They call him a “case study,” aka 50 Tyson
I wrote the headline because Minneapolis rapper 50 Tyson (who got the name when people suggested he was a physical cross between 50 Cent and Mike Tyson) may very well be a popular case study in how young autistic people see the world. He’s 17 and now an Internet sensation after posting clips of himself rapping freestyle on YouTube. Since then, he’s signed with Hudson Records, owned by former Wolves player Troy Hudson, and can be found at nightclubs and often at Brooklyn Center, where he does studio recordings. Even at Edison High School, where 50 Tyson attends school, classmates will use him as a point of pride in assignments and the hallway.
In that sense, 50, whose real name is Antonio Henderson-Davis, is no different than other music artists who made the scene at a very young age. What the Star Tribune and several others are thinking about is how he’ll adapt when he still has difficulties understanding social environments. Media production is well-known for large egos and people attempting to leech from potential stardom, and Henderson-Davis’ football coach at Edison and his case manager both worry if people will take advantage of an artist in a vulnerable position who’s more trusting than even music industry peers (I’ve noted many times in this blog that autistic people are less likely to lie or believe that others would lie to them, one reason why they often become bullying targets in a school setting). Hudson and Henderson-Davis’ parents have clashed a few times with Hudson and Nikki McComb, Henderson-Davis’ manager. Hudson and McComb suggested pulling “50 Tyson” out of school for weekday shows, offering to hire a tutor. Henderson-Davis’ mother declined.
Hudson’s also seeking to market “50 Tyson” as the face of autism, a decision whose effect on the autism community is very much unknown. In terms of mainstream media, the character of Charlie Babbitt assumed that role for many years following the release of Rain Man. In real-world stories, animal rights advocate and professor Temple Grandin is presented as the most successful autistic person. Even comparing those two, the face of autism varies equally to the face of a snowflake; no two are ever alike. Add the always-present stereotypes about rappers and their music, and “50 Tyson” could easily shake up what all of us know about autism, whether or not Antonio intends to.
Corey Mitchell, the article’s author, handled the task of covering the Twin Cities raging sensation well. If it’s not the first multi-faceted look at 50 Tyson’s world, it’s certainly an unfiltered one. Through Mitchell’s reporting, 50 Tyson’s story is similar to less famous autistic people, the simple of notion of understanding a social world while trying not to be played by those with selfish pursuits. Shady constituents are a sad norm, but a clear reality when your skill set makes you capable of delivering a powerful message. In 50 Tyson’s case, it’s music creation and performance. In my case, it’s creating media designed to inform, encourage and highlight the public.
As understanding autism remains an obstacle, Mitchell’s article illustrates autistic people seeking a career in media will likely find themselves in a social conundrum. Certainly, I’ve encountered people who only wanted to use me and didn’t give a damn about my well-being. The detachment process doesn’t take long, but the journey to get there can be frustrating because I often spend time feeling out new contacts or clients. There lies the dilemma: media creators won’t survive without placing some trust with their associates. Henderson-Davis wouldn’t be in his position without the help of others, and he’s been given a huge chance to debunk what people believe an autistic’s skill set is. However, he may also get a lesson on how strange people can be.
So far, most discussions on 50 Tyson are supportive, which is exactly what autism organizations want people on the spectrum to get, and not pity or scorn that we’ve sometimes seen in mainstream media. With his stock value rising, this won’t be the last time Antonio Henderson-Davis is featured in the newspaper and/or TV. Because 50 Tyson’s in a position that no known autistic person has experienced before, he’ll likely be the forefront of expectations with autistic people deciding to pursue any form of entertainment.
I included a link to 50 Tyson’s page on the Hudson Records website, which provides updates on his musical endeavors.