Get Rich or Die Tryin' (Bonus Track Version)
On the iconic cover of Get Rich or Die Tryin’, 50 Cent essentially looks like a hood superhero: He’s shirtless with pristinely chiseled muscles adorning his tatted torso, with matching gun holsters emblazoned with “50” in the style of the Gucci logo around his shoulders. But if anything, the album was an origin story for one of rap’s all-time great supervillains, and the lead-up to its release felt straight out of a comic book or a movie. 50 learned the ropes of songwriting under the mentorship of Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay, landed a deal with Columbia Records, and built a buzz with the clever, trolling single “How to Rob” before being hit with nine bullets outside of his grandmother’s home in South Jamaica, Queens. After recovering from the attack, he began a legendary mixtape run with his G-Unit crew that reworked the hit rap and R&B records of the time, maintaining those songs’ melodies while creating his own hilarious, street-savvy choruses. It was a brilliant marketing strategy that put him at the center of a bidding war between record labels—a bona fide, unapologetic gangsta rapper at a time when the radio was run by acts like Ludacris and Nelly who cloaked their street content with fun, nonthreatening melodies. Dr. Dre and Eminem came out on top, signing 50 in a joint venture of their respective companies Aftermath Entertainment and Shady Records. Appearances on the soundtrack for Eminem’s film 8 Mile showcased 50’s ominous tone, dark sense of humor, and penchant for sticky sing-along hooks—a perfect match for Em and Dre’s empire. When it came time for 50’s debut studio album, his powers were on full display and his resources were abundant. “In da Club” was an inescapable party starter that topped the Billboard Hot 100 charts, and “Many Men (Wish Death)” revisits 50’s nearly fatal shooting while triumphantly boasting his survival (“These pussy n***as puttin’ money on my head?/Go and get your refund, motherfucker, I ain’t dead,” he declares). And like any supervillain, he had a rival: Ja Rule, a chart conqueror in his own right whose street feuds with 50 made him the target of the haunting “Back Down.” 50’s mentors come through with standout contributions as well. On “Patiently Waiting,” Eminem delivers a string of complex flows and rhyme schemes while heaping praise on his new signee (“Take some B.I.G. and some Pac and you mix them up in a pot/Sprinkle a little Big L on top, what the fuck do you got?” he says). The two superstars certainly brought their best while supporting their neophyte, but they never steal the show; Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is unmistakably 50’s moment. He confidently sticks to his own style while rapping alongside Em instead of trying too hard to keep up, adds his own hook to the romantic “21 Questions” despite having the rap chorus GOAT Nate Dogg on hand, and shows his own eye for talent with cameos by his G-Unit crew (Lloyd Banks, Young Buck, and Tony Yayo). Not bad for someone who was counted out a few years earlier. “They say I walk around like I got an S on my chest/Well, that’s a semiauto in a vest on my chest,” he says on the marching, anthemic opening cut “What Up Gangsta.” Before Thanos was on the big screen, there was 50 Cent.