Since first posting amateur YouTube videos in 2009, 50 Tyson has been the target of online disses and jokes -- even parodied by comedian Kevin Hart. While a fair share of people have praised the rapper for his determination, others have blogged about whether the Minneapolis native is being exploited rather than truly championed.
Why the hoopla? 50 Tyson -- born Antonio Henderson-Davis and nicknamed for his resemblance to 50 Cent and Mike Tyson -- is autistic. But he declares he's not letting personal or outside challenges defer his rap dream.
"I just work hard, keep my head up and don't let anything interfere with what I'm doing," says 50 Tyson, who counts 2Pac, 50 Cent, Eminem and Dr. Dre as some of his favorite rappers. Signed to indie Hudson Records, 50 Tyson -- a high school senior who turns 18 in February -- released his first mixtape in December, "I Ain't Gonna Lie, Vol. 1." DJ Whoo Kid, 50 Cent's DJ, hosts the mixtape and also co-hosted 50 Tyson's recent release party at Minneapolis' famed First Avenue nightclub.
Video: 50 Tyson, "I Ain't Gonna Lie"
Hudson founder/CEO Troy Hudson, a former Minnesota Timberwolves point guard who met the rapper and his family last summer, says he signed 50 Tyson because he comes "straight from the heart and could change the spirit of hip-hop. He doesn't write but goes off the top of his head. When you put a beat on, the melodies he hears are right on point."
"I Ain't Gonna Lie," the mixtape track attracting the most attention, has clocked more than 1 million views on YouTube. Focusing now on artist development and recording, Hudson says 50 Tyson has thus far cut five songs for his first album.
Supporting autism organizations through walks and proceeds from his line of T-shirts, 50 Tyson also plans to attend college-and still rap. "When I do this," he says, "it feels like I'm going higher."