Stoic Thinking from the Hip Hop Napoleon Bonaparte

Image result for 50 cent

Hip Hop Artist Curtis Jackson (aka 50 Cent)

Stress, anxiety, phobias, stage fright and fear itself are insidious impediments for many of us whenever we’re confronting challenges in everyday life. For instance, we may feel a great sense of unease at the idea of speaking in public, asking out your friend’s gorgeous coworker on a dinner date or deciding whether to follow through with a major professional career change. Fear (and all it’s various forms of manifestation like general unease, anxiety, stress, procrastination, etc) often unfortunately emerges as a self-fulfilling prophecy that can relegate individuals to lives of comfortable mediocrity and inactivity over the long term. Which in many cases may be perfectly fine given each individual’s unique personal and/or financial situation in life. But yet, quite often we hear from family, friends, and coworkers that they feel somehow dissatisfied with their current lives and desire a greater sense of adventure, risk-taking and personal growth. At the core of such personal antipathy is often is a deep-seated aversion to dealing with fear, whether in social situations, professional responsibilities, experiencing lifestyle changes, or peer pressure from contemporaries. One immensely fascinating literary antidote for combating the epidemic of fear in our lives comes from the life experience of Curtis Jackson (aka 50 Cent) as detailed in his 2009 autobiographical-philosophical book The 50th Law [1].

Before delving into some of the details of the book itself, it’s worth noting the biographical story of Curtis Jackson, from his tumultuous upbringing in inner city Queens, NY, all the way to his rise into the world of mainstream Hip Hop and celebrity culture today. Raised in 1975 in the South Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, NY, a young and impressionable Jackson was immediately confronted with the trails and dangers of an inner city life saturated with high levels of crime, poverty, drug dealing, and lack of socioeconomic opportunities. As an adolescent Jackson became involved in narcotic trafficking and weapons possession, for which he received sentencing in a juvenile penal facility. Later on following his brief incarceration, Jackson moved on from the dangerous trappings of drug hustling in the neighborhood and passionately threw himself into developing his career as a rapper/Hip Hop artist. Later adopting the pseudonym 50 Cent and gaining further icon status after surviving a near-death drive-by shooting spree, Jackson went on to garner the attention of Hip Hop moguls Dr Dre and Eminem thereby sparking Jackson’s rise into the world of mainstream Hip Hop music.

Curtis Jackson’s incredible journey of “rags to riches” from inner city Queens, NY to the ivory towers of the music industry exemplifies a sort of 21st Century realization of the American Dream. Jackson’s story and his reflective commentary are detailed in his own 2009 book The 50th Law, also coauthored by Robert Greene. In The 50th Law Jackson and Greene essentially begin by stating that the concept of fear, and all its debilitating effects, remain a major culprit for the lack of success and general complacency of people living in the 21st Century [1]. What Jackson represents, according to the book, is the ultimate modern-day manifestation of someone whose utter fearlessness and pragmatism gives him a clear cut advantage in the world of business, entertainment, music and entrepreneurship [3]. Greene even goes on to liken Jackson to being the “Hip Hop version of Napoleon Bonaparte” due to both individuals shrewd tactical knowledge and fearlessness [1]. Advice and stories in The 50th Law allows readers to delve into the practical applications of Jackson’s insights which include an emphasis on intense realism, self-reliance, maintaining authority, mastery of a craft, and dealing with our inevitable mortality from the life/teachings of the Ancient Stoic philosopher Seneca [1,2].

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La morte di Seneca – Jacques-Louis David (1773)

Jackson and Greene make numerous references to influential figures throughout history to further solidify their points on the necessity for handling fearfulness and realizing personal empowerment. For instance the authors reference stories and quotes from such historical figures as Frederick Douglas, Napoleon Bonaparte, Niccolò Machiavelli, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Tecumseh Sherman, Sun Tzu and many others [1]. Perhaps most notably, Jackson and Greene conclude by referencing the Greek Stoic philosopher Seneca (c 50 AD). In dealing with life’s ultimate sublime occurrence, the root of people’s fears in general remains that of the inevitable prospect of death. Here, Jackson & Greene reference Seneca’s calm and brave disposition in confronting his own death in 65 AD under orders from Roman Emperor Nero…which emphasizes Jackson and Greene’s view that when people “contemplate their own mortality and determine to face it as bravely as possible, the less one fears it…and since you know how to die well, you can now begin to teach yourself how to live well” [1].

In addition to Jackson and Greene’s musings on dealing with mortality through Seneca’s own sublime passing, The 50th Law also serves as great practical manifesto for applying Stoicism in in our everyday lives. Jackson references experiences growing up that highlight stoic ideals related to human nature with quotes like “Every negative is a positive. The bad things that happen to me, I somehow make them good. That means you can’t do anything to hurt me” and “Your fears are a kind of prison that confines you within a limited range of action. The less you fear, the more power you will have and the more fully you will live” [1]. These quotes from Jackson and Greene’s book are essentially direct references to Stoic thinking from philosophers such as Seneca, as Ancient Stoicism proposed that an individual’s reactions, emotions and behaviors were controllable and subject to advantageous change in viewpoint (including fear itself) [4]. So whether you’re confronting fear in the form of anxiety, stress, uneasiness, procrastination, etc. for any variety of circumstances, take note of the insights and philosophy of the Stoic philosopher Seneca and the Hip Hop Napoleon, Curtis Jackson.

References

[1] 50 Cent & Robert Greene. (2009). The 50th Law. New York: HarperCollins.

[2] Groth, A. (2012). 10 Tips for Becoming Fearless like 50 Cent. Business Insider. http://www.businessinsider.com/robert-greene-and-50-cents-50th-law-2012-5

[3] YouTube. (2011). 50 Cent – The 50th Law Interview [Video]. DanajoTV. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73FoM0xQDPs 

[4] Baltzly, D. (2013). Stoicism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/stoicism/

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