INFAMOUS TIMES: THE ORIGINAL 50 CENT (2005)
directed by Froi Cuesta
approx. 1 hour 15 minutes
By now its old news that Queens rapper Curtis Jackson named himself after Brooklyn stick up kid "50 Cent" a.k.a. Kelvin Martin. This DVD tries to give some context for the crime ridden Fort Greene projects where Martin got his reputation. Brooklyn in the 1980s was a dangerous place and Mr. Martin provided some of that danger. We are told that this is a man who would rob drug dealers and pimps. A criminal even in the criminal underworld, Kelvin Martin alienated most of his friends by the end of his life and seems like an unlikely figure to admire.
Like other DVDs made for a rap audience, this movie romanticizes Kelvin Martin's violent exploits. This is a problem with America in general these days, that "underdogs" are expected to be lawless animals who don't know any other way. Martin's friends and family are interviewed throughout and others close to him provided personal letters and photos to piece together his story. His friends talk about his "career", from his early days stealing jewelry to his time in Riker's to his later stint in the military. His girlfriend talks about his "softer side" and says he didn't bring his criminal life to their relationship. We hear from his daughter who never got to know her father since he was gunned down. Some faces hip hop fans will recognize are DJ Scratch from EPMD and legendary producer Eric B. who both knew the young Martin. An interesting section of the movie is where people discuss why they think he got the name "50 Cent". Standing at just over 5 ft., its likely that he simply got the name because he was a short dude. One theory I hadn't heard is that while in jail he encountered the Five Percent Nation and later put a materialist spin on it.
The sections with rapper Curtis Jackson are thankfully short. They interview some of his former associates and Jackson himself. They discuss the controversy over Jackson's "Ghetto Qua'ran". Of course this is the track where he basically "names names" of all the major NYC criminals from his youth and led to a "renewed interest" in these men by the NYPD. One name mentioned was "Slim" a.k.a. Chaz Williams who was Jackon's manager and is interviewed on this DVD. Another name was "Supreme" a.k.a. Kenneth McGriff, supposedly the inspiration for the movie 'NEW JACK CITY' and "business associate" of the Murder Inc. label, who Jackson was feuding with. All of this is also covered in the book 'QUEENS REIGNS SUPREME'.
Kelvin Martin, despite being close to his family, was not a respectable person even by street criminal standards. At one point, one of Martin's friends tells the story of when he had to remind Kelvin that he was breaking the "codes of the streets". Martin responded "F%ck those codes". Maybe this is the message Curtis Jackson is trying to send by recording the type of music he does. Jackson says he named himself after the original 50 Cent because "he's the same type of person".
I will say that the production value of this DVD is much higher than most other rap-related DVDs. There are graphics and re-enactments and the sound levels are mostly listenable throughout. There is also a followable structure throughout and best of all, no yelling doofuses hogging for camera time. The DVD also includes brief segments on such glamorous topics as Brownsville Brooklyn's Blood street gang (which includes footage of a pitbull fight) and Vernon, NY strip club "Sue's Rendezvous" (which states that the lowest amount the dancers make is $50,000).
At the end of the movie, Curtis Jackson promises to keep Kelvin Martin's name alive. This movie is good for what it is, but why not a DVD on somebody like Frederic Morrow?