In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
50 Cent is not cool. This was a hard lesson to learn. In 2003, there was so much excitement around 50’s debut album Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. 50 depicted himself as a cold-blooded warrior-prince who still knew how to write a hook, and the album was so focused and intense that even its big hits mostly didn’t sound like pop-radio pander-moves. “In Da Club” was an epic, and it became the year’s biggest hit. “21 Questions,” 50’s follow-up single and second #1 hit, was the exception, the one song that seemed constructed with pop radio in mind.
Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ remains an all-time rap classic — one of those magic moments where the artistic and the commercial come together in beautiful harmony. But 50 wasn’t really an artist. Another rap titan like Jay-Z might claim that he was a businessman — or a business, man — and that he’d dumbed down on his audience to double his dollars. But you could still tell that Jay-Z cared how his music sounded, that he still used it to express feelings and ideas. By the time 50 Cent released his second album, you couldn’t really say the same for him. 50 was happy to make the cheesiest shit in the world if he thought that it would sell.
For a while, that cheesy shit did sell, but the buzz wore off quick. 50 Cent could’ve established himself as a true rap legend if that was what he wanted. Instead, 50 made shallow and obvious pop moves. Those moves earned 50 another #1 hit, and they helped him sell plenty more records, but they also decimated the goodwill that 50 had earned. It’s almost impossible to hear “Candy Shop,” 50 Cent’s third and final #1 hit as lead artist, as anything other than a craven sellout move. You only get so many of those before people move on.
In the two years after Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, 50 Cent continued with his scorched-earth campaign to dominate rap music. 50 spent the summer of 2003 on a co-headlining tour with Jay-Z. That fall, when Jay released his fake-retirement LP The Black Album, 50 immediately challenged Jay’s primacy. On the same day that The Black Album came out, 50 released Beg For Mercy, the first album from his G-Unit crew.
If G-Unit had sold more albums than The Black Album, that would’ve solidified 50 as rap’s new king. It came close. Beg For Mercy sold nearly 400,000 copies in its first week, but Jay won that sales battle. Still, rap-crew albums almost never do that well. (“Stunt 101,” the first single from Beg For Mercy, peaked at #13, and it’s still G-Unit’s highest-charting single.)
Beg For Mercy ultimately went double platinum, and 50 Cent spent 2003 attempting to turn the other G-Unit members into stars. He mostly succeeded. That summer, 50’s raspy young protege Lloyd Banks released his platinum debut album The Hunger For More. An uncredited 50 sang the hook of Banks’ lead single “On Fire,” and that song peaked at #8. (It’s a 7.)
A couple of months later, Young Buck came out with his own platinum debut Straight Outta Cashville. Buck, a Nashville rapper and a former member of Juvenile’s UTP crew, hadn’t come up with 50 in Queens the way Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo had done. Instead, 50 recruited Buck for G-Unit in a transparent attempt to latch onto the Southern rap boom. But Buck embraced his G-Unit status, and for a while, he was my favorite non-50 rapper in the group. (50 guested on Buck’s debut single “Let Me In,” which only made it to #34. Buck did better with his follow-up “Shorty Wanna Ride,” which didn’t have 50 but which peaked at #17.)
G-Unit soon got another new member, and 50 wasn’t involved in recruiting him. Dr. Dre had signed a young Compton rapper named the Game to his Aftermath label, and Dre and Interscope boss Jimmy Iovine made a decision. They decreed that the Game should join G-Unit. At first, 50 welcomed Game to the crew and rapped on a bunch of songs from Game’s album The Documentary, which came out at the top of 2005. Almost immediately, the Game connected on a level that started to threaten 50’s supremacy. 50 showed up on the Game’s debut single “Westside Story,” a minor hit that peaked at #93. 50 also appeared on Game’s next single, the chilly Dre production “How We Do,” which went all the way to #4. (It’s a 10.) 50 rapped circles around Game on that song, but Game was still the lead artist.
The Documentary was double platinum within a couple of months, and its success started to interfere with 50 Cent’s own plans. 50 had recorded his sophomore album, and he wanted to call it The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and release it on Valentine’s Day. But the album’s lead single “Disco Inferno” was a limp “In Da Club” retread with a thin beat and no iconic lines. “Disco Inferno” should’ve been a surefire smash, but it peaked at #3. (It’s a 5.) 50 had spread himself thin, and the Game’s music was competing with his own. Ultimately, 50 pushed his album release back a few weeks and changed its title. He dropped the St. Valentine’s, and the album simply became The Massacre instead.
In February, before his own album came out, 50 pulled a power move. He went on the New York radio station Hot 97 and declared that he had excommunicated the Game from G-Unit. Apparently, nobody had given the Game any warning. Game was in New York at the time, and he’d been on Hot 97 earlier that day. While 50’s interview was still happening, the Game tried to storm his way back into the Hot 97 studios. 50 and Game’s entourages met outside the station, and someone from 50’s crew shot someone from Game’s crew in the leg.
A few days after the shooting, 50 and Game declared a truce at a tense press conference, but they almost immediately went right back to talking shit about each other in public. Still, the music that 50 and Game made together continued to resonate. In fact, when 50 returned to #1, a different Game collab almost knocked his “Candy Shop” out of the #1 spot. (You probably already know what song I’m talking about, but if not, it’s below.) If this was all a marketing ploy, it worked; The Massacre sold well over a million copies in its first week. But maybe 50 was just mad because he’d given all his best songs away to the Game.
“Candy Shop,” the #1 hit from The Massacre, is not one of 50 Cent’s best songs. The Massacre has a lot of deep-cut bangers that would’ve fit just fine on Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, but “Candy Shop” and “Disco Inferno” worked together to change 50’s public image and the general perception of the album. From first listen, it was clear that “Candy Shop” had no compelling artistic reason to exist. 50 Cent made that song as pure radio-bait, and he didn’t even bother to attempt to sell the song as anything bigger than that.
50 Cent recorded “Candy Shop” with Scott Storch, the producer whose work was utterly dominating the Hot 100 at the time. It’s not Storch’s best work, either. Storch’s “Candy Shop” track, with its churning quasi-eastern strings and its deeply obvious drum programming, sounds like a softer and less inspired take on the beat that he’d made for Terror Squad’s “Lean Back.” Instead of the epic churn of that “Lean Back” intro, though, “Candy Shop” had a sickly strings-and-xylophones fanfare that was sampled, uncredited, from Salsoul Orchestra’s 1983 dance jam “Ooh, I Love It (Love Break).” (Salsoul Orchestra’s highest-charting single, 1976’s “Tangerine,” peaked at #18.)
While “Candy Shop” was sitting at #1, Terror Squad leader Fat Joe claimed that he’d helped Scott Storch make the “Candy Shop” beat: “I figured at the time ‘Lean Back’ was popping, so Scott called me like 50 times, 100 times: ‘Yo, you sure you don’t want to use it? 50 Cent called me. 50 Cent want it.’… Sometimes, you know beats ain’t for you.” At the time, Joe was pissed off at 50. Joe and fellow New Yorker Jadakiss had teamed up with 50’s old adversary on the 2004 local-pride anthem “New York,” a #27 hit, and 50 had responded by attacking both Joe and Jadakiss on the Massacre track “Piggy Bank.”
Maybe Fat Joe passed up a surefire hit, but he was right to turn down that “Candy Shop” beat. If Joe had used that beat, it would’ve come off like a hopeless attempt to repeat the success of “Lean Back.” It sounds a bit like that coming from 50, too. But 50 doesn’t use that leaden and uninspired Scott Storch beat to rap about dancing, or about not dancing. Instead, “Candy Shop” is maybe the most unconvincing sex song ever to top the Hot 100. Say what you will about something like Juvenile’s “Slow Motion,” but at least Juvenile sounded plausibly horny. “Candy Shop” sounds like a spreadsheet, an investors’ call. 50 sounds utterly checked out.
50 Cent recorded “Candy Shop” with the newest artist who he’d brought into the G-Unit fold. Brooklyn-born R&B singer Olivia Longott, who recorded under her first name only, had signed to Clive Davis’ J Records as a teenager. In 2001, Olivia had reached #15 with her debut single, the clubby R&B track “Bizounce.” But Olivia’s follow-up single didn’t chart, and her self-titled debut flopped. So Olivia left J Records and moved over to G-Unit.
Olivia was always a weird fit at G-Unit, where she was the one R&B singer on a rap label. She never ended up releasing an album on G-Unit; that self-titled LP is still the only album that she’s ever released. In her G-Unit era, Olivia’s biggest post-“Candy Shop” moment came when she sang the hook on 50 Cent’s “Best Friend,” which peaked at #35 and which showed up on the soundtrack of the 2006 movie Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, which was 50’s attempt at an 8 Mile-style cinematic quasi-autobiography. (The movie didn’t do very well, and I don’t remember much about it, but I did like that soundtrack album. The 50/Young Buck collab “I’ll Whip Ya Head Boy” is easily the best song ever written about whipping ya head, boy.)
Olivia doesn’t really do anything on “Candy Shop.” She doesn’t sing, and she doesn’t rap. Instead, she just kind of deadpans half of the hook, and she probably just got a feature credit because 50 couldn’t figure how else to showcase her. 50 Cent was good at marketing rappers, but he had no idea what to do with an R&B singer. “Candy Shop” does have some melody, but it’s not the kind of melody that demands an actual singer. Instead, it’s built for the kind of slurry singsong thing that 50 does so well. The song’s hook is, at the very least, catchy enough to stick in your head. It’s also dumber than dirt.
Here’s how 50 Cent described what he wanted to do with “Candy Shop”: “I attempted to be as sexual as possible, from a male perspective, without being vulgar or obscene.” The definition of “obscene” is a matter for the courts, so I won’t attempt to say whether 50 managed to avoid obscenity on “Candy Shop.” Instead, I’ll say this: 50 Cent should not worry about whether or not he’s being obscene. He’s 50 Cent! He should be as nasty as he wants to be! I can’t find it online now, but I remember reading an interview at the time where 50 talked about how clever “Candy Shop” was. If I recall correctly, 50 said that adults would know that he was talking about sex but that kids might think he was rapping about actual candy. I was an adult when “Candy Shop” came out, but I have to believe that even the dumbest toddlers in America knew that 50 wasn’t talking about Jujubes.
50 Cent has that rare gift where almost everything he says comes off sounding like a hook. Every line on “Candy Shop” is memorable, but none of them are worth remembering. The song is about sex, but it’s never sexy. 50 sounds absolutely joyless, like he doesn’t even like having sex. Certain “Candy Shop” lines remind me of Steve Carrell in The 40-Year-Old Virgin talking about how boobs feel like “bags of sand.” Consider: “I’ll break it down for you now, baby, it’s simple/ If you be a nympho, I be a nympho.” Or: “Isn’t it ironic, how erotic it is to watch her in thongs?” No. No, it’s not. It’s not ironic at all. Does 50 Cent know what that word means? You should know what a word means if you’re going to rap it on a song.
For me, the saving grace of “Candy Shop” is this: It’s fun to impersonate 50 Cent on the track. I did a lot of that in the spring of 2005. I’d be in line at the grocery store talking about “I got the magic stick, I’m the love doctor.” I’d be out at the lunch buffet at the Indian restaurant in Mt. Vernon: “My champagne campaign, bottle after bottle, it’s on.” I’d be pumping gas: “Give it to me, baby, nice and slow/ Climb on top, ride like you in a rodeo.” I definitely annoyed the living hell out of my girlfriend, but we’re now married with kids, so I didn’t annoy her enough to chase her away. Anyway. “Candy Shop.” Bad song.
There were plenty of hits and potential hits on The Massacre, and all of them were better than “Candy Shop.” 50 Cent followed “Candy Shop” with “Just A Lil Bit,” another Scott Storch production that was a lot like “Candy Shop” while being a vast improvement in every way. That sitar bit? That’s a good sitar bit. (“Just A Lil Bit” peaked at #3. It’s a 7.) Six months after the release of The Massacre, 50 came out with a deluxe edition of the album. By that time, he’d signed Queens rap legends Mobb Deep to G-Unit. For the one of the bonus tracks, Prodigy and Havoc rapped on a remix of the album cut “Outta Control,” and that remix peaked at #6. (It’s a 6.)
As the album cycle for The Massacre died down, 50 Cent made his movie, and he also launched feuds with every prominent New York rapper who he hadn’t already alienated or signed to G-Unit. In the fall of 2005, Jay-Z announced a special show in New Jersey. He said that certain people needed to be put on notice, and he said that “I Declare War” would be the theme of the show. Everyone assumed that Jay would go after 50. Instead, that was the show where Jay brought Nas out onstage, ending the feud that had started so memorably four years earlier.
I’d moved to New York a few months before that show, and I was in the crowd that night. It was an event. Every few minutes, Jay brought out another unannounced guest: Jeezy! T.I.! Beanie Sigel, fresh out of jail! Freeway! The Lox! Sauce Money! Diddy, ending his own feud with the Lox! Kanye West! LeBron James, just out to throw up the Roc-A-Fella diamond and make everyone else look short at the end of the show! Soon afterward, 50 Cent said that he thought the whole concert was about him, since he had problems with just about everyone who came out onstage. Maybe 50 was right, or maybe he’d just picked so many fights that you couldn’t stage an all-star rap spectacle without making it look like a convention of 50 Cent’s enemies.
All those feuds didn’t stop 50 Cent from making insane amounts of money. The Massacre went platinum six times over — a huge number that still wasn’t quite up to what he’d done with Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. But 50 got paid more from his non-musical endeavors. In 2004, 50 got his own Vitamin Water flavor called Formula 50 — it tasted like Smarties, if I remember right — and he became a commercial pitchman for the company. As part of that deal, 50 became a minority owner of Glacéau, the company that made Vitamin Water. In 2007, Coca-Cola paid billions to buy Glacéau, and 50 reportedly earned something like $100 million in the process. Lots and lots of articles praised 50’s business acumen, though he still filed for bankruptcy eight years later.
In 2007, 50 Cent also picked the wrong fight. That’s when 50 followed The Massacre with his album Curtis. In a very hyped-up move, that album came out on the same day as Graduation, the third album from former Number Ones artist Kanye West. Kanye and 50 did everything in their power to hype that sales battle up. They appeared face-to-face on the cover of Rolling Stone. They did the same face-to-face pose while presenting together at the VMAs. 50 even promised that he’d retire if he lost the fight. People looked at that whole episode like it was a battle for the soul of rap music. In the buildup, 50 played the heel, and most of us accepted Kanye West as the lovable underdog — a feat of branding that seems even more ridiculous every single day.
One of the singles from Curtis was maybe my favorite 50 Cent song ever. “I Get Money” was hard and arrogant and charged with energy. Its “Top Billin'” sample hit so hard. I was in New York at the time, so maybe my perspective is skewed, but “I Get Money” felt like the biggest song in the world right then. The statistics don’t bear that out; “I Get Money” peaked at #20 on the Hot 100. The big single from Curtis turned out to be the Justin Timberlake/Timbaland collab “Ayo Technology,” which peaked at #5. (It’s a 5. Timberlake and Timbaland will eventually appear in this column.)
Graduation and Curtis both did huge numbers in that first week, but Graduation won the fight handily. In retrospect, Kanye West’s victory seems obvious. 50 Cent’s imperial moment was over, and he somehow came off as the less-likable guy in a fight against Kanye, now one of the least likable people on the planet. Also, Graduation is a good album, and Curtis is not. Sometimes, it’s that simple. “Ayo Technology” still stands as 50 Cent’s last top-10 hit as lead artist. As a guest, however, 50 will appear in this column again.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the genuinely funny scene from the 2006 motion picture Little Man where Tracy Morgan raps his “Candy Shop” freestyle “Butcher Shop”:
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the Dan Band portraying the wedding band in the 2009 film The Hangover and performing their lounge-lizard “Candy Shop” cover:
(Bradley Cooper will eventually appear in this column.)
BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Suzanne Vega rocking a random-ass “Candy Shop” sample on her 2014 song “Don’t Uncork What You Can’t Contain”:
(Suzanne Vega’s highest-charting single, 1987’s “Luka,” peaked at #3. It’s an 8.)
BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Adam Rodriguez doing a whole routine to “Candy Shop in the 2015 cinematic opus Magic Mike XXL:
BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: 50 Cent tried to act as a kind of mentor to the Brooklyn drill star Pop Smoke for a brief period before Pop was murdered in 2020. 50 was also credited as an executive producer on Pop’s hugely successful posthumous 2020 album Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon. On the album track “The Woo,” 50 Cent appeared alongside Pop Smoke and Roddy Ricch, and Pop sang a bit of “Candy Shop.” Here’s that song:
(“The Woo” peaked at #11. Pop Smoke’s highest-charting single also comes from that album; it’s the Lil Baby/DaBaby collab “For The Night,” which peaked at #6. That’s a 6. Roddy Ricch will eventually appear in this column.)
THE NUMBER TWOS: Kelly Clarkson’s soul-shattering scream-along “Since U Been Gone,” the song that transformed the raw-nerve college rock of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps” into a surgical pop missile, famously peaked at #2 behind “Candy Shop.” I’ve heard colleagues argue that “Since U Been Gone” is the greatest pop single of the ’00s, and there is definitely a case to be made. All you’d ever hear me say is it’s a 10.
The Game and 50 Cent’s incandescent, soulfully heart-crushed Proustian reverie “Hate It Or Love It,” a song that’s orders of magnitude better than anything on The Massacre, also peaked at #2 behind “Candy Shop.” Confusion occurs coming up in a cold world, but I’m not confused when I say that it’s another 10.
THE 10S: Amerie’s dizzily energized drums-cascading whoop “1 Thing” peaked at #8 behind “Candy Shop.” Memories just keep ringing bells, and it’s one more 10:
The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The History Of Pop Music is out now via Hachette Books. But it here and have your friends teasing you about how sprung it got you.