcerations, and many other calamities and near-misses, and then drew lyrically from his own violent personal history, using this authentic material (with the help of Run-D.M.C.'s Jam Master Jay and Eminem) to establish himself as one of the most important rap acts of the early 21st century. 50 Cent's albums Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2003) and The Massacre (2005) thrived on the songster's outstanding hooks, clever lyrics, and superlative production values; consequently, each album sold several million copies and turned the rapper into an American icon. The musician's look also turned heads: tall, rippled, and tattooed, frequently sporting a bulletproof vest and a large pistol, he became the newest spokesperson for the "gangsta" subculture.
The leap from rap superstardom to movie stardom can be a short one, as Ice-T and Ice Cube demonstrated. Although 50 Cent launched his cinematic career as an onscreen subject -- in the 2003 documentaries 50 Cent: The New Breed and 50 Cent: Unauthorized -- Shoot First -- he soon branched out into more challenging material. In 2005, 50 Cent headlined a gritty big-screen biopic of his own life, Get Rich or Die Tryin', directed by My Left Foot helmer Jim Sheridan. In that movie, the rapper hearkened back to his given name, with billing as Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson. In 2008, he went on to co-star in the cop thriller Righteous Kill, directed by Jon Avnet, with legendary actors Robert De Niro and Al Pacino as a pair of Manhattan cops on the trail of a serial murderer.