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15 Years On, 50 Cent’s ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’ Still Hits Hard

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50 Cent has embraced many personas throughout this lengthy career: drug dealer, television producer, professional beef-instigator, accidental cryptocurrency millionaire and too many others to mention. However, for many of us, he will be fondly remembered as the rapper who barged into our earholes with both guns blazing, armed with one of the most impactful hip-hop debuts in history: Get Rich Or Die Tryin’.

At the turn of the century, Curtis Jackson was shot nine times in front of his grandmother’s home. Soon after, like Jesus Christ in a du-rag, he was resurrected and proceeded to flood the New York mixtape circuit with street anthems alongside his G-Unit stable. With bullet fragments lodged in his tongue and a Southern drawl, 50 reeked of staunch authenticity; and he had the hard-headed catalogue to back it up. “The only business model I had was from selling drugs, so that’s how I marketed my product,” 50 says. “I knew the only way to get into any market is to give out free samples. I had to build up a clientele before I could see a profit.” Soon after, his 2002 compilation Guess Who’s Back? caught the attention of Eminem, who alongside Dr. Dre, signed him to a million dollar deal on Shady/Aftermath.

50’s shooting and subsequent comeback was the ultimate underdog narrative. He was a crack dealer named after an old Brooklyn stick-up kid, who survived nine gunshot wounds and not only lived to tell the tale, but seemingly stared death in the face with a wide smirk. The hype was overbearing and the stage was set for his debut, and it did not disappoint: Upon dropping in 2003, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ sold 872,000 copies in its first week and made 50 one of the era’s most omnipresent stars. The cover artwork set the tone for the album before you even opened the CD case (because back then, physical CDs were still a thing). It features 50’s ice cold stare, a bullet hole to reference his shooting, and even a Gucci-branded gun holster; one that art director Julian Alexander retouched to avoid legal troubles with the Italian fashion house.

Sonically, the album is unapologetically raw, especially by mainstream standards. Littered with overblown gangsterisms, threats to enemies (as well as their dear mothers) and violent soundscapes, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ was a brooding shift away from the early 2000s landscape that saw rappers flirt with pop crossovers with greater frequency. “What Up Gangsta” is still one of the bluntest opening chapters of a rap record, while “Patiently Waiting” features cinematic, looming production and Eminem’s infamous September 11 reference. “Heat” is driven by production centred around gun cocking every few seconds, with 50 noting that it was recorded with his real-life firearms. “We had them with us, so we’d just go in the booth and use it instead of going with a sound effect,” he says.

The album’s assertive tone reaches its cold-blooded crescendo with “Back Down,” a tactical takedown and burial of fellow New Yorker and arch-nemesis, Ja Rule. It’s a feud that’s somehow still continuing in 2018 – via Twitter, of course – and just one of the countless conflicts that 50 has engaged with including Rick Ross, Jadakiss and Fat Joe. In 2007, 50 was able to directly monetize a more playful rivalry with Kanye West, where they competed to have the highest first-week album sales to cash in on their respective Stans. And while that might be a flagrant display of 50’s marketing genius, it was still very much evident on Get Rich Or Die Tryin’.