50 Cent, born Curtis James Jackson III, grew up in the South Jamaica neighborhood of Queens in New York City. He grew up without a father and was raised by his mother Sabrina Jackson, who gave birth to him at the age of fifteen. Sabrina, a cocaine dealer, raised Jackson until the age of eight, when she was murdered. Twenty-three at the time, she became unconscious after someone drugged her drink. She was then left for dead after the gas in her apartment was turned on and the windows shut closed.After her death, Jackson moved into his grandparents' house with his eight aunts and uncles. He recalls, "My grandmother told me, 'Your mother's not coming home. She's not gonna come back to pick you up. You're gonna stay with us now.' That's when I started adjusting to the streets a little bit".Jackson grew up with his younger cousin, Michael Francis, who earned the nickname "25 Cent" for being his younger counterpart. Francis raps under the stage name "Two Five".
Jackson began boxing around the age of eleven. At fourteen, a neighbor opened a boxing gym for local kids. "When I wasn't killing time in school, I was sparring in the gym or selling crack on the strip", he recalled. In the mid 1980s, he competed in the Junior Olympics as an amateur boxer. He recounts, "I was competitive in the ring and hip-hop is competitive too... I think rappers condition themselves like boxers, so they all kind of feel like they're the champ". At the age of twelve, Jackson began dealing narcotics when his grandparents thought he was at after-school programs He also took guns and drug money to school. In the tenth grade, he was caught by metal detectors at Andrew Jackson High School. He later stated, "I was embarrassed that I got arrested like that... After I got arrested I stopped hiding it. I was telling my grandmother [openly], 'I sell drugs.'"
On June 29, 1994, Jackson was arrested for helping to sell four vials of cocaine to an undercover police officer. He was arrested again three weeks later when police searched his home and found heroin, ten ounces of crack cocaine, and a starter gun. He was sentenced to three to nine years in prison, but managed to serve six months in a shock incarceration boot camp where he earned his GED. Jackson said that he did not use cocaine himself, he only sold it. He adopted the nickname "50 Cent" as a metaphor for "change". The name was derived from Kelvin Martin, a 1980s Brooklyn robber known as "50 Cent". Jackson chose the name "because it says everything I want it to say. I'm the same kind of person 50 Cent was. I provide for myself by any means".