50 Cent hit hip-hop and the mainstream like a meteor when he dropped his debut album, Get Rich or Die Tryin' on Feb. 6, 2003. The Queens rapper—who'd famously survived nine gunshot wounds and returned talking even more reckless—became the biggest story in hip-hop once he signed a $1 million joint venture with Eminem's Shady Records and Dr. Dre's Aftermath Entertainment in 2002 (at the time, a huge sum of money for a new artist). It was a culmination of several months of flooding New York's mixtape scene with his own tough-talking remixes of popular songs alongside his G-Unit crew. And he'd reached a fever point once he finally released his much-anticipated LP.
The album's release was expedited by one week due to bootlegging, but piracy made no difference. Get Rich or Die Tryin' went on to sell more than 872,000 copies in its first week, nearly matching that number the following week. Fans and critics alike couldn't deny the project, which is still remembered as one of hip-hop's most epic debut albums of all-time, right alongside classics like Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle and The Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die.
Fif' finally had all of the right resources around him to reach his full potential—assists from legends like Dr. Dre, Eminem and Nate Dogg—but this is still The 50 Cent Show. The then 27-year-old star had fans from South Jamaica, Queens to South Central walking around like they got an "S" on their chest. But the project's impact was far from small—in fact, he nabbed an elusive XXL rating in this publication, the highest praise an album can receive.
In honor of the classic album's 15th anniversary, XXL looks back on Get Rich or Die Tryin' to rank and re-evaluate its songs from best to worst (excluding bonus cuts). Strap on a bulletproof vest, grab a bottle of bub' and take a look back on this milestone release.
50 Cent has admitted that this ode to getting faded is a complete gimmick. “I don’t drink and I don’t use drugs, and I didn’t back then, either,” he wrote in his 2005 book, From Pieces to Weight. “I put that joint on the first record because I saw artists consistently selling 500,000 with that content.” Still, Sha Money XL, DJ Rad and Eminem helped give this filler track special quality by flipping Bobby Bland’s “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right,” adding piano progression and flourishes while 50 has trouble lyrically focusing on one subject. Blame it on the bud?
Rockwilder’s playful, synth backdrop sticks out like a drawn gun amongst the album’s grittier tracks. Yet 50’s pliable flow and penchant for catchy hooks (here he repurposes rhymes from “Rotten Apple”) gives this track some redeeming quality.
50 Cent enjoys the spoils of his newfound riches on this lone relic from his legendary mixtape run. He has some fun with personifying his fancy things—”My watch saying, ‘Hi shorty we can be friends' / My whip saying, 'Quit playing bitch get in'”—but the irresistible hook and quirky synths seal the deal.
"Gotta Make It to Heaven"
The closer of Get Rich or Die Tryin’ finds 50 painting a picture of the traumas he’s witnessed and experienced in the ‘hood—all justification of why he deserves entry through the Pearly Gates. “The shells pass your head close enough to hear them whistle / Thank God they missed you / And go grab your pistol.” It’s a spiritual tug of war and a worm’s eye view of the Rotten Apple, the perfect way to wrap up the project.
Young Buck was still being integrated into G-Unit around the time GRODT dropped, but he sounds like a lifelong member and no-brainer signing after this guest appearance. His raw energy and Tennessee twang paired with 50’s unorthodox flow could come off as pandering to the South, but it works because it works. During this time period, the Dirty South was on the rise and 50 Cent simply couldn’t miss.
By 2003, the image of a pimp bordered on caricature, thanks to Don "Magic" Juan’s colorful garbs and Snoop Dogg’s permed locks. 50 Cent flipped that aesthetic, bringing the same mentality to a tropical, steel drum beat, courtesy of Mr. Porter. And people ate it up; the track hit No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, proving once again that pimpin’ ain’t easy but it sure is fun.
The closest this album comes to a posse cut finds 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks and Eminem describing their predicaments and the resulting tension that has them ready to detonate. At first listen, Eminem’s rigmarole about the pressures of fame seems to steal the show, but Banks’ morose, understated synopsis of his upbringing—Pops in jail, a mother’s pain, rivals praying on his downfall—grounds the record, best matching the dramatic and gloomy instrumental.
It’s understandable why 50 Cent and Eminem nearly chose this thug motivator as the album’s lead single over “In Da Club.” Backed by Dr. Dre and Mike Elizondo’s pounding piano keys and fortified by 50’s sing-song hook, “If I Can’t” was the perfect earworm with all of the elements of a hit record and a touch of human nature: “I played the music loud so Grandpa called me a nuisance / And Grandma who always gotta throw in her two cents.”
Thugs need hugs—nothing sensitive about that. This Nate Dogg-guested smash creatively addressed the topic of romance, using rhetorical questions to determine a lover’s loyalty, while also tossing out charming quips like, “I love you like a fat kid loves cake.” The track showed that beneath 50 Cent’s bulletproof persona, the guy has a heart, too.
Dr. Dre uses the sound of a pistol cocking and firing as the foundation for this song’s beat, allowing 50 to indulge in his own unapologetic gun talk. “I do what I gotta do, I don't care I if get caught / The D.A. can play this motherfucking tape in court,” he rhymes on a track that lives up to its title in more ways that one.
50 Cent gets serious about the mythology that’s become synonymous with his story—being shot nine times in 2000 and living to talk greasy about it. Here, over piano keys and a crashing hi-hat, he delves into his paranoia and night terrors before offering an account of the fallout that followed the attempt on his life. “In the Bible it says what goes around comes around / Hommo shot me, three weeks later he got shot down / Now it's clear that I'm here for a real reason / ‘Cause he got hit like I got hit, but he ain't fuckin' breathin.’”
50 Cent and G-Unit had their share of street anthems prior to Get Rich or Die Tryin’—“Bad News,” “That’s What’s Up!” and “G-Unit Anthem” all come to mind—but none were as explosive as this opening track from his rookie LP. The call-and-response chant gets things poppin’ from the song’s onset, while 50 plays up a chink-free persona: “The rap critics say I can rhyme / The fiends say my dope is a nine / Every chick I fuck with is a dime.” Once you heard “What Up Gangsta,” you just knew this album would be special.
If 50 Cent’s mixtape disses were a smear campaign against bitter adversary Ja Rule, this record is a complete character assassination. 50 teases, taunts, insults and outright threatens Ja, pulling his card over a sinister Dr. Dre beat. “I know niggas from your hood, you have no history,” he deadpans, painting his Queens rival as an intimidated fraud who sounds like a certain furry blue Sesame Street character. From the setup to the execution, “Back Down” is one of hip-hop’s most scathing—and iconic—diss records.
Eminem and 50 Cent had previously shared a track on the soundtrack to 8 Mile (“Love Me,” with Obie Trice), but “Patiently Waiting” felt like the marquee collaboration that everyone was anticipating. Over a rousing instrumental, 50 sets things off by getting poetic about his past with lines like, “I'm innocent in my head, like a baby born dead” and “God's the seamstress that tailor fitted my pain.” Meanwhile, Em passes the torch to his protégé, another unfiltered wordsmith set to take over rap. “You now about to witness the power of fuckin' 50,” Slim Shady raps after bodying his own verse with tangled internal rhyme. The song is symbolic of the start of a new reign in rap by an underdog who’d patiently waited for long enough.
No troll move here. 50 Cent’s first blockbuster hit remains his most iconic, a song that’s endured for more than a decade as hip-hop’s birthday anthem of choice. Dr. Dre and Mike Elizondo cook up a mechanical, well-oiled beat for a street jingle that celebrates 50's newfound success by pouring champagne and partying up, while reminding you that if things go left, he can give bottle service a whole new meaning.