Five Hiphop Masterpieces From the Past Decade #4: Get Rich or Die Tryin’

Now Peter Piper picked peppers, and Run rocked rhymes
I’m 50 Cent, I write a little bit but I pop nines …

Oh, he was so authentic. 50 Cent feels like a cartoon character lately, because his last three albums were weak and nobody wants to hear over and over again how much money he has, how big his house is, how far he’s removed himself from the street. Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was 50’s first album. He still had everything to prove when he recorded it, and the story he told was as real and as common as yesterday’s newspaper.

So many pussy niggas putting money on my head
go on get your refund, motherfucker, I ain’t dead
I’m the diamond in the dirt that ain’t been found
I’m the underground king, and I ain’t been crowned

Of course, 50 let it be known that the story was true, that somebody had once been paid to shoot him. It happened in front of his grandparents’ house in South Jamaica, Queens, and he somehow came through with just a scar on his cheek and damage to his mouth:

From the last shootout, I got a dimple on my face
That’s nothing, I can go after Mase’s fan base

It became the basis of 50’s legend that he not only survived the shooting but took the opportunity to capitalize on it, turning his misery into alchemy. But he still sounds mad on his first album, and when he boasts we feel the pain behind the hubris. Somehow it’s less thrilling today, three mediocre massive-selling albums later, to hear about how successful he is. But you’ve got to admire somebody who believed so much in himself when nobody else did.

You’re thinking about shitting on 50, save it
My songs belong in the Bible with King David

The album plays like a novel, or a memoir — a tale of suffering and deliverance, a lesson in living with purpose. “I’m focused, man,” he says. The results speak for themselves.

It helps that Curtis Jackson is just plain funny. “I love you like a fat kid loves cake”, he sings on “21 Questions”. The most laughs are on “Back Down”, a beef song directed at Ja “Jeffrey Atkins” Rule so wonderfully hilarious that it has continued to define Rule’s entire career. No shabby rapper himself, Ja Rule eventually hit back with “New York”, also featuring Jadakiss and Fat Joe, and Fat Joe almost equaled “Back Down” with “My FoFo” (“I see MJ in the hood more than Curtis”). But beef is 50’s game and these attacks barely touch him, while Ja Rule’s career has never recovered from the damage delivered by 50 Cent’s first album.

The great Dr. Dre produced this record, inventing a whole new sound to fit 50’s style — none of Dre’s signature swooping P-Funk keyboards, just a lot of tough, sinewy guitar lines, mechanical drums and throbbing bass. The production is brilliant — listen to the quiet chunka-chunka guitar that doesn’t start until exactly one minute into “In Da Club”, and then disappears at 1:54 (you can hear this song a hundred times and never notice this guitar line, but it makes the whole track work). Dre also knew which of 50’s biographical details to frame: gunshots are used as a percussion instrument on “Heat”.

Dre also masterminded Get Rich or Die Tryin‘s clever and very successful marketing rollout, featuring two separate versions of “In Da Club”. The clean version was bright enough for every radio station in the world, causing smiles among anyone who knew about the backroom sex and club drug references in the complete lyrics. Once this song hit, 50 was done. He’d never be poor again, but his best songs were about suffering. It’s eight years later and he still hasn’t figured out what to do next.

Five Hiphop Masterpieces from the 2000s

#5: Cam’ron: Come Home With Me

#4: 50 Cent: Get Rich or Die Tryin’

#3: ?

#2: ?

#1: ?

7 Responses

  1. I agree completely. When I
    I agree completely. When I first heard the album, its freshness and intensity were something of a revelation to me. Everything 50 Cent has done since has barely been passable. But that’s the problem with so many rappers, isn’t it? Their lyrics are mainly about their troubles and beefs. But once they become rich, whatever troubles they may have seem so trivial in comparison. They’re left to rap about how rich they are, and how they’re still “running the game”. With the exception of Jay-Z, it just doesn’t work.

  2. Interesting to see some love
    Interesting to see some love for Cam’ron — I’m a big fan, and one rarely sees his name and “masterpiece” anywhere near each other. 50 lost my interest pretty quickly though.

    Great write-ups, so far — curious to see the next 3.

  3. Regarding what will be the
    Regarding what will be the number 1 album, I’m going to go out on a limb and bet on Black.

  4. This was not his first album.
    This was not his first album. “Power of the Dollar” was 50Cent’s first, which also happened to be significantly more original.
    Thus far I have seen neither Immortal Technique [Revolutionary pt.I &II] or Papoose. These two are at the very least in the top 5 of the decade. If you haven’t listened to them yet, start googling now.

  5. Themba, I guess there are a
    Themba, I guess there are a lot of candidates for 50’s first album, since his career had a lot of false starts. A lot of his early tracks are excellent, a lot better than his later stuff … I hope it all gets released someday. Papoose is great. Don’t know Immortal Technique.

    R.W., yeah, I’ve been trying to address some of the negatives of this genre — bigoted, violent, yeah. I don’t agree about low-minded and uncultured, though.

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