Last night, rapper 50 Cent traveled to his family’s South Carolina hometown to trace his roots for the VH1 Rock Doc “50 Cent: The Origin of Me.”
You can watch the show on VH1’s website. If you watch, there are some bleeps in a rap at the beginning, but the rest of the show is clean. And good.
In the show, 50 Cent (aka Curtis Jackson), who grew up in New York City, travels to Edgefield, SC, where his mom’s family came from. At a reunion, the family talks about what the segregated town was like in the 1950s.
50 visits Edgefield’s genealogical society. The librarian (who had to have been briefed ahead of time, but did such a good job of being nonchalant that I wondered) pulls the WWI draft card of 50’s grandfather Will Jenkins from a “Jenkins File” (the society keeps surname files on local families). She also helps 50 use the census on microfilm to find Will’s father Peter, and Peter’s mother Jane.
In the 1870 census, Jane was living with a local prominent citizen, probably her former slaveowner.
50 also visited the Old Edgefield Pottery museum, with vessels created by “Dave the Slave,” who incorporated sayings and dates into his work. The proprietor refers to Dave as the first rapper.
The show didn’t shy from a bit of confrontation: At Oakley Park Museum, 50 and a woman identified in a caption as being from the Daughters of the Confederacy discuss the symbolism of the Confederate flag.
She also tells him about the Red Shirts, a precursor to the Klu Klux Klan, and advises him to study history to learn about “Mongolian slaves” in South Carolina. Interesting. There’s some uncomfortable giggling when 50 gently challenges her about these slaves and how slaves were treated.
Later, at the Edgefield County Archives, the archivist shows 50 the slave inventory for Jane’s owner, R.G.M. Dunovant, son-in-law of prominent citizen Whitfield Brooks. The archivist finds a reference to Jane, daughter of Adrene, in Whitfield’s will. If that’s 50’s Jane, Adrene is his fourth-great-grandmother.
The archivist introduces 50 to a woman who’s researching what she calls the brutal side of slavery. In contrast to the woman he met earlier, she acknowledges the treatment of local slaves and gives an example from a coroner’s report detailing the death of a slave.
50 next meets a Dunovant descendant, who asks 50 about his career, compliments his song “In Da Club” (the one that says “Go shorty/It’s your birthday”) and gives him a piece of Edgefield pottery. 50 says it’s a turnaround from the days his family talked about, when black people always used the back door at whites’ homes.
You don’t have to be a fan of rap or a member of VH1’s typical demographic to like this show. 50 Cent has a tough image as a rapper, but you don’t see that here. To me, the show feels a little younger and a little less refined than ‘Who Do You Think You Are?” which makes it very approachable. You learn about both one person’s genealogy and how it ties into what was happening locally and across the country.
For some behind-the-scenes insight, here’s a Vanity Fair article by David Kamp, the writer who did the genealogy research.
Did you watch “50 Cent: The Origin of Me”? Let me know what you thought.