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(Vanity Fair) — Acouple of years ago, I set out to trace the ancestry of the gangsta rapper 50 Cent for a VH1 television program. The basic idea was to connect the “genealogy chic” movement with a younger audience than watches Henry Louis Gates’s ancestry shows on PBS, and to bring hip-hop-generation African-American stars face-to-face with the legacy of slavery. 50 Cent, whose real name is Curtis Jackson, was willing to give the process a whirl, and the result is 50 Cent: The Origin of Me, which airs on VH1 this Monday, May 23, at nine p.m.  It’s happenstance that the show is airing now, in the very spring in which we’re observing the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, but 50’s ancestral history turned out to be very much entangled in that of the Confederacy. (50, by the way, is what he likes to be called—pronounced “Fifty” rather than “Fiddy.” Curtis is also acceptable.) My research took me from the borough of Queens in New York City, where Jackson was born and raised, to the small town of Edgefield, South Carolina, from whence his maternal family came.  Edgefield is no ordinary small town. It was, long, long ago, a nexus of the Palmetto State aristocracy, sending 10 governors to the state house in Columbia, the last of whom, Strom Thurmond, served from 1947 to 1951 before becoming an eight-term U.S. senator. Edgefield also had a reputation in the antebellum era for violence—not the interracial kind, but white-on-white violence in the name of honor: duels, beefs, and brawls over perceived slights.

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