Get Rich Or Die Tryin Turns 10

It’s a strange task: thinking of 50 Cent, at this very moment, as the powerhouse that Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ catapulted him into being. A die-hard might harbor a melancholy hope, angry for the squandered opportunities, thinking of her hero as would-be messiah up there with top-of-the-line rappers like Jay-Z and Lil Wayne. But what is so fascinating about 50′s fallen star is the dichotomy between his years as a superstar and the awkward place in which he sits right now. His character has had a Scarface-like career arc: A young kid scores a radio hit with the punchline-laden “How To Rob” from the In Too Deep soundtrack, but his original debut album never sees the legal light of day, and he fields eight bullet wounds. His subsequent survival, the cult-following of his heavily bootlegged would-be debut Power Of The Dollar, his signing with Dr. Dre, and the unifying party single “In Da Club” mark his rise to the top. As he sits there, his toothy grin (at-once adorable and sinister) dripped vitriol toward other rappers. His smear campaigns are successful a number of times — until they aren’t, and he’s essentially overthrown. Yesterday marked the 10-year-anniversary of Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, a manifesto of authenticity that extended an enormous reach between its party cuts and portraits of on-the-street warfare. Let’s explore it, along with the turn where it all slipped away from 50.

There are so many songs to talk about on this album. The hits: the sweeping and infectious “In Da Club,” the electro-steel drum-laden but in hindsight superfluous “P.I.M.P.,” and the Nate Dogg-assisted silly romance cut “21 Questions.” “Wanksta” and “If I Can’t Do It” were more befitting of 50′s sneer and his need to break down his triumphs. “Blood Hound” compels with its video game-y track and his jabbing flow. But it’s the first three full tracks on the album — “What Up Gangsta?,” “Patiently Waiting,” and “Many Men” — that shine especially bright, each its own pennant of accomplishment. “What Up Gangsta?” will forever knock at parties, and “Waiting” was an opportunity to hear 50 collaborate with Dre’s preceding protégé Eminem. Both MCs’ successes were hard-won, and Em’s icon status was already well-earned. You hear the poles between their respective statures, yet there’s a unifying rage and tenacity that stacked 50′s credibility as more than just party rapper, as he kept up with one of the most ferocious marquee spitters. But then “Many Men” happens, a banner track for his own authenticity — a memoir chapter, recounting getting shot in the face, replete with references to the blood-dripping in his eyes and the paranoia it caused. It’s the last verse, however, that is one of 50′s rawest moments on wax, when he raps:

I ain’t gonna spell it out for you motherfuckers all the time
Are you illiterate nigga? You can’t read between the lines
In the bible it says, What goes around, comes around
“Hommo” shot me, three weeks later he got shot down
Now it’s clear that I’m here for a real reason
Cause he got hit like I got hit, but he ain’t fucking breathing

He’s referring to how he survived his attempted murder and how his alleged assailant Daryl “Hommo” Baum did not receive the same luck. With such specificity, 50 was aiming to show that not only is his place in the rap game divine, but that telling the truth in your rhymes is an imperative.

Pointing out that other rappers were veritable fakers became part of the mission for 50 Cent and his G-Unit cohorts. Two of the most famous hits were on Ja Rule and Fat Joe, and the former still feels that his career was ruined by 50′s afront to his credibility. Fat Joe remains beloved, especially among the DJ Khaled set, but the feud continues and was the inspiration for one of G-Unit’s best offerings, the Elephant In The Sand mixtape. Rick Ross became his next victim — replete with a YouTube cartoon series called Officer Ricky which you can watch below — and this is the point at which not only did 50 begin to crumble, but so did hip-hop’s unshakable need for no-fakery.

At this point, the “Rich Off Cocaine” drug-dealer narrative of Rick Ross’s career has been completely dismantled — and that was accomplished at the hand of 50 Cent, who helped expose Rozay’s past as a Dade County corrections officer. There is something to be said of Ross’s charisma — his first single, “Hustlin’,” begged for a rhyming dictionary. We had this verified story that he was not who he said he was, and yet the hits persisted. He sharpened his lyrical chops on his third album Deeper Than Rap, but people seemed more interested in him draped in a fur coat, eating linguine in the back of a Maybach. And as the interest in Ross increased — we all know where his empire is now — 50′s star began to dim.

Something that I’ve been grappling with for a long time is how to understand the acceptance of Ross’s real story. In a recent episode of the Combat Jack Show, guest NY Times pop critic Jon Caramanica described the time ushered in by the fact that no one ran Ross out of rap as “post-truth.” How, then, does 50 actually become a mythological character and not just, well, a dinosaur?

——

(Officer Ricky)
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50′s last-released major-label full-length was appropriately titled Before I Self-Destruct. Most of his newsworthy moments since its release in 2009 have been a cavalcade of head-scratchers — Twitter meltdowns, a relationship with comedian Chelsea Handler, and a tiff with 2012’s Rookie Of The Year Chief Keef. As labelmates, 50 appeared on “Hate Being Sober” from Keef’s Finally Rich. It’s in Keef that we see a mirror held up to 50. He’s a young kid beaming with potential who was initially stunted by his own circumstances (in this case, gun charges). Upon his return, he went from being a World Star Hip Hop sensation — which is not unlike the cult of 50′s Power Of The Dollar — and reached another audience, leading him to his major label debut Finally Rich, which received accolades from a diverse audience. We don’t know yet if Keef will be the kind of rapper with a Vitamin Water flavor, a condom line, the seemingly now-ubiquitous self-branded headphones — although Keef has the headphones, too — and a pair of video games. But like West rapped, riffing on Get Rich’s most enormous hit, “50 Cent told me go ’head and switch the style up, and if they hate, then let ’em hate, and watch the money pile up.”

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Comments (20)
  1. I remember the week Get Rich or Die Tryin’ came out. It was priced at that rarely-seen-anymore bargain price of $6.99 during the peak of the music industry’s consumer meltdown, which led a huge sales charge and had his rising star booked as the musical guest on SNL. It all seemed to be happening for the guy at a super, super fast pace, and in an instance of poor timing, my college had booked him to headline their spring concert the very same weekend as his big SNL debut. Needless to say, 50 arrived late to the show that Sunday, made the crowd wait forever, hardly rapped “In Da Club” and had a backing track do the work for him, pocketed the cash and left after the song was done. That one weekend for me metaphorically sums up this guys career for me.

  2. Every so often, I visit one of the touchstones of post-golden age hip hop to see what I missed. The answer is usually ‘not much.’ And so it is here. I couldn’t hear anything new here…the gangsta stuff was 15 years old, the poppy choruses were done better by Biggie 7 years prior to this. Without novelty, you’re left with rhymes, flow and beats. Which are all usually just okay. This isn’t awful, but it’s kind of a slog to listen through it all. I didn’t miss much, though it was the shit in my middle school.

    The only really standout song on here is obviously ‘In Da Club’ and that is, at best, a party song that would still only get a 3.5 rating because of the lyrics. No flow, a bit of charisma, a great catchy chorus. Sounds like the perfect recipe for a one-hit wonder, and 50 Cent should’ve been one.

    • You’re right. This album was just straight up commercial party rap targeted toward “bros”. With so much great music in ’02 and ’03, odds are that if you were listening to this — you were pretty lame.

  3. While it’s now difficult to understand how at one point 50 was considered the next greatest rapper –– given his descent into galavanting about with fat Val Kilmer, pimping Vitamin Water, and subjecting the world to “Candy Shop” –– it’s important to remember that the early ’00s were a simpler time: The Vines were a promising young act, Nate Dogg was still among the living, and the Iraq War had yet to commence. I think perhaps when 50 Cent’s relevance died our innocence died with it; though I can’t speak for everyone, I remember feeling significantly more broken and fragile around the time of “Ayo Technology,” myself.

    • “The Vines were a promising young act.”

      What was it like writing for NME back then?

    • Ayo Technology is a bliss, I mean, instrumental. Top production.

    • Ahh yes, that phase where short-named “the” garage rock bands in the vain of the Strokes and the White Stripes were all getting signed up to major labels. What I’ve always found interesting about that trend is that it at least gave us the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (I think they’ve since dropped the “the”) and the Walkmen, who both splintered off into their own individual directions.

      • An insane amount of the shitty NME ‘The’ bands is still one of the worst thing that happened to music in the last decade. I mean The Pigeon Detectives, The Twang, The Fratellis, etc., though they were never big outside the UK, thank god.

      • I think perhaps the most bizarre result of the “the”-ification trend of the early ’00s is The Black Keys’ rise to being just about the most successful American rock band out there right now. If you told any big garage rock booster in 2003 that 10 years from now most people will be embarrassed by the Hives/Vines, the White Stripes will have broken up, the Strokes will release some aggressively mediocre albums, absolutely no one will remember the Von Bondies even existed, but the Black Keys will be headlining festivals and selling out stadiums, they would shit their pants.

  4. this is a good post.

  5. Just listened to this album yesterday after not really paying attention to it for a while, and it’s holds up a lot better than I thought it would.
    I think his downfall has a lot less to do with Ross and more with the huge change in the landscape of Rap around the time of his sales battle with Kanye. At this point, you never see “street” rappers like 50 gaining a mainstream audience. The rappers with the largest audiences are guys like Kanye and Drake, who lived somewhat detached from gangs and rap about their wealth and women, and the problems that come with those things. And even those guys aren’t really popular in the same sense as 50 or Jay-Z were in that era.

  6. I blame Graduation for 50 Cent’s downfall

  7. Wasn’t 50 shot nine times?

  8. Good write-up Claire. Never thought of Blood Hound as “video gamey” before but that’s essentially exactly what it is. That was the one track I downloaded from iTunes to see if the album was worth it back in the day. Couldn’t have chose a better one, was listening to that in my head in all get-pumped moments for the next year or so.

    Somewhat worth noting that 50 was also doing a full fledged sitcom during his Ross beef, Pimpin Curly:
    http://pauleyboom.wordpress.com/2009/03/20/high-atus/

    I have high hopes for future 50. His verse on Hate Being Sober is phenomenal, classic 50-smooth, and the last mixtape of his Tom posted – The Big 10 – showed a once again hungry dude on a mission.

  9. I remember when the music video for In Da Club came out it spurred some local churches to burn effigies of 50 cent for his “venomous influence” on youth culture.

    It was the only moment I thought he was even kind of cool.

  10. I cannot help but think that everything about 50 Cent seems so fake and contrived. To me, 50 Cent is nothing more than a guy who was discovered at a modelling agency by a record company exec looking to score some of that Gangsta-Rap tall dollar.

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