The year 2003 was monumental for many reasons including Joe Budden dropping “Pump It Up” as well as being one of the few years DMX wasn’t arrested, but nothing was more impactful than 50 Cent dropping his debut studio album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’. I believe the album was one of the biggest reasons Jay Z claimed to “retire” after the release of The Black Album along with Ja Rule no longer finding commercial success. Short on features and heavy on originality, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is the prototypical debut album for a rap artist and although today’s rap audience typically give a grimace of disgust when they see a nineteen-track album, this one manages to keep listeners wanting more.
“They say I walk around like I got a S on my chest/ Nah, that’s a semi-auto and a vest on my chest…”
“What Up Gangsta” brings the album in with 50 Cent introducing listeners with an anything, but discreet claim: he’s great and he knows it. He’s excelling in all aspects of his life, informing us with lines such as: “The rap critics say I can rhyme/ the fiends say my dope is a nine/ every chick I f*ck with is a dime.” Two minutes into the album and Fiddy has already laid claim to the rap game’s ownership.
We’ll never consider 50 Cent as one of the sharpest lyrical technicians, but his raw substance overshadows his lack of complexity which causes listeners to never doubt his authenticity. Instead of attempting to step out of his comfort zone, 50 remains true to his simplistic approach throughout Get Rich or Die Tryin’. He opts to use his blunt delivery as opposed to baiting listeners with double entendres. Look no further than “Gotta Make It To Heaven” if you need proof that great rappers don’t have to deliver hidden meanings with every line in order to make enjoyable music. The song’s hook and verses are idealistic examples of being real and relatable, a trend the whole album tends to follow.
“‘Cause I hustle, baby, this rap sh*t is so easy/ I’m gettin’ what you get for a brick to talk greasy…”
Fif’s flair can often come off as effortless or even lazy which makes him even more charismatic as an artist. His slurred words (which occur due to receiving a bullet in his cheek) are frequently used as secondary instruments to the already stellar production on his album and his heart-felt “Many Men” track is the primary beneficiary. Filled with four minutes of life-threatening situations and emotional talks with God, it’s no wonder 50 Cent sounds on the verge of breaking down periodically throughout the song.
Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is filled with somber content so with that, singles like “In da Club” and “21 Questions” were not created solely for the radio, but out of necessity. “In da Club” was 50 Cent’s introduction to the masses, charting at number one on the Hot 100 (“Wanksta” only reached thirteen), and the single found the perfect mixture of commercialization and 50’s thug persona. Not many artists can be quoted saying “we’re gonna party like it’s your birthday” then threatening to “go upside your head with a bottle of bub’.” My personal favorite of the lighter-toned songs, though, is “If I Can’t.” The lyrical content of “If I Can’t” is not far off from “In da Club,” but the production is more hypnotizing than the latter’s.
“I came in the rap humble, I don’t give a f*ck now/ I’ll serve anybody like n*ggas who hustle uptown…”
For every celebratory single, there were probably the same amount of tracks directed towards Ja Rule. “Back Down” finds 50 doing his best Deebo impression, bullying Ja with taunts of taking his chain in their altercation in Atlanta along with labeling him as the rap game’s Cookie Monster. Ja Rule wasn’t the only one who felt Fiddy’s wrath. Other Murder Inc. members, Irv Gotti, Black Child and Cadillac Tah, were all mentioned. Originally released in 1999, “Life’s on the Line” was another Murder Inc. diss track on Get Rich or Die Tryin’. While ridiculing Ja Rule’s constant “It’s Murda!” chants, the chorus of “Life’s on the Line” also doubts Ja’s genuineness.
Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was more than 50 Cent’s debut studio album, it served as a declaration as well as a blueprint. 2003 was the year of 50 Cent and anybody connected to him. G-Unit also rose to prominence that same year with a successful album and singles. 50 Cent also went on to become successful outside of music, signing deals with Reebok and Ecko Unlimited in 2003 (and many more ventures). Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is my favorite debut studio album of all-time and I’d argue it’s one of the five greatest as well.