Jay Z and 50 Cent are leaders in Hip Hop who have transcended the genre’s underground roots to dominate on mainstream levels and a global scale. The two MCs have sold millions of records and used their platforms to succeed in business outside of the music industry. From afar, Hov and 50 seem to have a healthy competitive relationship that deserves to exploration. Let’s dig into whose career has had the most significant influence on the culture and whose living legacy reigns supreme worldwide.
A Backstory’s Backstory
Shawn “Jay Z” Carter and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson had rags-to-riches come-ups befitting the classic Black American dream. Both native New Yorkers and raised in poverty, they were forced to become street hustlers—first to survive and later to transition into their rap careers. Brooklyn’s own Jay Z rapped about his rough upbringing and the tragedies that came with it while becoming a successful drug dealer who drank champagne on boats, wore high-priced suits, and drove expensive foreign cars.
Although Hov’s story has always been edgy, the Southside Queens son, 50 Cent, has a background that attracts the most attention. Curtis Jackson rhymed from the perspective of a blue-collar corner boy who kept a couple of rocks between his toes. Jackson was shot nine times in front of his grandma’s house—a wild story that became an actual film. His near-death experience made him an underdog to root for and inspired many who admired his perseverance. While Jay Z once rapped, “Ya’ll respect the one who got shot, I respect the shooter,” it doesn’t change the fact that America loves a good survivor story.
Two MCs and a Mic
50 Cent’s 2003 debut album Get Rich or Die Tryin has sold nine million-plus records and counting, making it one of the biggest selling Hip Hop albums ever. The album’s “get it by any means” theme resonated during a time of recession for the country and when street Hip Hop fans were desperately seeking a new champion. Get Rich… introduced 50 Cent as a mega pop star; he went on to create music that made him a household name. However, as an entire catalog, Jay’s impact destroys 50’s. Hov has two undeniable classics: his first release Reasonable Doubt (1996) and 2001’s the Blueprint, and two others worth arguing for, American Gangster (2007) and possibly 4:44 (2017).
For 50, his The Massacre was an underrated masterpiece, its only flaw being that the album had to follow Get Rich or Die Tryin. Meanwhile Jay Z made the whole world pause to decipher his four-minute verse on a DJ Khaled song. Jay Z may not have ever had a colossal commercial album like 50, but credibility in Hip Hop never depended solely on sales. If it did, then that would mean MC Hammer was the GOAT during the late 80s/early 90s—over LL Cool J, Rakim, and whatever other golden-age rap legend one could mention.
Beyond the Music
Jay Z and 50 Cent’s ventures outside music have matched, if not at times overshadowed, their rap careers. Hov told everyone he was “a business, man,” and he meant it. In his Roc-A-Fella days with former business partner Dame Dash, Jay was part-owner of Rocawear apparel, which he later sold for dumb millions. He also became President of Def Jam records from 2005-2008, where he ushered in the careers of Rihanna and Ne-Yo while being part-owner of the Brooklyn Nets from 2003-2013.
Jay Z is also no stranger to Hollywood, becoming an executive producer for films such as TIME: The Kalief Browder Story and The Harder They Fall. He expanded his reach by starting the sports management company Roc Nation Sports. Hov introduced us to the world of TIDAL music and, years later, reportedly sold 80% of the streaming platform for $300-plus million. He continued to make the front, back, and side business deals that elevated him to billionaire status while still finding time to lunch with the Obamas and plan the next Superbowl Halftime performance.
But if competition is a neighborhood block, then 50 Cent, dressed in a robe and slippers, is waving at Jay Z from across the street every morning. Although both MCs shared a Reebok deal, 50 took it a step further by partnering with the company to distribute G-Unit shoes. He later made a genius move by turning down an endorsement check from Glaceau Vitamin water and instead purchasing a minority share. Hence, when the company was sold to Coca-Cola, 50 allegedly was paid $100 million.
Then, 50 teamed up with author Robert Greene to write The 50th Law, which was a New York Times bestseller. The rapper-turned-author-turned-actor has also co-starred in multiple films with legends like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, and let’s not forget how he kicked down the Hollywood door and conquered as an executive producer. His TV shows (Power, the BMF series, and documentary) all breathed life into the STARZ network.
Those who impact the culture influence the world. Although 50 Cent and Jay Z are both Hip Hop legends who have achieved high levels of musical success, it’s 50 Cent’s ventures outside music that edge out Hov. Jay Z and 50 Cent’s business dealings are nothing short of inspirational, but 50 moves the cultural needle—building a loyal Power Universe fanbase who enjoy collectively screaming about how much they hate Tariq St. Patrick.
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