Like a hip-hop Hatfield and McCoy, Ja Rule and 50 Cent may hate each other so much because they have so much in common—they were born five months apart in 1976 in neighboring Hollis and South Jamaica. “Hollis was about heroin dealing and numbers running,” remembers a man who grew up in the neighborhood, “while South Jamaica was into organized cocaine dealing.” In South Jamaica, crack addicts lined up along 150th Street for their fix.
Both Ja Rule and 50 Cent dropped out of high school (50 made it to the tenth grade; Ja to the eleventh). Though 50 Cent was arrested several times, he was a low-level crack dealer and hustler rather than a McGriff-level drug kingpin. “When you grow up without finances, it starts to feel like finances are the answers to all of your problems,” 50 says. “And a kid’s curiosity leads him to the ’hood, and he finds someone who got it and he didn’t go to school. They tell you, ‘No, you can get paid like this.’ ”
Ja Rule is best known for his association with another drug: ecstasy. He rapped about its raptures so convincingly that he became known as a “love thug.” When hip-hop took a darker turn, Ja talked up hustling in interviews. But his adolescence was more sober than he likes to let on: He was raised a Jehovah’s Witness and spent much of his young adulthood performing “field service” (door-to-door proselytizing) for the faith. “Ja always seemed like a good kid,” remembers the man who grew up with him and 50. “He would just hang out on the steps of his ma’s house in Hollis, smiling.” Indeed, with his mother working long hours, Ja spent most of his time on those front steps. “I’d come home from school and nobody’s home, so that’s why I kind of feel like the street’s raised me, you know,” he told Louis Farrakhan in a recent “beef mediation” session. Televised on MTV and BET and broadcast on Clear Channel radio, it was meant to include 50 Cent, but he demurred.
In the mid-eighties, Ja Rule and 50 Cent’s role models were drug kingpins like Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols, Howard “Pappy” Mason, and McGriff. For McGriff’s Supreme Team, “a couple of days’ receipts brought in $150,000,” a former Queens narcotics detective told me. Turf wars abounded. “The dealers in South Jamaica were particularly territorial,” a southeast-Queens source says. “Fat Cat had 150th Street, Supreme the Baisley Park projects.”
Beefs tended to be settled with extreme violence. “Pappy started the whole torturing thing,” remembers one man who was in the life at the time. “There was a fight for who could be the craziest or the baddest. They would put hot curling irons in people’s rear ends or tie them up for days on end and leave them in their own shit.”
Though the two grew up in southeast Queens and idolized the same hustlers from the neighborhood, Ja Rule and 50 Cent’s beef—whose origin is nearly as complex as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—didn’t begin until the the late nineties. “I think it started with a video shoot that I did on Jamaica Avenue,” Ja Rule told Farrakhan. “We’re all from the same neighborhood . . . I think when he seen how much love we was receiving from all of the people . . . he didn’t like the fact that I was getting so much love.”
50 Cent, however, dates the beef back to 2000, when a friend robbed Ja Rule of jewelry. According to an affidavit filed in January in an ongoing federal investigation into Murder Inc., after the robbery occurred, Ja Rule “informed Irv Gotti, who in turn contacted McGriff. McGriff promptly secured the return of the jewelry . . . using his reputation for violence to intimidate and threaten the robber.”
Retribution related to the robbery continued, according to Ja, in March 2000, when 50 Cent was attacked by the Murder Inc. posse outside the Hit Factory. The Lorenzos punched 50 Cent, and Gill stabbed him in the chest. 50 Cent was treated for a laceration to the chest and a partially collapsed lung at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt hospital and later received an order of protection against the trio of men—which he denies he sought. In the tougher-than-thou world of hip-hop, the order of protection was interpreted by some as an admission of weakness. The Source published its contents in its February 2003 issue, and a Website called Getsmedia.com posted the order with the message: “Real street ni99as don’t snitch. 50 Cent does not rep the street. He is a coward and a liar . . . you can’t deny court documents!”
Two months after the Hit Factory incident, 50 Cent was shot nine times while sitting in a car outside his grandmother’s southeast-Queens home. “I know who shot me. He got killed a few weeks after I got shot,” 50 Cent says. “Same situation, somebody waiting on him.” 50 Cent refused to reveal the identity of the shooter or who might have put him up to it. But in the affidavit filed in connection with the investigation into Murder Inc., McGriff is named as a suspect: “McGriff was involved with the shooting of another rap artist, ‘50 Cent,’ who wrote a song exposing McGriff’s criminal activities.” (The song in question is 50 Cent’s “Ghetto Qur’an.”)