Robert Greene, author of “The 48 Laws of Power,” and rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson have collaborated to write “The 50th Law.” The book shares lessons from 50 Cent's life, particularly the value of what the authors call “intense realism” — seeing things for what they are, self-reliance, opportunism, authority, knowing when to be “bad” and confronting your own mortality. An excerpt.
Chapter one: See things for what they are — intense realism
Reality can be rather harsh. Your days are numbered. It takes constant effort to carve a place for yourself in this ruthlessly competitive world and hold on to it. People can be treacherous. They bring endless battles into your life. Your task is to resist the temptation to wish it were all different; instead you must fearlessly accept these circumstances, even embrace them. By focusing your attention on what is going on around you, you will gain a sharp appreciation for what makes some people advance and others fall behind. By seeing through people’s manipulations, you can turn them around. The firmer your grasp on reality, the more power you will have to alter it for your purposes.
The hustler’s eye
As a boy, Curtis Jackson (aka 50 Cent) had one dominant drive — ambition. He wanted more than anything the very things that it seemed he could never have — money, freedom, and power.
Looking out on the streets of Southside Queens where he grew up, Curtis saw a grim, depressing reality staring him in the face. He could go to school and take it seriously, but the kids who did that didn’t seem to get very far — a life of low-paying jobs. He could turn to crime and make his money fast, but the ones who went for that either died young or spent much of their youth in prison. He could escape it all by taking drugs — once you start down that path there is no turning back. The only people he could see who led the life that he dreamed of were the hustlers, the drug dealers. They had the cars, the clothes, the lifestyle, the degree of power that matched his ambitions. And so by the age of eleven he had made the choice to follow that path and become the greatest hustler of them all.
The further he got into it, however, the more he realized that the reality was much grimier and harsher than he had imagined. The drug fiends, the customers, were erratic and hard to figure out. The fellow hustlers were all fighting over the same limited number of corners and they’d stab you in the back in an instant. The big-time dealers who ran the neighborhood could be violent and heavy-handed. If you did too well, someone would try to take what you had. The police were everywhere. One wrong move could land you in prison. How could he possibly succeed amid this chaos and avoid all of the inevitable dangers? It seemed impossible.
One day he was discussing the troublesome aspects of the game with an older hustler named Truth, who told him something he would never forget. Don’t complain about the difficult circumstances, he said. In fact, the hard life of these streets is a blessing if you know what you’re doing. Because it is such a dangerous world, a hustler has to focus intensely on what’s going on around him. He has to get a feel for the streets — who’s trouble, where there might be some new opportunity. He has to see through all the bull---t people throw at him — their games, their lousy ideas. He has to look at himself, see his own limitations and stupidity. All of this sharpens the eye to a razor’s edge, making him a keen observer of everything. That’s his power.
The greatest danger we face, he told Curtis, is not the police or some nasty rival. It’s the mind going soft. I’ve seen it happen to many a hustler, he said. If things go well, he starts thinking it will go on forever and he takes his eyes off the streets. If things go bad, he starts wishing it were all different and he comes up with some foolish scheme to get quick, easy money. Either way, he falls fast. Lose your grip on reality on these streets and you might as well kill yourself.
In the months to come, Curtis thought more and more about what Truth had told him, and it began to sink in. He decided to transform the hustler’s words into a kind of code that he would live by: he would trust no one; he would conceal his intentions, even from friends and partners; and no matter how high or low life brought him, he would remain the supreme realist, keeping his hustler’s eye sharp and focused.
Over the next few years he became one of the savviest hustlers in his neighborhood, operating a small crew that brought him good money. The future looked promising, but a moment’s inattention got him trapped in a police sting, and at the age of sixteen he was sentenced to nine months in a shock rehabilitation center in upstate New York. In this unfamiliar space and with time to reflect, suddenly the words of Truth came back to him. This was not the time to get depressed or to dream, but to fix that hustler’s eye on himself and the world he lived in. See it as it is, no matter how ugly.
He had unbridled ambition; he wanted real power, something he could build on. But no street hustler lasts that long. It’s a young man’s game. By the time hustlers reach their twenties, they slow down and something bad happens or they go scurrying into a low-paying job. And what blinds them to this reality is the money and lifestyle in the moment; they think it will go on forever. They’re too afraid to try something else. It doesn’t matter how clever you are — there’s a ceiling to how high you can rise.
He had to wake up and get out while he was still young and his ambitions could be realized. He would not be afraid. And so based on these reflections, he decided he would make a break into music. He would find a mentor, someone who could teach him the ropes. He would learn everything he could about music and the business. He would have no plan B — it was either make it there or die.
Operating with a kind of desperate energy, he made the transition into music, carving a place for himself by creating a sound that was hard driving and reflected the realities of the streets. After a relentless mix-tape campaign in New York he got the attention of Eminem, and a record deal followed. Now he seemed to have realized his childhood ambitions. He had money and power. People were nice to him. Everywhere he went they flattered him, wanting to be a part of his success. He could feel it happening — the good press, the sycophantic followers — it was all starting to go to his head and dull his vision. On the surface everything looked great, but what was the reality here? Now more than ever he needed that clear, penetrating eye to see past all the hype and glamour.
The more he looked at it, the more he realized that the reality of the music business was as harsh as the streets. The executives who ran the labels were ruthless. They distracted you with their charming words, but in fact they could care less about your future as an artist; they wanted to suck you dry of every dollar they could get out of you. Once you were no longer so hot, you would find yourself slowly pushed to the side; your decline would be all the more painful for having once tasted success. In truth, you were a pawn in their game. A corner hustler had more power and control over his future than a rapper did.
And what about the business itself? Record sales were falling because people were pirating music or buying it in different forms. Anyone with two eyes could see that. The old business model had to go. But these very same executives who seemed so sharp were afraid to confront this reality. They held on tightly to the past and would bring everyone down with them.
Not Fifty. He would avoid this fate by moving in a different direction. He would forge a diversified business empire, music merely being a tool to get there. His decisions would be based on his intense reading of the changing environment that he had detected in music but was infecting all levels of business. Let others depend on their MBAs, their money, and their connections. He instead would rely upon that hustler’s eye that had brought him from the bottom of America to the top in just a few short years.
The fearless approach
Reality is my drug. The more I have of it, the more power I get and the higher I feel.
You might imagine that the streets that molded Fifty and the code he created for himself have little to do with your circumstances, but that is merely a symptom of your dreaming, of how deeply you are infected with fantasies and how afraid you are to face reality. The world has become as grimy and dangerous as the streets of Southside Queens — a global, competitive environment in which everyone is a ruthless hustler, out for him- or herself.
Truth’s words apply to you as much as to Fifty: the greatest danger you face is your mind growing soft and your eye getting dull. When things get tough and you grow tired of the grind, your mind tends to drift into fantasies; you wish things were a certain way, and slowly, subtly, you turn inward to your thoughts and desires. If things are going well, you become complacent, imagining that what you have now will continue forever. You stop paying attention. Before you know it, you end up overwhelmed by the changes going on and the younger people rising up around you, challenging your position.
Understand: you need this code even more than Fifty. His world was so harsh and dangerous it forced him to open his eyes to reality and never lose that connection. Your world seems cozier and less violent, less immediately dangerous. It makes you wander and your eyes mist over with dreams. The competitive dynamic (the streets, the business world) is in fact the same, but your apparently comfortable environment makes it harder for you to see it. Reality has its own power — you can turn your back on it, but it will find you in the end, and your inability to cope with it will be your ruin. Now is the time to stop drifting and wake up — to assess yourself, the people around you, and the direction in which you are headed in as cold and brutal a light as possible. Without fear.
Think of reality in the following terms: the people around you are generally mysterious. You are never quite sure about their intentions. They present an appearance that is often deceptive — their manipulative actions don’t match their lofty words or promises. All of this can prove confusing. Seeing people as they are, instead of what you think they should be, would mean having a greater sense of their motives. It would mean being able to pierce the facade they present to the world and see their true character. Your actions in life would be so much more effective with this knowledge.
Your line of work is another layer of reality. Right now, things might seem calm on the surface, but there are changes rippling through that world; dangers are looming on the horizon. Soon your assumptions about how things are done will be outdated. These changes and problems are not immediately apparent. Being able to see through to them before they become too large would bring you great power.
The capacity to see the reality behind the appearance is not a function of education or cleverness. People can be full of book knowledge and crammed with information but have no real sense of what’s going on around them. It is in fact a function of character and fearlessness. Simply put, realists are not afraid to look at the harsh circumstances of life. They sharpen their eye by paying keen attention to details, to people’s intentions, to the dark realities hiding behind any glamorous surface. Like any muscle that is trained, they develop the capacity to see with more intensity.
It is simply a choice you have to make. At any moment in life you can convert to realism, which is not a belief system at all, but a way of looking at the world. It means every circumstance, every individual is different, and your task is to measure that difference, then take appropriate action. Your eyes are fixed on the world, not on yourself or your ego. What you see determines what you think and how you act. The moment you believe in some cherished idea that you will hold on to no matter what your eyes and ears reveal to you, you are no longer a realist.
Keys to fearlessness
America was once a country of great realists and pragmatists. This came from the harshness of the environment, the many dangers of frontier life. We had to become keen observers of everything going on around us to survive. In the nineteenth century, such a way of looking at the world led to innumerable inventions, the accumulation of wealth, and the emergence of our country as a great power. But with this growing power, the environment no longer pressed upon us so violently, and our character began to change.
Reality came to be seen as something to avoid. Secretly and slowly we developed a taste for escape — from our problems, from work, from the harshness of life. Our culture began to manufacture endless fantasies for us to consume. And fed on such illusions, we became easier to deceive, since we no longer had a mental barometer for distinguishing fact from fiction.
This is a dynamic that has repeated itself throughout history. Ancient Rome began as a small city-state. Its citizens were tough and stoic. They were famous for their pragmatism. But as they moved from being a republic to an empire and their power expanded, everything reversed itself. Their citizens’ minds hungered for newer and newer forms of escape. They lost all sense of proportion — petty political battles consumed their attention more than much larger dangers on the outskirts of the empire. The empire fell well before the invasion of the barbarians. It collapsed from the collective softness of its citizens’ minds and the turning of their back on reality.
Understand: as an individual you cannot stop the tide of fantasy and escapism sweeping a culture. But you can stand as an individual bulwark to this trend and create power for yourself. You were born with the greatest weapon in all of nature — the rational, conscious mind. It has the power to expand your vision far and wide, giving you the unique capacity to distinguish patterns in events, learn from the past, glimpse into the future, see through appearances. Circumstances are conspiring to dull that weapon and render it useless by turning you inward and making you afraid of reality.
Consider it war. You must fight this tendency as best you can and move in the opposite direction. You must turn outward and become a keen observer of all that is around you. You are doing battle against all the fantasies that are thrown at you. You are tightening your connection to the environment. You want clarity, not escape and confusion. Moving in this direction will instantly bring you power among so many dreamers.
Excerpted from "The 50th Law" by 50 Cent and Robert Greene. Copyright (c) 2009 by G-Unit Books, Inc., and Robert Greene. Reprinted with permission from HarperCollins.