#280: Get Rich or Die Tryin’, 50 Cent
Here’s some fun insight into my musical origin story: When I was in the sixth grade, I decided that I needed to like rap music if I wanted to be be a true rock and roll fan. So I bought this album on iTunes.
At the time it impressed no one. “Did you know that 50 Cent was shot nine times?” I told anyone who would listen. Yes, everyone knew that. I eventually got shamed out of mentioning it at all (though my love of rap music persists; my mission was a success). So it’s a delight to learn that this is one of the greatest albums of all time.
This record had the weird honor of being both incredibly cool and incredibly uncool. It was the bestselling album of 2003, but people laugh at me when I put it on at parties. RS puts it so succinctly when it says that “In Da Club” “enraptured the suburbs.” God, SO true. I can’t tell you how many cherubic, sixth-grade white boys I watched rap along with him: I got the X if you into takin’ drugs/I’m into having sex, I ain’t into making love. The lyrics are off-the-wall with posturing masculinity, but the backbeat is unexpected and dramatic. And yet the effect is way less cool when you hear it on a school bus.
50 Cent himself had a wild rise to fame. After releasing a song called “Ghetto Q’uran” where he names several real Queen drug dealers by their real names, 50 got blacklisted from the music industry. It’s also reportedly the reason he was shot (9 times!!!) and was for some time associated with the murder of Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay (until the real killer was caught). Then Eminem found his album and connected him to Dr. Dre, and the rest was history. Listen to 50 and Em tell the story themselves on “Patiently Waiting,” where 50 calls Eminem his favorite white boy. See? I told you Eminem rocks.
It’s so easy to write records like this off: 50 Cent is what sixth-grade girls think rap music is, I hear you scoff to yourself. No, see, listen: This is smarter than it appears. It’s got all the crucial elements of gangster rap: The “Intro,” in which a coin rolls on a hard surface; the obligatory “What Up Gangsta”; the ode to weed called “High All The Time.” But I promise you he’s not painting by numbers. He name checks soul superstar Patti LaBelle, and references the Fugees, and somehow manages to spit out: I’m on the next level/Breitling baguette bezel. It’s not as straightforward as it appears to be.
I actually found myself admiring 50’s shrewd dedication to his brand, which is “I’m coming to kill you, personally, right this minute.” Aggressive single “Many Men (Wish Death)” claims that this is because YOU came for HIM first. “Blood Hound” has him barking like a territorial dog. “Heat,” an ode to guns, is scary if you take it literally: I do what I gotta do/I don’t care if I get caught … I’ll kill you/I ain’t playing/Do you hear what I’m saying? “Don’t Push Me” gives Eminem a gun, too, because he might as well have one.
The closer, though, “Gotta Make It to Heaven,” sheds some light on 50’s tough-guy persona, with him realizing he may be paranoid. He even says the Serenity Prayer. It’s not the sob story some rappers give when they excuse their violence — just a guarded admission. Again, it’s totally on-brand.
Now, I’m pretty much a bleeding-heart hippie. I’m a vegetarian, I have a big flower drawn on my arm, I’ve held three betta fish funerals and cried really hard at all of them. So why is it I connect to so much to Get Rich or Die Tryin’? Maybe the clue is in the name: Ambition at all costs, do what you want and die if you don’t. He’s got the confidence of Kanye West without all the narcissism. My favorite song ended up being “If I Can’t,” because I found the killer hook quite inspiring: If I can’t do it/Homie/It can’t be done. Also, the grandstanding “P.I.M.P.” has a steel drum that makes 50 sound every bit the pimp he is.
Some of these songs have some wild stories behind them. “Back Down” baffled me for a little bit until I learned he feuded with Ja Rule. The final bars of the song are from the perspective of a pretty offensive gay caricature of Ja’s stylist. It’s not nice but it is nuts.
This is the beginning of the era of bloated rap albums, and I think that songs like “Like My Style” and “Poor Lil Rich” didn’t need to be there. And then there’s “21 Questions,” a sappy song that I can tell 50 doesn’t have his heart in. He came out later and admitted that he only made it because he saw how women responded to LL Cool J songs, which is pretty hilarious.
Now that I’m in the bottom half of the RS 500 list, it looks like I’m just starting to get to the good stuff. There’s less pressure to, I don’t know, appreciate it, and more room to just jam. If you need me, you can find me in da club with a bottle full of bub.
Other Highlights: Obviously the bonus tracks: “Wanksta” from 8 Mile, “U Not Like Me,” and “Life’s on the Line.” More of the same but still good!