Ten years ago today, the hip-hop landscape shifted. 50 Cent, a young upstart from Queens, New York, put the rap game in a chokehold with the release of his debut studio album “Get Rich or Die Tryin’.” The album was an audio snapshot of a hustler balancing machismo with romance and vengeance with ego. On “Get Rich or Die Tryin’,” 50 pocked gritty street tales with stitched hooks that thawed the iciest of haters, mainstreaming a style popularized by his foe Ja Rule and appropriated to boost his own ascent.
The album, released on February 6, 2003, debuted atop the Billboard 200 with a staggering 872,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and held court at No. 1 for six weeks. It also presided over the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart for eight weeks, and has since moved 8,172,000 copies to become the fourth best-selling hip-hop album in the United States.
Upon release, “Get Rich or Die Tryin'” laid a new blueprint for hip-hop releases. Whereas few artists ventured outside of the major label system to build buzz, the rapper overcame getting dropped by Columbia Records and recovering from nine gunshot wounds to architect a career in the streets. The rapper took a mixtape model — DJs curating compilations that were bootlegged on corners — and bent it to his advantage, using instrumentals from popular songs to create classic releases like “50 Cent is the Future” and “No Mercy, No Fear” with his G-Unit crew. The mixtape-as-marketing-tool earned him a record deal with two artists with heavy co-signs: Eminem and Dr. Dre.
A decade later, 50 parlayed word-of-mouth buzz and his hit single “In Da Club” into a titanium career marked with platinum albums, multi-million dollar deals, best-selling books and numerous chart hits. He not only rewrote the hip-hop rulebook, but also showed that risking it all for glory can have a ripple effect.
With the clang of two quarters and the sound of a gun being loaded, 50 Cent quickly sets the tone of “Get Rich or Die Tryin’.” The menacing rapper is pointed about his priorities: his intent to chase paper and cock back and squeeze if a situation escalates. The tone feeds into the money-on-my-mind approach set in stone by the Jiggy era, while gesturing to the aggressive establishment of street credibility that pervades the album.
“What Up Gangsta”
A casual flow offsets the devilish rhymes on the album’s first proper song “What Up Gangsta,” touting a Reef-produced instrumental clipped with thick rimshots and a sliding string sample. Entering the mainstream arena in the wake of the ’90s’s gang wars, 50 appeals to both Crips and Bloods with his airtight, simple chorus, using verses to flaunt his invincibility. “The rap critics say I can rhyme / The fiends say my dope is a nine / Every chick I fuck with is a dime,” he brags.
“Patiently Waiting” feat. Eminem
One of two songs on the LP to feature Eminem, “Patiently Waiting” showed that the partnership between Slim Shady and Curtis Jackson wasn’t just on paper. Where 50 used “What Up Gangsta” to cement his fearlessness, he gets slightly personal on the album’s first collaboration, a lyrical onslaught delivered with ease. Between boasts, Fif cracks open the door to his personal life, rapping, “I grew up without my pops, should that make me bitter? / I caught cases I copped out, does that make me a quitter?” A singsong chorus from the Shady Records honcho, who also produced the track, seals the deal, while one-off couplets prove 50’s knack for quote-worthy rhymes. “Ni**as shouldn’t throw stones if you live in a glass house / And if you got a glass jaw, you should watch your mouth,” he growls.
“Many Men (Wish Death)”
Reenacting his brush with death, 50 sets off album standout “Many Men (Wish Death)” with a brief skit where he’s assaulted with gunfire. Soon, the twinkly, brooding instrumental kicks in and the rapper’s sung chorus brings the track to life. Hosting one of the catchiest hooks on “GRODT,” “Many Men” reenacts the attempt to put him down in vivid detail, emphasizing his perseverance and hustler’s spirit. He even name-checks Charles “Chaz” Williams on the song, suggesting that he had something to do with his intended assassination after they had formed a strong alliance. Without being released a proper single, the song has sold 410,000 copies to date.
“In Da Club”
As 50’s biggest hit, “In Da Club” married his propensity for unshakeable hooks with strong wordplay. It’s wrapped in one of Dr. Dre’s pinnacle beats. Choruses were distinctly Fif’s forte, as “Go shorty, it’s your birthday / We gon’ party like it’s your birthday” became a cultural cornerstone. The track appealed to the hardest thugs while bringing Top 40 to its knees, spanning demographics to dominate the Hot 100 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts for nine weeks. With 2,441,000 copies sold to date, “In Da Club” stands as 50’s most recognizable single to date.
“High All The Time”
For anyone in tune with 50’s lifestyle, “High All The Time” was a blatant fabrication. The rapper has gone on record several times to declare he doesn’t mess with drugs or alcohol and lives a straight-edged life. But authenticity didn’t detract from the success of the song, which reached 90,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Boasting rhymes about smoking the best marijuana, 50 used the drug to show that even if he doesn’t like to fly high, he’s still plugged into street culture — the foundation of the album.
Possibly the greasiest gem on the project, “Heat” is certainly more about the beat than the lyrics. Gunshots carry the rhythm on the organ-festooned anthem accented by deeply troubling threats — an accouterment to the music at hand. “If there’s beef, cock it and dump it / The drama really means nothing / To me I’ll ride by and blow ya brains out (Brains out),” he echoes over the Dr. Dre production, interrupted by the rat-tat of a machine gun. It’s one of the catchiest displays of braggadocio on “GRODT,” as well a triumphant feat of terror softened only by melody.
“If I Can’t”
A Hot 100-ready chant-along, “If I Can’t” was 50 at his melodious best, invoking the party hardy reliance of “In Da Club” and applying it to what became the piano-laden fourth single from the album. With Dr. Dre on the boards, 50 indulges in the comfort of luxury on the chorus, capping two-liners with memorable jolts of rhyme. “If I Can’t” shows that even when his lyrics don’t say much, the delivery is key: “G-Unit! We get it poppin’ in the hood / G-Unit! Motherfucker, what’s good?”
“Blood Hound” feat. Young Buck
50 may have mastered the hip-hop game at the start of his career, but even he couldn’t predict the future even if he declared himself that with his breakout mixtape. With one of the icier instrumentals on the album, “Blood Hound” continues in a hustler’s vein that goes at alleged enemies. “My soldiers slangin’ ‘caine, sunny, snowy, sleet or rain / Come through the hood and you can cop that,” 50 raps, gesturing to his future adversary. Buck, who is currently serving an 18-month sentence for gun possession, sounds refreshingly hungry and cocksure, proving his worth as a true protégé.
The final Dr. Dre-produced cut on “GRODT,” “Back Down” conveyed how not all hooks were slung alike. As the first song on the album that clearly addresses his beef with Ja Rule, “Back Down” channeled the playful honesty of his underground hit “How to Rob” without the jocularity, branding the Murder Inc. rapper a “pussy” and even calling him out by name – a relative no-no in the rap community. Bolstered by self-inflating swagger, “Back Down” pointed the ire of previous tracks in a defined direction, showing just how far Fif was willing to go to be taken seriously as an intimidator.
The Jamaican-flavored “P.I.M.P.” truly took form with its single release, hosting guests Snoop Dogg, Lloyd Banks and Young Buck. But the steel drum-driven song was a solo attempt on the album, preserving the flavor of the remix without losing the focus. The song served as the second-bestselling single from the release, moving 890,000 copies and peaking at No. 3 and No. 2 on the Hot 100 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop songs charts, respectively. The breezy visuals for the ode to street corner dealings lightened the illegalities that could have isolated audiences, but didn’t.
“Like My Style” feat. Tony Yayo
50 showed his versatility with “Like My Style” featuring G-Unit compatriot Tony Yayo. The Rockwilder-produced zinger is stilted with an offbeat instrumental. It’s one of the most challenging cuts on the LP. Fif attacks it with ease, proving that his flow could thrive in any musical environment. It’s 50 at his hardest, staving off melody to peacock his street smarts. “If you a pimp, why ya hoes stay outta pocket? / Front and find out how my P-40 glock hit,” he raps before tossing the mic to Yayo, who similarly rides the beat without a hiccup.
“Poor Lil Rich”
Alliteration rules “Poor Lil Rich,” an exercise in grammar that keeps the album alive during its weaker moments. 50 isn’t as intent on lacing tracks with skin-burrowing choruses, instead packing the latter half with street paeans. Setting off the song with wheezy synthesizers care of Sha Money XL and Eminem, 50 banks on repetition, rapping, “Ya wrist bling bling, my shit bling blow / My pinky ring talk it, say ’50 I’m sick.'” Though it wasn’t a single, “Poor Lil Rich” ended up pushing 27,000 copies to date, which isn’t even the lowest-selling cut on the LP.
“21 Questions” feat. Nate Dogg
50 may have used the previous 13 tracks to center his gangster, but 14th time’s a charm on “21 Questions.” Serving as the only ladies-gearing gusher on “GROTD,” Fif shows his softer side, posting answerless hypotheticals to his girl about how she would handle his shortcomings. For a man whose foundation is based on using self-actuated aggro taunts, “21 Questions” is a refresher, reminding listeners that there’s more than meets the facade. Top 40 agreed, as the track spent four weeks atop the Billboard 100 and seven weeks at No. 1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, selling 608,000 copies to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
“Don’t Push Me” feat. Lloyd Banks and Eminem
There’s a vulnerability to “Don’t Push Me” that’s undermined by the Eminem-produced aggressor. At the onset of the bristly cut, Fif raps, “I need you to pray for me and / I need you to care for me and / I need you to want me to win / I need to know where I’m heading, ’cause I know where I’ve been.” It’s a nod to his past with an unsure look at what lays ahead, a proclivity for second-guessing that pushes the track beyond basic boasting. Eminem and Lloyd Banks take this song to next level, their aggrandizement cozying up to 50’s rhymes about clutching a pistol and firing at his enemies.
“Gotta Make It To Heaven”
Another hood anthem, “Gotta Make It To Heaven” closes out the tracklist for the standard version of “Get Rich or Die Tryin’.” It’s not the strongest finale to an album that’s dotted with songs that pair surefire hooks with street stories, but serves a purpose, veering into storytelling territory that refocuses on non-50 characters. Over bongo hits and zippy bass lines, Fif talks about Cousin Twin who “shot up his mama crib, now he in jail.” It’s the honesty that comes at the end of the second verse that gives it weight: “Without that check every month, how she going to pay for the crib? / Man, social service finna come and take them kids.”
Including “Wanksta” as a bonus track on “Get Rich or Die Tryin'” proved just how little his enemies meant to him on the surface, even if they did. Over a tinkering J-Praize-produced beat, 50 first takes aim at Cam’ron, rapping, “Damn, homie / In high school you was the man, homie / The fuck happened to you?” His slander waxed comical, too: “We riding ’round with guns the size of Lil’ Bow Wow.” Many believed that the song went at Ja Rule, but even Fif denied that he put him in the crosshairs. Unfortunately for Ja, success was the sweetest revenge, as “Wanksta” charted at No. 13 on the Hot 100 and sold 291,000 copies to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan.