50 Cent started rapping in a friend's basement where he used turntables to record over instrumentals.In 1996, a friend introduced him to Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC who was organizing his label Jam Master Jay Records. Jay taught him how to count bars, write choruses, structure songs, and make a record. On October 13, 1997, 50 Cent's then-girlfriend Shaniqua Tompkins gave birth to a son, Marquise Jackson. The birth of his son changed his outlook on life, "when my son came into my life, my priorities changed, because I wanted to have the relationship with him, that I didn’t have with my father. He credited his son for inspiring his career and being "motivation to go in a different direction".
50 Cent has a tattoo of "Marquise" with an axe on his right biceps. "The axe is 'cause I'm a warrior. I don't want him to be one, though," he explains. He also has "50", "Southside", and "Cold World" inscribed on his back because "I'm a product of that environment. It's on my back, though, so it's all behind me".50 Cent's first official appearance was on a song titled "React" with the group Onyx on their 1998 album Shut 'Em Down. He credited Jam Master Jay as an influence who helped him improve his ability to write hooks. Jay produced 50 Cent's first album, however it was never released. In 1999, after leaving Jam Master Jay, the platinum-selling producers Trackmasters took notice of 50 Cent and signed him to Columbia Records. They sent him to a studio in Upstate New York where he produced thirty-six songs in two weeks. Eighteen were included on his unofficially released album, Power of the Dollar in 2000.He also started the now-defunct Hollow Point Entertainment with former G-Unit affiliate Bang 'Em Smurf.
50 Cent's popularity started to increase after the successful but controversial underground single, "How to Rob", which he wrote in half an hour while in a car on the way to a studio. The track comically explains how he would rob many famous artists. He explained the reasoning behind song's content as, "There's a hundred artists on that label, you gotta separate yourself from that group and make yourself relevant".Rappers Jay-Z, Big Pun, DMX, and the Wu-Tang Clan replied to the song and Nas, who received the track positively, invited 50 Cent to travel on a promotional tour for his Nastradamus album.The song was intended to be released with "Thug Love" featuring Destiny's Child, but two days before he was scheduled to film the "Thug Love" music video, 50 Cent was shot and confined to a hospital due to his injuries.