LOS ANGELES - You'd be forgiven for judging the paperback novella "The Ski Mask Way" by its cover.
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The book's jacket artwork depicts a muscle-bound thug stripped to the waist to reveal a tapestry of tattoos: a skull, a spider and the word "Un Broken" etched across his pectorals in gothic font. Flanked by the silhouette of prison bars, he clutches a woolen balaclava, leaving little doubt as to the shoot'em-up literature within.
The Queens, N.Y., native is listed as co-author of "The Ski Mask Way." But more important, he is its publisher, under a deal with MTV and the Pocket Books division of Simon & Schuster that launched G-Unit Books late last year, making him hip-hop's first book publishing magnate. Now, G-Unit is poised to become the most high profile purveyor of a hot-selling literary genre sometimes called "urban fiction" or "street lit" that has steadily increased its cultural presence over the last half-decade.
As 50 Cent (government name: Curtis Jackson III) sees it, street lit captures the yin-yang of gangsta nihilism and ghettofabulous excess. "It's the perfect merger of literature and hip-hop," he said by cellphone, traveling across New York City in a chauffeur-driven car. "It's a huge opportunity because no one else is in a position to create this kind of venture."