From His Grandmother’s Stoop To The Top Of The Charts: Revisiting 50 Cent’s Classic Debut Album

On the 15th anniversary of 'Get Rich or Die Tryin’,' we reminisce on a moment in hip-hop like none other.

Joe La Puma

Where were you when the quarters dropped? I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the moment where mixtape upstart 50 Cent finally had his moment to show and prove on a mainstream level. His strangehold on the streets with 50 Cent Is The Future and other superior mixtapes that were blasting from the car windows up and down the Tri-State was tight, but was his debut album going to be a classic?

The world was waiting—yes, the world. 50 was already touring globally before Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ dropped, had notable co-signs (the biggest from Eminem and Dr. Dre) but fans couldn’t wait to walk into a Circuit City (R.I.P.) and buy a 50 Cent CD yet. The world was waiting.

There’s a moment on 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ DVD that I remember vividly. Fif is sitting on his grandmother’s stoop—the woman who raised him after his mother passed away— in Southside Jamaica, Queens in a white T-shirt, backwards fitted, pre-pearly white dental work. He looks straight into camera with a message: “I don’t think they really realize the momentum.” He leans back, grins and semi-chuckles, “I think I’m going to sell 5 million records. If it’s not this record, I’m going to have an album that sells 5 million records.”

The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, selling 872,000 copies in its first week. The next week, it sold another 822,000 copies. Get Rich or Die Tryin’ became the best selling album of 2003, eventually selling 12 million copies worldwide the year of its release. As of February 6, 2018, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ has sold 8.5mm units in the U.S. alone.

On its 15th anniversary, I’m sure you don’t want to read a track-by-track breakdown of the album as it’s been well-documented over the past 5475 days. But let’s at least graze the greatness. After the six second intro of the quarters dropping (Sometimes when I’m bored in meetings, I’ll drop quarters on conference room tables just to reminisce) the album kicks off with the pulverizing “What Up Gangsta.” Right off the bat, 50 mixes life-threatening mixtape raps with a hook that ends with a soprano-pitched “What up gangstaaaaaahh.” We’re then taken through a 19-track masterpiece with one skip (see: “Blood Hound”) okay maybe two (MTV’s Total Request Live killed “21 Questions” for me) where 50’s switching flows, maneuvering between New York and twang-y Southern accents, and using the faint effect of left over bullet shrapnel in his tongue to his advantage. 

I remember January 2003 when Funkmaster Flex dropped “In Da Club” on Hot 97 for the first time. Flex would let around nine seconds play until he’d run it back. This went on for a full hour on the radio. “Go go go shawty,” *Flex Bomb* *Reverse sound effect* repeat. For an hour. It was the scariest hour of “scary hours.” Over pulsating production from Dr. Dre, 50 took “Happy Birthday” and made it his own. It’s still played in most clubs to this day, and it’s probably been played at your grandma’s 80th birthday, too. 50’s arch-nemesis Irv Gotti has gone on record saying that when he heard Flex drop “In Da Club” he told his cohorts, “Buckle up, we have a major problem.” Well said.

50 was a problem who was now living up to the hype. It was pop-hits like “In Da Club” and “P.I.M.P” working in tandem with more aggressive cuts llike “Don’t Push Me” and “Back Down” that allowed Get Rich or Die Tryin’ to act as a showcase for the best of both 50s” Guy R. Brewer Boulevard 50 and Billboard chart 50.

But beyond the album’s tracklist and its sales, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was a moment. A moment that has had staying power, even amongst the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately rap fans in today’s climate. Success stories take many forms, not many take the form of 50s. He was left for dead in front of his grandmother’s house and then he was left for dead by every music label until Shady/Aftermath took a chance. This is a human being who survived nine gun shots and went on to become one of the biggest rappers in the world.

I’m 11 years into my career and I’ve interviewed 50 a bunch of times. People always ask me who’s been my favorite subject to interview and the answer is always the same: 50. Although we’re 15 years removed from his debut album, 50’s managed to constantly re-invent himself. Rapper, entrepreneur, actor, and producer, but for a lot of us we’ll always remember him as the guy behind the bullet-ridden glass album cover wearing the mash-up 50/Gucci printed holster with the matching diamond-encrusted belt to match. Looking the world dead in the eyes with nothing to lose and less fucks to give.

You can stream 50 Cent's Get Rich Or Die Tryin' here.