It is safe to say that in 2023, 50 Cent has become bigger than music. His self-assured cockiness has given birth to countless classic internet moments that still can be seen in group chats and timelines regardless of your affiliation to his discography. 50 Cent has started businesses, written books, and produced hit TV shows since he was first introduced to the world back in the early 2000s. We’ve seen artists surpass their original medium in the past and one unfortunate fact that typically comes with this level of fame and personality is that people forget how they got there, at one point artists like Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube were creating aggressive, conscious hip-hop that changed the landscape of the genre, now younger generations only associate these groundbreaking acts with TV cameos. In the case of 50 Cent, children to this day are still memorizing lyrics to classic hits like “In Da Club” and “Many Men (Wish Death)”.
With 50 Cent’s career skyrocketing with his entrepreneurial endeavors and his wit producing dozens of classic moments in internet culture, it makes revisiting his earlier albums even more rewarding. They act as a snapshot of a young man who has yet to reach his full potential, a saucer-eyed artist whose booming baritone vocal tone and sinister yet clever lyrics were just getting ready to become familiar to the world at large. Today marks 20 years since 50 Cent released his debut album, Get Rich or die Tryin’ and in the context of 50 Cent’s career and hip-hop as a whole, it still sounds like the first time you heard it every time you press play.
Everyone knows 50 Cent’s hero’s journey, the classic tale of the wrong place wrong time as he was shot a total of 9 times in 2000. What isn’t talked about as much is the hustle 50 Cent had to go through to place himself back in the position he was in before that tragic moment. At the time he was shot, 50 Cent was signed to Columbia Records and were gearing up to release his now-defunct debut, Power of A Dollar. Once news spread of the shooting, the label dropped 50 and canceled the release of his debut album. Once he was out of the hospital, 50 Cent immediately got back to work, releasing mixtape after mixtape with his G-Unit affiliates, silently honing his already recognized talent. It wasn’t until 2002 that one of these mixtapes would land on the desk of Eminem, who famously went on to win a bidding war for 50 Cent and sign the artist to a joint deal with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath and his own Shady Records. The songs that would come out of this relationship would change the course of music as we know it, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was an instant classic upon its release on February 6, 2003.
All of that frustration 50 Cent must have felt for the industry, the countless hours of rapping to make it on a label like Columbia only for it all to be taken away by faceless gunfire and being forced back to square one, all of those emotions are expressed on Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Through dark metaphors and fearless bragging, 50 Cent was already a masterful songwriter by the time he was penning his debut. The album is boasting with a healthy dose of melodic, earworm hooks and fierce rapping, this give-and-take of a cleverly-crafted, jaw-dropping diss track like “Back Down” sitting right next to the infectious melodies of “P.I.M.P” truly shows the whirlwind of emotion and raw talent that gives this album its unique personality. 50 Cent was firing on all cylinders, he had an opportunity to rewrite his life and create something that would have a younger version of himself stuck by its creative leaps and unhinged structure, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ reinvented 50 Cent, or more so saw him unlock what was there all along.
50 Cent had an army of some of the best beat-makers of the time working on the instrumentals for his debut. With the likes of Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Sha Money XL in his corner, 50 was working with juggernauts who provided him with a soundscape that was an equal match for his ambitious lyricism. The tone of this album had to be just right in order to keep up with 50, and moments like “Patiently Waiting” and “Heat” act as landmarks for how strong the chemistry was when this album was being pieced together. “Patiently Waiting” sees 50 going toe-to-toe with one of the most respected rappers of the time while “Heat” sees Dr. Dre’s experimentation with using gun clicks as drums mix perfectly with the cut-throat flows 50 displayed over this off-kilter instrumental. The songs selected to comprise 50 Cent’s debut showed an extra level of artistry under the bluntness of the record, they approached these songs with an open mind and allowed their creativity to be unfiltered and what may have been considered risky at the time has now become the new norm thanks to their filterless approach.
While the term “Gangster Rap” is a little outdated and borderline demeaning, it was thrown around a lot upon the release of Get Rich or Die Tryin’. At the time, hip-hop had taken on a life of its own in the eye of pop culture. Missy Elliot was reigning supreme by placing her unpredictable rhyme schemes over the cartoonish drums of Timbaland, birthing a movement in its own right but it was not a movement that 50 Cent felt solace with. In an era of the solo Justin Timberlake album dominating radio, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ felt like a direct response to the time. It was more stripped down and direct than its peers and brought with it a certain edge that was missing in music at the time. Without compromising, 50 Cent single-handedly changed the early 2000s with just one release, an album that reminded everyone it was okay to simply rap without leaning on the assistance of an R&B hook. 50 Cent took a snapshot of real life and painted an even-more vibrant interpretation of it, forcing himself into the charts with brute force and giving way to timeless music that is still relevant 20 years later.
Without Get Rich or Die Tryin’, music as we know it would be a completely different landscape. The 18 songs that make up its tracklist are fueled by a creative force that was restless and unwilling to change their art for any other reasons than their own. 50 Cent created an album that you still see mimicked to this day, artists who were children when it was first released still tote it as a landmark for their upbringing and continue to employ 50’s fearless songwriting in their own. The album broke through the glitz and glam of the early aughts and settled itself above the rest as a ripple in time whose impact would evolve into a tidal wave.