Time is a fascinating concept. As I get older, memories I’ve thought have vanished quickly creep back up, and those moments of awe and an innate fascination come back. A few weeks ago, it hit me that Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is turning 20 on February 6, 2023, and I got hit with this memory of being at my cousin’s house. We were in his room, and he was showing me something brand new; he consistently gifted new systems and tech, but he strived to achieve greatness; it was his reward. I was focused on cartoons and exploring the creative side of sketching pictures, though with limitations living in a religious household. I remember this one time I drew a werewolf, and they believed something was wrong with me for a few minutes; I was around 7. However, I digress. My cousin was flexing this newly acquired album from his uncle, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and we began bumping from start to finish. As a young white Latino, I was enthralled, shifting toward 50’s vicious swagger as he beautifully produces smooth flows, especially in the song “Wanksta.” From there, I knew my heart belonged to New York Hip-Hop, despite having universal love for Hip-Hop from all regions.
There was no denying my love for hip-hop was growing swiftly, especially with what my cousins from New York City introduced me to during my youth; however, something about 50 Cent’s debut had stood with me throughout my years. Was there a slight bias because he was signed and pushed by Eminem? Slightly, but on his own, 50 Cent had an identity, and it exhumes powerfully. That’s what hit a young Kevin, listening to the album, but more importantly, “Wanksta.” The beat was smooth, and the chorus was catchy; it made me push to avoid being a wanksta, but I kept changing with the trends as a teen, so I failed. My failure aside, I was never perturbed from listening to it, not even the G-Unit/Game beef, considering Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and The Documentary are some of my favorite rap albums. But unlike the cold, gritty Gangster Rap/G-Funk from The Game, 50 Cent brought a lot of swagger, and it reigned supreme.
50 Cent’s swagger had an effervescent presence that came from songs like “High All the Time,” ‘Many Men (Death Wish),” “Bloodhound,” “Poor Lil Rich,” “P.I.M.P.,” “Like My Style,” and “Heat” made the content he’s rapping about more appealing to dissect. Whether violent or sensual, 50 Cent reflects on his life, never shying from the downs and allowing us to see how the mentality isn’t for everyone as the sound stays authentic to the musical direction. His lyrical prowess is a reason his music stayed on heavy rotation with my friends and me, listening to “Heat,” “Poor Lil Rich,” and “Many Men,” which was the commonly shared track appearing through our varying mixed CDs. “Many Men” is the true heart of the album. The visceral lyricism and direct coldness imbued by 50 Cent made this track killer. It was 50 boasting his status, literally and metaphorically; we hear him boasting how great he is while lambasting the shooters who couldn’t finish the job. 50 was supposed to release an album in 2000 titled Power of the Dollar – after his shooting, Columbia Records backed away from their deal. It adds depth to 50 Cent’s comeback, boasting the narrative that makes 50 seem tougher than expected. In retrospect, it adds layers to the other songs, as it boasts his near-death comeback narrative; he didn’t need it to have that coldness and swagger.
But now, 50 Cent is living, and through that, 50 breathes organically on every track while embroidering himself with lavish club-hip-hop and soulful down-tempo beats – apropos streetwise style of New York with creative overtures – and hardcore percussion-heavy beats containing drug noises. He’s creating gangster party tracks, emotional density as he speaks on love and survival, the hardships in slanging drugs, and boasting how hard he is, compared to most gangstas. 50 even has class as he casually name-drops Patti LaBelle as means of empowerment. The more radio-friendly singles, “In Da Club,” “If I Can’t,” “P.I.M.P.,” and “21 Questions,” established a foundation that never perturbed 50 from expressing his gangster alignments, like when he rapped: “Look homie, ain’t nothin’ changed: hoes down, G’s up/I see Xzibit in the cut, hey, nigga, roll that weed up! (Roll it!)/If you watch how I move, you’ll mistake me for a player or pimp.” He may be clubbing, but that doesn’t mean he lets his guard down with his enjoyment lyrically; he sees himself as top of the chain (“If I Can’t”), and that’s heard through his swagger and confidence. “21 Questions” gave us this tender look at 50 Cent breaking down and pondering his relationship through his incarnation, showing a sensitive side to a gangster. He isn’t a hollow person, and it lets him express a sense of vanity, a man who’s scared of loss – it gets reflected in “Gotta Make It To Heaven,” too. For “21 Questions,” we see it develop beautifully from start to finish, whether from the cadence in 50’s flow or the emotional depth instilled in the chorus. It’s stood the test of time as gangster’s love song that wasn’t overly hokey or derivative and instead more smooth and direct.
There’s no mystique to Get Rich or Die Tryin’; it eloquently (for Gangster Rap) tells us tales of survival, glamor, and success that sees 50 Cent describing the complex layers of a gangster (himself), specifically within his cultural ecosphere, aka the streets. It’s one smooth rollercoaster ride that boasts different elements between its lyrics and production; it flows with hunger as 50 Cent doesn’t let a moment come by with weak bars boasting the ferocity of his singles. It didn’t matter the content or style, whether “Many Men” or “In Da Club,” 50 came with the heat. It’s reminiscent of The Notorious B.I.G.’s lyrical strength–tenacity to keep the bars tight, no matter style with the singles getting released. For B.I.G. and Ready To Die, it went with the introspective smooth club banger, then the smooth braggadocio, and third the lyrical exercise that brings poignant depth with its themes of Death and Survival. It’s a loose comparison of the distribution of content. The main difference, 50 had more singles in the tank, all bolstered by incredible beats from Dr. Dre, Eminem, Mike Elizondo, Sha Money XL, Dirty Swift, Darrell “Digga” Branch, Mr. Porter, and Luis Resto.
Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Sha Money XL have their hands on most of the album, but the beats from other producers, like Rockwilder, Megahertz, and Mr. Porter, who produce “Like My Style” and “Gotta Make It To Heaven” and “P.I.M.P.,” respectively. The beats have eclectic percussion patterns, and 50 Cent attacks them naturally, giving us some smooth and hardcore flows. Whether straight and narrow like what he and Tony Yayo spit in “Like My Style” or introspective with the violent, humanistic depth of “Gotta Make It To Heaven,” there’s an enduring storytelling strength, which adds more layers to his persona. The former has swagger-filled percussion that takes form underneath darkly glimmering keys and hi-hats, but the latter brings the funk, soul, and jazz elements to its streetwise drum beats, making it feel grander than it seems. “P.I.M.P.” has a bottle-popping flavor with its snappy keys that overlay luscious, smooth drum beats. It’s this bravado creating replayable momentum – I can’t help but keep finding myself latched to Get Rich or Die Tryin’ in my school days. And that goes for all the beats on Get Rich or Die Tryin’, which are an eclectic blend of hardcore New York Street style, which focuses more on the drums, while the singles bring in more electric strings to add some flare, some character. For example, “P.I.M.P.” and its hypnotic bass grooves and snappy keyboard notes, aka the gin to the juice that is the central drum pattern.
There’s a lot to this album where it sounds timeliness, and it’s one of the predominant reasons for its heavy rotation throughout my years; well, that and the New York bias, having grown up an hour outside Manhattan. It’s rich in style and poignant with its gangster narrative, allowing his listeners to feel and understand the complexities of his character despite being seen as this masculine leader. 50 Cent made something profound, and I’m forever thankful. It kept the resurgence in New York Hip-Hop flowing in the early 2000s, and its potency keeps it moving without a moment of pause. It’s a classic through and through; unfortunately, 50 Cent hasn’t matched this greatness since, but it remain with me for years to come.