LIFE OF THE PARTY
From the moment those jarring synths dropped, 50 Cent's "In da Club" made rap heads love him like they love 'Pac
TRANSITIONING FROM MIXTAPE maestro to mainstream fixture can take your average underground hero an entire career. It took 50 Cent under an hour. "I smacked the shit out of the park the very first time we did it," 50 recalls of the 45-minute 2002 recording session for "In da Club," with mentor and producer Dr. Dre. The inescapable record painted the newly signed Shady/Aftermath/Interscope artist Curtis Jackson as America's favorite bulletproof bad guy, soaring to the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart en route to gold certification and a pair of Grammy Award nominations.
But those accolades would come later. The seeds to 50 Cent’s landmark single first took root as Dr. Dre was cooking up potential tracks for a D12 cut off the 8 Mile soundtrack. He and co-producer Mike Elizondo created four or five beats using the same drum programming; D12 wasn’t interested, but several months later, 50 was. He recorded “two-track” vocals over the skeletal instrumental in Teamwork studios, the basement lab of the then G-Unit manager Sha Money XL’s Long Island home. Merging the celebratory (“We gon’ party like it’s your birthday!”) with the sinister ("When I roll 20 deep, it’s 20 knives in the club”), the track was doused in commercial appeal, even with its sparse drum and string arrangement.
“He’s able to make the worst track sound good because he pulls melodies out of it,” says Sha of 50 Cent. “So I already heard how he was attacking it.” Two weeks later in Los Angeles, they recorded it again. The producers added heavy synth-stabs and polished off the future classic with a creeping eight-note guitar. “We didn’t want to layer it with too much stuff to clutter it up," remembers Elizondo. “Dre was using the concept of 'less is more,' but make it sound as big as possible.”
After Get Rich or Die Tryin’, the album which housed the track, was complete, there was an Appalachian-style summit at Interscope honcho Jimmy lovine’s house between 50 Cent, Chris Lighty, Dre, Eminem and manager Paul Rosenberg to determine which record would be the lead single of the feverishly-awaited debut LP. The decision boiled down to “In da Club” or “If I Can’t,” a piano-punched track that bristled with threats like, “being hit by the pump, is that what you want?" After some debate, the consensus was reached. “I don’t think we would have gone wrong either way,” says 50, who recalls nudging Eminem with a knee beneath the table to prod him into support of the former. “But I believe ‘In da Club’ was supposed to come out.”
Despite the track’s ominous, serpentine feel–an aesthetic common to many Dre-produced club records–50 Cent envisioned it entering an exclusive pantheon of festive ditties. “There’s only three birthday songs: the regular one, the Stevie Wonder one and ‘In da Club',” the Queens-bred rapper says. “Since then, there’s a new one–Jeremih’s 'Birthday Sex'–but that’s it.” He had the right idea. As it turned out, the catchy intro was vinyl candy for cut-happy club DJs who endlessly rewound the “Go shawty” refrain, whether at birthday bashes or bar mitzvahs.
Compared to 50 Cent’s peers, few have entered the marketplace via songs with such a seismic impact. Since then, 50 become an international rap icon, yet he’s never truly matched the fresh-out-the-box success that “In da Club” garnered. “I told Sha Money, ‘Yo we’re never gonna feel like this again’,” he remembers. “I was smart enough to know that.” –Ben Detrick
50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin' celebrates its 10th birthday today, Feb. 6, 2013. Go shawty!