Getting The Shot: Behind 50 Cent’s Iconic ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’’ Cover Art

Photographer Sacha Waldman breaks down the making of Fif's debut album cover.

Andres Tardio

Fifteen years ago, 50 Cent unveiled his magnum opus Get Rich or Die Tryin’ with an image that was as striking as his lyrics. Perhaps what most people remember is the prominent bullet hole through shattered glass at the heart of the photograph. It symbolized the Jamaica, Queens MC’s nearly-fatal plights on the streets of New York. A chiseled, durag-sporting Curtis Jackson stood shirtless and fearless behind that glass wearing a diamond-studded cross, illustrating faith and prosperity in all of its iced out splendor. All of this appeared in front of a blood red backdrop.

That influential image was taken by Sacha Waldman, a South African photographer who still marvels at its lasting effect. “I remember being happy with it at the time and thinking, ‘This is the impact, strength, and image that we want,’” he says. “[But] I don’t think we knew that it would be iconic.” Now, he realizes that’s exactly what it is. “If you look at the major hip-hop industry now, the imagery, a lot of it is fashioned off that style that I started with 50.”

In honor of the seminal project’s 15th anniversary, Urban Legends caught up with Waldman on a phone call from Johannesburg. He shared some firsthand memories from the photoshoot, why it was fun, and why it was, at times, also challenging. He broke down the process from ideation to execution, and even revealed whether that bullet hole on the cover was actually from a gunshot. Here’s an inside look at Get Rich or Die Tryin’ from the photographer’s lens.

Let’s go back to the start. How did you become part of the creative process?

I was doing a lot of work with George Pitts at VIBE and I think my imagery was infiltrating into [the hip-hop] world. There was an art director named Julian Alexander, his company is called Slang Inc. and I’m still in touch with him. Somehow, we all connected. They had an idea, but between myself, Julian, and 50, we spoke and came up with the general concept. Then, I had to come up with a way of executing it. It was the first time 50 and I shot together. It was pretty cool because that was 50’s beginning. Before that, he was selling albums out of his trunk.

What was that original concept and how did it evolve?

The initial concept was based on [the title] Get Rich or Die Tryin’. It was a collaboration, in a sense. 50 has such a great look. He’s unique and, especially then, when he was younger, he was in such good shape. Obviously, the guns and stuff, that was all kind of original to them. When I first started working with them in studios, it was hilarious, man, there was an entourage of people. Everybody was smoking weed. You could hardly fuckin’ see. The studio was full of weed. There were guns everywhere. It was quite raw and real. Later on, 50 grew to be such a smart businessman, but he was always a great guy, and always hands-on.

I worked with Julian and we thought about ideas. Initially, I said, “Let’s try this. It could work really well.” Obviously, they then trusted me to visually put it together. Initially, [the concept] was to keep it simple and to keep it striking. That’s what we basically did. We collaborated and then I had an art director helping me on the shoot, who literally had to take a piece of glass and shoot it to get that bullet hole. It was a “Let’s mess around, have fun, and get it right,” vibe.

How did that bullet hole get made?

I was working with a guy, an art director at the time, a props guy, who I ran into a year ago. He went by the name Jesus. At first, he tried to use a power tool. It didn’t work. So, he went to a gun range with pieces of glass and started shooting them until one of them didn’t shatter and that’s what we used. It’s a real bullet hole.

What do you remember most about the day of the shoot?

What I remember most about it was the connection that 50 and I had. We got along instantly. That’s why I worked with him for so many years after. He’s such a cool guy. He’s always been original in himself, but he’s not arrogant. He is who he is and he’s professional, and he was right from the start. He knew what he wanted. He wanted to make something of his life and he was talented. At the time, I was in a similar place, my career just starting out, so we both kind of [were] like two forces colliding, saying, “Shit, man, let’s go do some great work.” We became friends, got along as mates, and creatively respected each other. It was a nice, mutual collaboration. That’s what I remember the most, having fun with him.

Was there a particularly fun moment you had with him?

We shot it at this place called Fast Ashleys in Brooklyn. It wasn’t some fancy-swanky studio. It was a Brooklyn grassroots studio and I think [his entourage] all arriving—him, Lloyd Banks, all of them—they were all rolling weed. They just were having a good time. It was a bit chaotic, but as a photographer, that’s what I had to manage, the crew and the entourage. There must have been an entourage of like 30 people. I had to make sure I could maintain, manage, and get some work [done]. That’s basically what we did but the whole thing was a great experience. 

If that was the most fun, what was the most difficult part of the shoot?

When you’re doing a shoot like that, you’re not just managing the artist. 50, at the time, was at the very beginning of his career. Later on, he knew exactly what he was doing so it was very easy and he was a businessman. But I think, at the time, he was very raw. He brought his career in from the streets. He went literally from clubs, building his name up, to stepping into the big leagues for himself. I would say he was a natural from the minute I met him. He knew what he wanted and it was a one-way ticket for him. But it was managing and maintaining [his entourage]. They wanted to sit around on the couch and smoke weed for five hours and I’m like, “Guys, we need to work.” [Laughs] It was part of their lifestyle.

The life that they were living out in the clubs, hanging out in living rooms, and chilling, that’s what they brought into the studio. They didn’t give a fuck. You know? They didn’t care about airs and graces or pretenses. They were just who they were. So the hard part was managing that, not just 50, but managing 50 and then 20 people, saying, “Guys, I need some space to work.” It’s maintaining and training them all, saying, “Guys, this is what we need to get done.” If you don’t, they’ll just start playing video games or playing with their guns, and smoking, and then you’re never gonna get the shots done.

How long did the whole shoot take?

I don’t remember exactly, but it took a while. I’d say a good 10 hours. Meeting 50 for the first time, him getting to know me, me getting to know him, and then managing his crew, and getting everybody comfortable. It took a long time. Later on in our career, as I started working with 50 more, it became easier, but yeah, it took a while.

How did you go about narrowing down images? Were there other versions of the cover that you liked?

There were a few. We were quite specific about what we wanted for the cover, but what we basically did was shoot stuff and then I worked closely with the art director, Julian Alexander at Slang Inc. We’d choose some images that we thought were cool and then 50, right from the start as an artist, knew what he wanted. Artists always get involved. They look at the images they want, that we selected, and then they just trust me to do my thing. They kind of leave it up to me to take the imagery, and give it that look. Then it goes over to Julian and he starts doing the typing stuff. So, yeah, there was a process but as far as I remember, it was all pretty easy because 50’s a cool guy, in general. He’s not a diva.

You also did the photos inside of the booklet, which combined outdoor and indoor shots. Can you describe that process?

I remember shooting on location and there was also some post-production work. Nobody was doing that. That was all quite unique and experimental.

Right. I remember thinking that 50 was really out in the street for those photos.

No, I shot him in the studio and then placed him into those backgrounds. That gave me complete freedom as an artist because it was a new, unique way to do something different. I initially started doing that style of imagery because I found it very limiting, when you’re working with hip-hop stars or people who are going to become stars, it’s very difficult to get two to three days of their time, to go on location so the range of working, shooting at a studio, starts to get very boring. So, that’s what we did. 50 was totally cool. He didn’t really understand the concept. He loved my work and I showed him what I was gonna do. Julian at Slang, it was the same. He said, “Just go and have fun.” So that’s what we did and it was pretty chill and laid back.

Fifteen years later, how does it feel to be a part of such an iconic project?

Part of it is creating work with somebody you like, who is also talented, who’s done so much with their talent in their life. What is nice about it is that it did drive a huge amount of interest after the fact. It’s always nice to create something unique. It’s hard, especially nowadays with social media and internet access, where we’re bombarded by imagery, it’s nice that certain images stand out and become iconic and stand the test of time. It gives people inspiration, that you can still go out there and do unique work, do something interesting, and do it to the best of your availability. That’s the most important thing. It’s less selfish and more a collaboration. It’s great that they are still pictures that can hold up to this day, and still be cool and powerful.

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