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Two Decades Later, 50 Cent Still Wants That ‘In Da Club’ Feeling

We talked to the New York rap icon about the 20th anniversary of his debut studio album ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’

50 Cent

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This week marks 20 years of Get Rich or Die Tryin’, 50 Cent’s star-making opus that rode a bevy of hits, an Eminem co-sign, and Dr. Dre’s talismanic touch to sell 12 million records worldwide in 2003. 50’s mesh of New York bravado and melody catapulted him to instant superstardom, with “In Da Club” dominating the radio and “Many Men” feeding the streets.

Many rap fans make the mistake of attributing hip-hop’s push toward melody to a sole artist, be it Ye, Lil Wayne, Future, or Drake. But the shift isn’t attributable to any one person; cultural influence is a gumbo, and Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is a key component of rap’s innovation. 50 has said that late Run-DMC legend Jam Master Jay taught him how to rhyme and would often push him to infuse his songs with more than one melody. He was poised to debut that formula to the world on Power of the Dollar, his would-be debut album — but just a week before he was set to shoot the video for album single “Thug Love” with Beyoncé, he was shot nine times outside his grandmother’s Queens home on May 24, 2000. Shortly after, he was dropped from Columbia Records.

He recuperated in the Poconos, then got back to the booth with vengeance, and millions, on his mind. Teaming with his G-Unit comrades Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo, he started recording in the basement studio of former G-Unit A&R Sha Money XL’s Long Island home and went on a legendary run of mixtapes, including Guess Who’s Back, which sold 800,000 on Landspeed Records mostly from word of mouth. Eminem ended up hearing Guess Who’s Back, played it for Dre, and the rest is history.

And while 50’s talent was the root of Get Rich or Die Tryin’ being successful, he’s aware that voyeurism of his conflict with Ja Rule and Murder Inc played a part in his appeal. “I wasn’t even sure that it was possible to sell 13 million records because the most I had seen done was 5 million records with a double CD,” 50 says on our Zoom call. “It was Tupac’s All Eyez on Me. And for an African-American male solo artist to go diamond, he had to die to do it. When I say Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and I’m running around as crazy as we were at that point, you would look and you say, ‘There’s a high possibility that he dies trying because he just got shot.’” The 1995 All Eyez on Me is actually the album before Makaveli, Tupac’s final proper solo release in 1996, but his point is understood; as he noted on 2005’s “Hustler’s Ambition,” “America’s got a thing for this gangsta shit.” For some, part of 50 Cent fandom was their vicarious thrill of following his drama.

50’s feeling reflective during our Thursday afternoon call from Houston. He says that he was “buggin’” for his penchant for starting beef with anyone who collaborated with Ja, and admits that part of the anger he once held onto was a defense mechanism spurred by his upbringing on the south side of Jamaica, Queens. He also says that he feels like part of the reason Get Rich or Die Tryin’ didn’t win him the Best New Artist Grammy in 2004 was because of how dangerous he was. “People don’t just look at the art; they look at [me] and they’re afraid that their kids are going to want to be [me],” he says. “And you don’t get the trophies connected to it because of that.” But even without the industrial recognition he sought, his legacy has influenced multiple generations of artists who’ve followed his path of turning their personal turmoil into bankable music. He says he sees himself in some of today’s young, raw rappers who suburban fans love to have a “safari” through while they’re embroiled in conflicts that feel deeper than rap — just like he once was.

“I hope they figure out what they’re really after, what they want for themselves and for their family,” he says of young artists. “Because that can help them make the right moves to navigate how to deal with things. Other than that, they’re going to be in very touchy situations repeatedly until, most of the time, you’re going to watch them crash. They have to make those adjustments internally.”

50’s adapted to the industry since 2003 — for the most part. He’s still liable to make a controversial Instagram post, but radio station shootouts feel like a lifetime ago for the man born Curtis Jackson, now known as an entrepreneur and TV executive extraordinaire. He’s knee-deep in the alcohol business (with his Le Chemin du Roi champagne and Sire Spirits brands), and in the TV and film world, where shows like BMF and the Power universe are some of the most watched shows on television. 50 didn’t renew his contract with Starz last fall, but that hasn’t stopped his momentum, as his G-Unit TV and Films company has 36 shows in different production stages, including an 8 Mile TV show and a series about Snoop Dogg’s murder trial.

But he’s not completely removed from music. He recently made a post on his Instagram about dropping new music in 2023 and tells me that he’s been having producers like London on the Track send him beats. He’s self-aware that his 2019 “Remember the Name” collaboration with Ed Sheeran went diamond but didn’t make the cultural mark of his past work. “I just did a song with Ed Sheeran, we sold 10 million copies, and you don’t even know the song I’m talking about,” he says. He was joking, but I sensed his slight annoyance with the dynamic. With his canon, including Get Rich or Die Tryin’, plaques alone aren’t enough to satiate him. He says he still wants to create music that gets played during the heart of a club set. He wants that “In Da Club” feeling 20 years later.

50 spoke to Rolling Stone about Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, his TV and film endeavors, and why the rodeo is the spot to be in Houston.

Do you have any celebrations or events planned for the anniversary week?
I’ve been celebrating the same thing for 20 years. It’s exciting to reach the 20-year mark in anything when hip-hop is a youth culture, out with the old, in with the new. So it means more that you’re able to stick around and be able to sustain relevance.

For me, even the album itself, I don’t have a Best New Artist [Grammy] for that album. It’s the largest debuting hip-hop album, but I have to hold on to the actual performance of the project instead of the accolades connected to it. There’s things about it … people don’t just look at the art, they look at it and they say, “They’re afraid that their kids are going to want to be [me].”

And you don’t get the trophies connected to it because of that. There’s an element, a part of our culture that I’m aware of it because I am it. Your Lil Durks, your NBA Youngboys, the whole surrounding cast of that … it almost splits our culture in half because when you cool with one, you can’t work with the other. There’s an energy that runs through it that if you cool with people I got a problem with, then you with them. And then, it was like my issues, I was using the same thinking in the very beginning of my career because it’s just the thinking you would use in the environment. If anybody went next to Ja Rule, I’d jump on the person who featured with them, anybody who was faintly near them, ’cause I put him on life support and you wanna go resuscitate him. So that energy, later you look at it and you go, “I was buggin’.” ‘Cause I’ll say that. Fat Joe, his issues, I would see him a little uncomfortable with the success I was having, and I interpreted as, “He doesn’t like me,” when he’s really the kind of guy you want to be friends with because he’s loyal to a default. He’s so loyal for one record that [Murder Inc] did with him (“What’s Luv”) that we became enemies.

A lot of people feel like it’s more violence in rap going on, but I feel like because of the internet, we’re just more conscious of it.
We’re seeing more. The intensity of Nipsey Hussle is greater in his absence than he was in his presence because even his death is a part of his presentation. What I’m saying to you is, they watched him die, they watched the video. With that in mind, they listen to his music. And it was like the whole thing is gangster to them. The whole experience is gangster. When cool people are talking about something, other people follow to see why it’s so cool. And this is how the neighborhoods influence the rest of middle America. In the cities, the influences are there, and in multiple directions. The positive influence, the negative influence, the shit that’s in between, all that, but either they go good or they go bad faster than they would by having strong influences. And that’s the way I look at things, because my music career is like that. Even the film and television career is similar. You don’t see the shows put into categories where they can [at least be nominated]. You see them overlook the show, not say anything about it, but my numbers are bigger than some of the shows that they nominate just to lose.

I want to go back to 2002. So, Guess Who’s Back does 800,000 on Landspeed Records, and you start getting label interest. How close were you actually to signing to another label before Interscope? What do you remember from those meetings?
Dino Delvaille was one of the executives that stuck out to me. He offered $1.3 million for us to sign to Universal. And when they offered that, it was for my solo album and for the group record, and for me to have the G-Unit Records imprint. But I didn’t take the deal because that would put us in the Universal system with Ja, Irv, and everybody else. You watched [Irv] come out recently and [talk about how he] blocked me in all these different ways until he blocked me into a good situation.

I saw that you told Ari Melber that “Many Men” almost didn’t make the album. Why was that the case? 
“Many Men” almost didn’t make the record because of the tempo of the record. It was the slowest record on Get Rich or Die Tryin’. I put [GRODT] on and get on the treadmill and run. The only two songs that we struggled with whether I should put them on there or not were the two songs where I slowed down a little bit. I slowed down on “Many Men,” that’s a whole war chant, and I slowed down on “21 Questions.” And I think when you make a record, the way I looked at it was, I need to make a hit R&B record, but have it be so hood that you understand my intentions for it to make it an R&B record, but capture that vibe, how you feel when you are listening to that record. So it’s like when Big is making “I’m Fucking You Tonight” with R. Kelly, and the lyrics is now harder than anything that you would hear on the R&B record. So those records wouldn’t fall into that content, wouldn’t be done that way with that type of production unless it’s for that record; everything’s harder in the hip-hop space. And then when I did it, I did it with Nate Dogg — who could I be with harder than Nate? But Dre looked at “21 Questions” and was like, “Yo, but you don’t need it.” It ended up being a Number One record, but he said, “you don’t need this record to do it,” because this is a guy who’s originally N.W.A, bro. That means you don’t have to make music that sounds like you’re trying to make a radio record. His journey itself says, “Just make the shit. And when it’s done sonically right, they’re going to gravitate to you. You don’t have to go to them.” And that’s what he meant. I didn’t have to compromise myself in any way. And when you come under a banner with someone like that, he’s never going to slow you down or compromise you in any way. You got to say, “Nah, I need this one for me. I need girls to feel like maybe they can fix me.” “‘I love you like a fat kid love cake.’ You don’t think that’s hot?” That means I love you, but too much of you is no good for me.

I read that you had 30 songs that you considered for the album. Do you have any leftover songs from that era? And would you ever put them out?
You know what song that was supposed to go on that album that didn’t make it? It went out shortly after; it was “Magic Stick.” Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was 19 cuts. It was a cut away from being a double CD with 20. And that song, that was made in that same time period, would’ve went on that album. I sent it to Trina first. That’s why [I wrote] “I am the baddest bitch.” I already had Trina in mind when I wrote the record. And she just saw the song differently. So she rewrote and redid it, and it wasn’t as exciting to me as it was when I sent it over. So I ended up not doing the record. And then Gee Roberson got his hands on it, and he knew that it would be what Kim needed to take her to the next level on [La Bella Mafia], and he made the collaboration happen between me and her.

That was one of the songs that was written for that album that didn’t make it. And all the mixtape material, I just would make music, and the things that stood out to me as special pieces I would put on the side and just keep making music, like, “Nah, this is just crazy. Got to keep this.” And then I accumulated so much of it that it was all that on the record. In the time period, you can like the records, like the production, and the way the songs are coming out for your album, but as time goes by, some of those songs will be more important to you than the other ones. And you need a little time to figure out what is really hot to you. And then you can build what people say is a classic album. It’s a similar process with Dre on the production side. That’s how those albums turn into classics. It’s being able to listen to the production and sonically have the whole record work together.

You’re respected obviously as a hitmaker, but where do you feel you rank in New York rap on a bar-for-bar basis? Do you feel underrated as a lyricist? Or do you not even care about that discussion?
I don’t care. Look, my run’s uncomfortable for New York City hip-hop because they had already made relationships and was being friends with whoever could sell records because they want to sell records to fix their life. The music business … the “business” should come before they say “music.” It should be the business music. And it should be that way because people are financially in a situation where they don’t have anything until they can get involved. And in the time period that I came, you had to convince the record companies that you were marketable. You had to be hot in a 10-block radius before you can even become something that’s on anybody else’s radar anywhere else. When new artists came, they came with their neighborhood. This is why so many artists you seen come out of Queensbridge, so many artists you seen come out of Brooklyn and the Bronx, but they had tentacles. It was minor connections to the other artists that were around. But you got to think, I had to trick bootleggers into selling my material like 50 Cent Is the Future. I had to put the Columbia Records’ barcode on it. And the first time that mixtapes were made in song format, that’s me. They forget that part because if I didn’t, at that point, what was a nightmare for an established artist was a dream sequence for me. To have the bootleggers steal your fucking material and have it out on the sheet and sell it to everybody that come by, I needed that for anyone to hear me, period. Because I didn’t have an outlet for anyone to hear my music. I had to convince them that this was something that Columbia Records would’ve made. And previously being on Columbia, they believed it. They brought into it, and this is even how Em finds the material to be excited about me to do the deal.

Ahead of that, being on the mixtape was aspiring to be on DJ Clue’s tape. Doo Wop’s tape. Ron G, Kay Slay the Drama King series. Later it was DJ Drama. You know what I’m saying? But those tapes are … those things culturally shifted as time went on. Now the artists meet the audience before they meet the record company. And this is why if you look around within culture right now, you don’t see one group. Not one group. The one group we had, Takeoff … Migos. Other than that, everybody’s their individual thing. Some of them would be better working together.

Why do you say that?
Because some of them are stronger in different areas. They might be dope writers like rappers, punchlines and shit like that. But they don’t have the best song structure. And then when they work together they can just add their two cents and go in and out on the record, it can be a moment that everybody’s looking for. When Sticky Fingaz came on an Onyx record, it was a moment. Every time it felt bigger, it felt crazy. And it was just enough for him to come on, do his thing, and get out of there before you heard too much of him. This is when the chorus still played twice and you had three verses on your record. Now they’ll rap two verses and the hook played once, play the hook in the beginning of the song, then the verse come, then play it again. And then it is over. Sometimes it’s just say a verse and put the hook in the front and the back. It’s just the song structure, they use less structure when they’re making the song now.

Recently there was hysteria about you commenting on a post about Eminem’s impact compared to Jay-Z’s. Can you explain what you meant? 
It’s not a comparison directly with Jay-Z. And what I said was, I laughed at what they were saying. I didn’t even say what I felt like was Eminem’s impact. But who would be upset with a white artist arguably performing and being the biggest artist in Black culture? Maybe niggas with attitudes would be. So niggas with attitudes were taken out of the scenario and happy with the idea of Eminem when they found out he was Dr. Dre’s artist, because Dre’s from N.W.A and that co-sign was amazing for Em. And it made them overlook everything else. Before Top 40 and crossover radio had a name they called it white radio. So when Em skyrocketed … and look at who he had beef with in the early stages of his career. It was all pop stars. And his numbers reflected who he had the disputes with, what platforms it was on and how it did. But for African American artists in hip-hop, you have to look at how much has grown since then. Hip-hop was playing for one hour on the radio when I fell in love with it. Now you could not even like the genre and before you know it, you going to know the words to the [hot] song, because it’s playing so often where you just know the words. Right now, when you saying culturally, I think [Jamal Crawford’s] statement was about how Jay-Z impacted him culturally, how he perceives Jay-Z. But when you think about how many people are consuming hip-hop culture at the moment, Em is a big part of that, bro. We should really look at the number, but I think it’s about 90 million records. If you reach 90 million consumers, do you not think that those people are becoming hip-hop fans overall? Look how many more artists you see with Rolls Royces, with Lamborghinis, with Ferraris, with Bentleys.

I saw you mentioned recently that you’re working on new music and that Eminem hit you about getting in the studio with Dre. Have you all been able to lock in? What are you planning to put together this year?
I started to find material that can get things going because I always like to find material I think is hot before I go to Dre and Em. [I like to figure out] what I would like the record to feel like, the body of it, and then I can find pieces that I need while I’m around them. And then I go back and finish up and get the whole thing done. I need to make something that creatively is coming from me so it has to have the pieces. And I’ll get production from everybody. I’ll call London on the Track. I’ll call all of them. I get them all, wrangle them all up, and get ideas and shit from them. And then I start to write things around it. And then once I have a body of work, that energy, I can take it, play it, and they can get a feel of where I’m headed and work with me on things to get there. But what’s interesting is that I can get the biggest artist to work on the song with me, [but] creatively does the song work with what this album is and is it the right song? I just did a song with Ed Sheeran, we sold 10 million copies, and you don’t even know the song I’m talking about. Now if I come out with my [next rap] record and the shit sell 10 million copies, you going to say, “That shit is hot. That shit sold 10 million copies again.” And then it would be different. It is going to a different audience, but it still would ring success when you see that many pieces moving. Let me ask you: Does it matter that I make a record that performs well through the sales of it? Or does it matter that when it comes on it feels like it should be played at 1 a.m. at the peak point of the party?

The latter. There’s a lot of songs that sell a lot of records that I don’t care for.
That’s what I’m saying to you. I want one of those to make you feel like that at 1 a.m. Then as far as the sales are concerned, the right collaboration can help you with that.

Do you see a lot of artists that you feel like you could collaborate with and create that moment? Or you feel like they’re doing things differently than maybe
I think they’re doing their version of things that already exist. I always point to the young dangerous dudes: DaBaby, Lil Durk, NBA YoungBoy, Fredo Bang, these dudes, they with their lifestyle and they can’t help it. Those things that they’re coming from is making them do that. Their whole experience is in the music. You got guys that rap better than them, meaning they can rap, they train themselves to rap the way we talk, but they don’t know exactly what to rap about because they haven’t done the things or haven’t gone through the things that these guys gone through. Even when you go [Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B’s] “WAP,” this is new to mainstream, [but that terminology isn’t] new to the strippers in the locker room. When they say those things, it makes sense to me why they’ll pick that. Or why when the idea comes up, she’s like, “Hell yeah.”

I saw that last year G-Unit Films and Television didn’t renew the contract with Starz. What’s the status of the company at this point? Are you looking for a new partner, or are you just going to do projects on a one-to-one basis?
I have new partners in different places. I don’t have a full-on overall deal with a network. In this climate, if you look at even the biggest, baddest platforms in film and television, you’ll see that they’re cutting back and reducing things that they’ve already done. They regret doing deals that they’ve already done and looking to go figure out how to be next to producers that have a higher probability of success. I’m currently at 23 shows across 10 different networks, with 36 shows in different production stages. I have an overall deal at several platforms without having the overall deal with [one]. They have multiple shows in their pipeline, so it’s easier for me to get a green light than somebody who’s just walking up off the street with this idea that they’re uncertain they can actually pull off. The difference is I can move the audience. Starz is still pumping because Starz still has the things that I put there. The other stuff that just dropped, five shows, those are things that went up within the mandate that their CEO Jeff Hirsch brought in. The stuff that you see me having success with at Starz was purchased before Jeff Hirsch was the CEO of the network. Chris Albrecht bought Power from me. He had already sought out what those shows were going to be, and he bought BMF from me. It took me four and a half years to make the BMF project, not because it takes four and a half years to create a show like that. It was so many creative executive changes at Starz that kept setting us back at different points and different things. But I could have had more success there if it was a well-oiled machine at that point. But it wasn’t. Every year of Power, I had a new head of PR, a new person doing public relations in marketing for the actual show. The only thing cohesive in the marketing of Power is me, is what I was doing. And this is why you see so many people say 50 is Starz, because the other stuff that they did didn’t connect in the same way. If I owned the platform or was in control of it, it would be doing way more, way better.

So how involved are you going to be? Like with Raising Kanan, are you still going to be doing the voice-overs?
Yeah, those are still my shows. When you don’t have the overall deal, you still have the same responsibilities as the executive producer of the project. I’m still the executive producer of those television shows. I’m just not exclusively with Starz. So when I do 8 Mile, they won’t be buying that show. There’s no reason for me to put it on their network. Now when I was exclusively there, I would be going to get 8 Mile to bring it there for the same reasons why I said that the relevance to bringing new relevance to a culture, but from a different perspective.

I saw you were previously developing the Snoop Dogg project with Starz. What’s the status of that show now?
I pulled that show from Starz. I took that and The Massacre from Starz to start development on it again somewhere else. Like Snoop, that’s my boy. So he wanted to do it where I want to do it.

So are y’all in the process of finding a new home for it, or have you found a new home for it?
That’s going to be easy to do. He had some reorganizing he was doing at the time because he just got Death Row. And he was reevaluating where he wanted to do his story and what he wanted to do. This is why I was kind of pissed off at the Tupac movie. Benny Boom and them made a mess of that project. But if the Tupac project was [done] correctly following the success of Biggie’s project, the next thing would’ve been Snoop’s project. Just culturally, the next thing that would come up and be exciting would be Snoop’s. And its different approaches. I thought … I didn’t want to do his life story [in a biopic]. I don’t want to do his life story because I think it’s so much to choose from. That it’d be tough to get that right. When I only got two hours to tell a story of someone’s lifetime, you got to be really good, man. To pick the right moments, the defining moments.

I saw you moved to Houston in 2021. How’s life been in Houston? How is it as a Texan?
It’s good. I like it out here. I’m in Houston now.

Are there any new hobbies or things you picked up in Texas that you didn’t really do in New York?
I didn’t go to the rodeo.

You go to the rodeo?
Yeah, I’m going to the rodeo. Everybody who’s somebody makes it out there. If you’re from Houston, if you come out to Houston, you’re going to go to the rodeo. As crazy as it sounds, you have a cowboy hat on. You going to see me in that cowboy hat. I’m going because it is the right tones. You’re in an environment [with] people who are successful at what they’re doing, and it puts you in a good space because it is just good energy there. One of the events that I go to is the wine auction and it’s a charitable piece, but a lot of the people there, you want to connect, you want to know these people. And you can make things, all kind of things happen afterwards. I worked with Houston’s independent school district to create an entrepreneurship program that three schools [are part of]. Now it’s six schools. And then I’ll spread it, and then I’ll be taking it nationally probably [next] year. I’ll probably start to reach out with other existing organizations. The curriculum will be done where I can move it across different territories and kind of get it into a bigger format where it’ll touch base. I’ll be back in New York, but it’ll be coming from Houston. New York City don’t operate the same way. And they don’t look at us the same way because we’re from there. When [New York natives] come out, they look at us like we grew out of the grass in the front lawn because we’re from New York. It’s a lot different than how they register you in different areas when you go there already a success and interact with people, and they can kind of see you as you are instead of as you were.

I saw in December that you said you feel like you’re capable of doing things that you haven’t had the chance to display as an actor. What are some of those things?
Until I commit to roles where I can really play characters that you go, “Oh shit, I didn’t know he could do that.” What you making reference to is a piece of an interview that I did with Howard Stern. And what he was asking me, could I cry on cue and stuff like that. And I told him, yeah, I can do it. And I did it for him right there. But that doesn’t count [like] me actually being emotional in a scene that you feel the emotion in. The difference [is] in the storytelling and connecting that way versus you being able to just turn it on or turn it off. It may come from not dealing with emotions properly for a long time. The ability to cry on cue is there based on you not being able to deal with [your emotions], so I’m channeling that in a different way. Because I would say consistently that the most comfortable feeling that I felt was anger, because it didn’t make you vulnerable. If you was crying, it meant somebody hurt you or you are a victim or something. If we just saw you crying in the environment that I came out of. And once you are classified a victim, it was fairly consistent.

Then you have that stamp on you. 
Right. So you figured out how to be mad about it instead of being emotional about it. We see that in the environment. You can look and say, “Yo, what’s the matter with him?” And you can move and let him have his little space because he got something going on. But it could be something that he’s supposed to be crying about that he’s angry about at the moment because he don’t know why he got to feel like this or why it got to be like this at the moment.

Or even a Tom Brady.
Yeah. He play it before they go out. And when you the quarterback, how many people want to knock your head off? You know what I’m saying? You got a whole defensive line there that would like nothing better than to sack you and break something in the process. Then make your ass go sit on the bench and bring out a second string or somebody less talented than you at the moment.

From Rolling Stone US