With the close of the decade fastly approaching, there is no shortage of “best of” lists reviewing top achievements throughout the pop culture landscape. But when it comes to most noteworthy music of the ‘00’s, one album that has been showing up on just about everyone’s list is 50 Cent’s 2003 debut Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. The seminal release, which has to date sold over 12 million copies worldwide, transformed the troubled Curtis Jackson, a former Queens, New York drug dealer and local mixtape favorite, into one of the biggest musical acts on the planet.
Propelled by the hypnotic Dr. Dre-produced anthem “In da Club” and the backing of hip-hop’s paramount seller Eminem (50 was the first artist signed to Em’s Shady Records, which released the project jointly with Dre’s Aftermath Records), Get Rich represented more than just a commercial triumph. It was a cultural landmark that gave East Coast street rap a fresh platform, opening up a new world for the unlikely entertainment mogul.
Looking back on the album, 50 Cent has a more personal attachment to Get Rich or Die Tryin’.
“With Get Rich I had so much to prove on that album,” recalls the rapper who dropped his fourth studio album, Before I Self Destruct, in November. “Everything had to be perfect in my head. I wanted to make sure that everything I said captured my true feelings at that time. I just felt like it was God’s plan to be where I was at. My mind frame at that point was the music. Anything that would have come in my way at that point I would have removed it the best way I know how. The ‘hood teaches you to do it in a way that’s not sensible.”
One of the aspects that made critics take note of 50 Cent was his surprising vulnerability, a trait that you would not normally associate with a combative, controversial artist who has been involved in high profile verbal sparring with everyone from Ja Rule, Jadakiss, and Game to Kanye West, Rick Ross, and most recently, Jay-Z. But 50 insist he was just keeping it real.
“A lot of rappers don’t write about their fears or point out where they didn’t get the best of a situation,” he says. “So the first time I experimented with it was with songs like ‘Many Men.’ I’m telling folks that there is blood in my eyes and I can’t see. I’m hurt at that point. I’m vulnerable.”
Yet, after Get Rich, 50 Cent’s life would never be the same as his success spun off a multi-million dollar label (G-Unit Records); a successful G-Unit clothing line; a major film (2005’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’); and a stable of platinum acts (a crew that included Game, Lloyd Banks, and Young Buck). But even as the commercial muscle has dramatically declined for 50 Cent, the spitter insists that he is still the same hungry kid who made the music world take notice.
“That’s what people want from me…. to give them the real shit,” he says. “That’s a part of me. It’s necessary to have aggression to survive but that’s not all of me. There’s so much more.”—Keith Murphy