How to Learn, and Earn, like Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson

6 simple lessons, for a complex world, that will change your life

You may know Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson for selling 30 million records, for his hit TV show Power, or his lollapalooza business successes (including owning Vitamin Water, which sold to Coca-Cola for $4.2 billion). 

What you may not know is Curtis Jackson writes books. At this point in my life, I’ve read hundreds of books; hell, I’ve even professionally reviewed them. Curtis Jackson is one of my favourite authors. Despite working with different co-writers (I’ve got a book he co-wrote with Kris Ex, and another with Robert Greene), Curtis consistently provides interesting stories, and his voice is an energetic mix of hope and practicality.

Even though Curtis’s Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter was branded as a self-help book (a genre I generally steer clear of), I read it and got a lot out of it. Here are six insights on how to learn and earn like Curtis Jackson:

How to Learn like Curtis Jackson

“Money is the goal, but oftentimes in order to get it, you have to retrain your brain to value experience. Especially if you weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth,” writes Curtis. He continues to soak up new ideas all the time, turning seemingly hopeless experiences into opportunities in the process. Here are a few ways Curtis learns:

Turn an obstacle into an internship: Before he famously signed with Eminem and Interscope Records, he was signed to Columbia, and they were stalling his album release. He assessed his situation, and noticed, “The way I saw it, Columbia might have been stalling, but I was still signed to them. I still had access to their office. I was going to make the most of that access.” Curtis took the subway every day, from South Jamaica to the Sony Building in Midtown Manhattan. When he got there, he would visit every team — street radio promotion, publicity, and graphic design — to watch them work on other people’s albums, and ask questions about their thought processes. The executives had no problem with it; they simply hoped he wouldn’t ask them about his album.

Understand the cause and effect: As he spent time with Columbia, he came to the insight: “… the labels could build on momentum, but they were limited when it came to creating it.” In order to get Columbia to put resources behind his album, he’d need to create his own energy and buzz. He applied this insight to make, “How to Rob.” The tactic worked, and 50 built buzz. (Unfortunately, after he was shot nine times, Columbia saw him as too great a risk and dropped him.)

Apply your insights to difficult circumstances, and exploit it: In The 50th Law, which Curtis Jackson co-wrote with Robert Greene, they described how labels lavished artists with money and perks, but created a feeling of dependence similar to highly paid employees. Labels usually decided how to position the artists, and directed key decisions on creative and publicity. They enticed artists into relying on the labels’ processes, making artists feel “helpless in the face of a viciously competitive business.” In this arrangement, most artists essentially exchanged their freedom for the label’s money. After his experiences with Columbia, after his successful debut at his second label, Interscope, Curtis wouldn’t let this happen. He put up his own money to shoot his own music videos, saving the label time and resources, but also regaining control over his creative and image. He also started his own G-Unit Records imprint with Interscope, using it to teach himself every aspect of music production and to run things on his own. Curtis manoeuvred his way into retaining control and freedom, while making the most of his label’s support. Even though the working arrangement wouldn’t last forever, Curtis could walk away with his own insights, processes, and team to continue moving forward as a successful independent artist.

It’s important to note that even after Curtis became a successful artist, he still seized every opportunity — no matter how difficult — to learn. As Curtis writes later in the book, “Your time is never wasted when you’re gathering information. This is why I’ll always prioritize information over a check.” 

How to Earn like Curtis Jackson

The saying goes, “You don’t get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate.” Negotiating is an art that directly affects how much you earn. Having seen his fair share of deals, Curtis shares a few principles on deal-making in Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter:

Negotiations are not a reflection of yourself: Curtis writes, “I don’t care if you’re dealing with a longtime business partner, a friend, or a family member: the other person is never going to start at a number you think is fair. It’s just not how the process works.” Whenever you, or the other party, take a negotiation or deal personally, then the negotiation starts taking its toll on the relationship. Make sure you don’t let that happen. If you sense the other person’s guard come up, back off, reassure them, and offer to meet them in the middle.

Keep the equity in your relationships: When Curtis’s former collaborator Sha Money XL sent him an unexpected, and overinflated, bill for $50,000, Curtis countered with an offer for $30,000, and 1% of the profit on Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Sha didn’t budge from the original deal (despite even his own lawyer’s protests), and Curtis gave Sha his original request for $50,000. Unfortunately, the 1% of the album’s profits would’ve made Sha $1 million. Worse yet, it cost Sha his working relationship with Curtis. Curtis writes, “Our relationship was never the same. In just a few months I’d gone from seeing Sha as a partner I was prepared to share millions with to just another contractor.”

Start a deal to build leverage: Deals don’t just pop up magically; they require a body of work, relationships, case studies, and other forms of leverage. When Curtis took a deal with Starz that was way under his market value, he did it because he knew he didn’t have much leverage yet. His strategy with Starz was to create the biggest opportunity possible. His first deal started at $17,000 per episode for the first season of Power, which was less than he’d make spending a few minutes making an appearance at a nightclub. But Power became a hit, putting him in a position to re-sign with Starz for $150 million. Even if Power wasn’t the runaway success it is, at the very least Curtis would have been able to add to his body of work, learn from Starz, and build more leverage for his future productions.

How to Grow like Curtis Jackson

In the 2010s, Curtis Jackson had a decision to make. His incredibly successful music career as 50 Cent was turning, and he felt the crowds were no longer responding to his music the way they used to. He also observed that the entire music industry was changing drastically. When Interscope co-founder Jimmy Iovine started focusing on selling Beats headphones instead of selling records, Curtis realized it was time for him to make a change, too. He experimented with many ventures, tying them in with his social media (#smsaudio #effenvodka) for promotion. He also doubled down on his efforts with film, continuing his acting career and starting his TV show with Starz, which debuted in 2014.

Curtis writes about the attitude we all need to develop in response to setbacks; instead of dwelling on them, the self-talk could be, “I’ll get it back on the next one.” He talks about an insight he came to early in his business career, which is that there’s no “happily ever after” in business. And as in life, new problems always come up. The key is to adapt, be fearless, and keep moving forward. It’s a practical worldview, one that’s rooted in a blend of hope and practicality that has become Curtis’s signature in Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter, and the rest of his books.