hip hop think tank – episode 3 – 50 Cent's investigation
[on the occasion of this episode of discovery of Hip Hop, do not hesitate to put your first personal Hip Hop albums in the commentaries]
One of the icons of my childhood
Reflecting on an episode of Hip Hop think tank is a continual brain storming for me, because there are so many fascinating or interesting things to discuss when it comes to Hip Hop. After digging and digging again to make my choice, I decided in this third episode to approach this review in a more introspective and autobiographical way. I think that one of the fundamental bases of the passion for music lies very much in the memories and nostalgia that we have deep in our hearts. Beyond tastes and colors, these musical memories are fully part of our lives and our personalities, as something that defines us and differentiates us from each other. Those who are used to follow my writings, know the love I have for Hip Hop. A story that goes back to my childhood/adolescence. And yet fate could have decided otherwise, since in my early childhood, I was rocked by Pop Rock thanks to my father, initiated before I could even speak or think a simple opinion. The love for Pop Rock has never died out, it is as strong as Hip Hop in my eyes. I could have become that kind of pimply teenager with long hair like any prepubescent rocker, but fate decided otherwise for several reasons. Instead of a black t-shirt with AC/DC or Metallica markings on it, my environment decided otherwise, opting instead for a tracksuit, a big hoodie and a nice pair of street basketball. And yes the bad taste of adolescence, which we all knew in our own way, as funny as it is painful when you think about it.
In short, for a guy of my generation born in the 90s, I simply let myself be carried along by the trends of the moment. It was the time when radio was the only way for a kid like me to listen to new music. In France, Hip Hop and R&B in the 2000s were already established values that almost everyone was listening to. So I kept my love for Pop Rock to myself, to gently fall in love with Hip Hop. However, all this was also played on another factor, when I was burned (yes, at the time we burned CDs) Eminem's album "The Show" and 50 Cent's album "Get Rich" because I literally fell in admiration of Stan, the mythical song of the most famous blond rapper in history (and yes, at the time Eminem was blond). These first references and the radio forged my first Hip Hop bases, I was then interested in Snoop Dogg, Dr.Dre and East Coast rap (Wu Tang Clan, Nas, Jay Z), before one day my life changed again thanks to 2 discoveries, Kanye West and Lil Wayne. Since then, nothing is the same anymore. I've been wanting to share a few anecdotes of my life for some time now, and I always promised myself that one day I would write about those childhood references that are dear to me. Although they are relatively positive, while browsing the opinions on these 2 albums (The Show and Get Rich), I notice that these "classics" have not found the approval of everyone. I am well aware that we rarely need to be proud of the musical tastes of our youth, because subjectivity often takes the advantage over objectivity. That's why I challenged myself in this episode to choose the subject without first listening again to Get Rich so that my analysis would be as unbiased as possible. The goal being to answer this simple question, is Get Rich an underestimated album or simply in its place? This is what we will try to find out, through the history and myth of 50 Cent, without forgetting a detailed review on Get Rich Or Die Tryin'.
50 Cent, a major player in the revival of East Coast Hip Hop and Gangsta Rap
Curtis James Jackson III, a.k.a 50 Cent is one of the contemporary examples of success. Starting from nothing, avoiding death on several occasions, 50 Cent has managed to build a business empire and to flourish artistically in many fields, both in music and film. Today 50 Cent is best known for its celebrity and trolls, more than for its past as a talented rapper and even its past life. Born in 1975 and originally from Queen, 50 Cent had an unhappy and disastrous childhood, a symbol of the precarious life during the crack pandemic of the 1980s. His father left home when he was a kid, his mother later died, and he had to be raised by his grandmother. All of this misfortune and poverty led him to sell hard drugs at a very young age when he was still a kid, before being arrested several times during his teenage years. At the same time, he built up a competitive nature in himself that would later be reflected in his music and his lifestyle. One of the important qualities that 50 Cent will bring to the Hip Hop scene. In the mid 90's, he started to learn how to do Hip Hop, notably with the help of the legendary Jam Master Jay from Run DMC. To put it in the context of the time, 50 Cent arrives at the moment when the "Golden Age" period is about to disappear. The "Golden Age" is an unofficial term, spanning 10 years from 1987 to 1997, when many specialists agreed that the majority of Hip Hop evolutions took place during this period. (thus regrouping Gangsta Rap, G-Funk, Electro Rap, Jazz Rap, Hardcore Hip Hop, Conscious Hip Hop, Potilical Hip Hop, Boom Bap, Abstract Rap, Glitch Hop, Experimental Hip Hop, Southern Rap, Dirty Hip Hop, Crunk and Horrocore [almost all the hip hop movements, except the contemporary movements that will arrive from the 2000s]. To put it simply, it's as if almost all the revolutions and innovations were really made during this period. That's not quite true, but when you make the list, you realize that it's not totally false either. So when 50 Cent arrives, Hip Hop will progress more slowly, yet it will not only succeed in creating a totally atypical character, but on top of that it will "revolutionize" the way of being a rapper. And all this will be felt in the originality of his music.
While the barriers and borders between the different regional sectors of Hip Hop (opposing East Coast / West Coast / Southern Hip Hop), 50 cent will intelligently impregnate him with all that is best in the breasts of the different regions in order to make a perfect fusion, while making it singular. He will therefore draw from the basics of Old School Hip Hop (N.W.A / Public Enemy / Run DMC / Eric B & Rakim / LL Cool J ), but also from those that deeply marked the 90s in Gangsta Rap and in the underground like 2 Pac / The Notorious Big / Wu Tang Clan / Mobb Deep / Nas / Jay Z / Warren G / Snoop Dogg / Onyx / Busta Rhymes etc... Interestingly enough, just like similar rappers like Cam'Ron or DMX, 50 Cent embodies the revival that would break the boundaries and rivalry between East Coast and West Coast. Becoming a machine very quickly, 50 Cent started to release its first singles and projects as independent artists, even self-produced and distributed directly on the street, such as How To Rob (1999) or Power of The Dollar (2000). Finally it is with the success of How To Rob, a satire and a troll in disguise towards rappers that he will manage to get a mini deal with Columbia for his first official project. However, everything could have come to an abrupt end when 50 cent gets shot nine times by a gunman. Fortunately for him, 50 Cent survived. True to form, 50 Cent has always used controversy, humor and provocation from its beginnings to the present day. All this insolence led him to be expelled from Columbia and forced him to fend for himself. Yet this is what will allow him to create his legend. In 2002, he will form G-Unit with Llyod Banks and Tony Yayo (initially) and perform exclusively on underground mixtapes in total independence.This lesson of strength led 50 Cent to gain popularity and notoriety until he was discovered by Eminem, the top rapper of the moment, who signed him to the sub branch of Aftermath Entertainment (Dr.Dre's label): Shady Records. 50 Cent will also make his debut on his new label with the single Wanksta, included in the 8 Miles soundtrack.
Get Rich or Die Tryin', more than a symbol
The first thing we can say when listening to this classic is that out of 16 songs and 53 minutes (except for the deluxe version), there are no bad songs, no failures, a feat for a relatively long album. If we compare this album to the rest of his career, the projects that came afterwards are very often marked by big irregularities, alternating between good and mediocre content. This is first of all a sign that 50 Cent, very introspective and very singular on Get Rich, gives the impression of emptying all of its minutiae here. This album was such a success and made 50 Cent so rich that after Get Rich looks like an artist who had so much to tell a famous artist in search of a second real success of esteem. Something he never managed to reproduce afterwards. Conversely, if I have to point directly at the one true (small) flaw in this album, it's that it might have deserved a mini purge of a handful of overlapping songs, which would have made the experience totally incredible from start to finish. On the one hand, it's important to point out that it was the fashion for a mainstram hip hop album in the 2000s to add as much content as possible, neglecting quality and opting for quantity. Once again I insist on the fact that there are no bad songs in my opinion, just a few avoidable passages compared to the many highlights of Get Rich. The wisdom of the production team made the right decision to keep this album under 60 minutes.
Directly Get Rich shows the culmination of his character and style of interpretation. This impressive versatility for the time, i.e. offering raw content fused with melodies of its own, was something rather innovative at the time. This is one of the important aspects of 50 Cent's influence. In fact, he was able to combine the rap of Jay Z and Biggie with the humming flow of Snoop Dogg and Warren G. An East Coast/West Coast alliance that will also be felt in the production mainly produced by Dr.Dre and Eminem (beyond the instrumental, through mixing and engineering). We always have the impression to have this hybrid spectrum between East Coast and West Coast which offer a crossever dimension to the musicality of the album. To go further in the analysis, I would say that Dr.Dre who is known for that and Eminem who was walking on water at the time, managed to establish on Get Rich or Die Tryin' such an impressive time signature that it never really got old. That's why listening to Get Rich remains as exciting and powerful as ever over time. Besides, the moments that have aged the most are only instrumental pieces not produced by Dr.Dre or Eminem.
Get Rich or Die Tryin' begins with this cult introduction to the 50-cent coin, which is only a few seconds short of launching What Up Gangsta, a presentation that plunges the listener directly into the album. On What Up Gangsta, 50 Cent highlights its character and overall all the Gangsta Rap stereotypes of this new generation of rappers. That is to say virility, vulgarity, weapons, reprisals and gang wars, like a kind of Gangsta anthem that could be played to start a boxing match or a well-drunk party. That's mostly what we find as themes in the album, and 50 Cent seems to play on that, sometimes turning it into the absurd, but without ever losing its relevance. This aesthetic allows him to talk about his personal experience, which is therefore really poignant and terrifying, but also to make his writing more superficial when he needs to celebrate his success. It's a very complex art to keep in balance, because the trap is to fall into something too ridiculous, which is what he will do later on in his next albums. On Patiently Waiting as on some other songs, we clearly feel the spectre of Eminem ("The Show period"), however the alchemy and similarities between the 2 rappers allow these songs to never sound like a copy of style. On the contrary, the interpretation of 50 Cent, which tries to survive the lesson Eminem offers, shows that he was one of the best Hip Hop kickers of the time. Patiently Waiting is an introspective song about 50 Cent's quest for success and the assassination attempt that could have changed everything. With a touch of humor: "Hey Em, you know you're my favorite white boy, right? (Ha-ha-ha) I owe you for this one", 50 Cent pays homage to its guest who allowed him to perform in a mainstream way and who changed everything in his life. This song illustrates 2 things to know about 50 Cent, the ability to make humor but also the sincerity that we find only on Get Rich.
The album will then become completely crazy afterwards with the Many Men and In Da Club sequence. Many Men is still my favorite song of 50 Cent and I think objectively that it's the most successful song of his career. Very introspective and autobiographical, Many Men is cult because its story is cult too. This monument therefore tells the story of the jealousy and hatred that surrounds the success of 50 Cent, which revolves around the episode of his assassination attempt. It is finally a miracle of life that turned into a musical miracle. It is imperative for every Hip Hop lover to listen to this great classic at least once. Totally the opposite of Many Men, In Da Club is a celebration and party hit. What the 2 songs have in common is that they are both classic cult classics that have marked the history of Hip Hop forever. He's not the first East Coast rapper to do this, but In Da Club is one of the festive songs that only Californians could really do. It was something that was ingrained in the Californian culture. Once again, these are signs that show just how much 50 Cent admired the West Coast. Produced by Dr.Dre and Mike Elizondo, the making and recording of this song (as with many others from Get Rich) shows just how great 50 Cent was. You have to know that Dr.Dre is a perfectionist to the point of getting sick of it, so much so that he works months and years before finalizing its content. That's why the Detox album never saw the light of day. Well, 50 Cent finished all his songs with Dre in only 5 days. It was a real machine.
From High All the Time to Back Down, 50 Cent makes the apology of his life as a gangster, exploring the different themes of Get Rich, always offering enough variety to never be repeated. You can feel him so relaxed that it makes everything seem simple to him. He still manages to make a song for weeds smokers (High All The Time) but without being a smoker, or when he shows his beefy qualities in Back Down, then in the middle of a war with Ja Rule (which he will totally destroy). Passionate about boxing since childhood, 50 Cent has built his character and his life on competition. That's why on Get Rich you get the impression that 50 Cent is a top athlete at the top of his form. He was so full of confidence that he was unstoppable. Again, it's something that will backfire on him later on. As the album draws to a close, Get Rich doesn't lose any intensity thanks to a few hits like P.I.M.P with its Calypso aesthetic or 21 Questions when accompanied by the legendary Warren G, before concluding with Gotta Make It to Heaven, an introspective song that shows he comes from the bottom (even using the metaphor with hell).
The estate and its legend
After a few more listenings, I hadn't revisited it for a few years, it's inevitable to take into account the nostalgia it gave me. However, I'm not afraid to say that objectively this album doesn't deserve the average that it currently has. Certainly this album has a few flaws, such as the lightness and lack of diversity of the writing, an album that would have been perfect to reduce to 40 minutes, or the fact that there are no revolutionary things in terms of musical innovation either. But I think that not only is it a very important reference that makes the leap between the old generation and the new generation, but also 50 Cent knew how to synthesize without losing its singularity of the opposite Hip Hop worlds to make a really refreshing "Gangsta fusion". Today it's true that it may seem trivial to us, as the borders are almost imperceptible in a global way, but Get Rich is a symbolic starting point. Besides, even if I put my subjectivity aside as much as possible, I have to admit that even the "weaker" songs are interesting and fun to listen to. Without forgetting that 50 Cent has also had a very strong impact on the evolution of mixtapes, Get Rich or Die Tryin' is a huge influence for many (many) rappers. Let's try to make a list. From the 2000's first on Kanye West (for the production), The Game (even if he already had his own style, but he built his success on the 50 Cent aura), Plies, Young Jeezy, Rick Ross, Kevin Gates, YG, Schoolboy Q, French Montana as well as on the UK Grime scene. More recently with young rappers such as Pop Smoke (he was the modern reincarnation of 50 Cent), DaBaby, 21 Savages (on Savage Mode 2, he even did his own version of Many Men), the UK drill scene of the moment and even beyond Hip Hop with Nicky Jam and J Balvin for example. This list is just completely crazy... To conclude, we've gone through the flaws and limitations of 50 Cent on Get Rich or Die Tryin', we know it's not something revolutionary, nor a writer with a divine pen, but this classic still resonates as strong as ever without getting old and remaining a few things to engrave in the history of Hip Hop. I even had fun looking at the "best rated" Hip Hop albums of 2003 and it must be said that apart from a few inevitable Abstract Hip Hop/Jazz Rap/Conscious Hip Hop references, there are few mainstream albums as good as Get Rich or Die Tryin' (with the Diplomat and Outkast). And even without disrespect to many underground albums that had a good notoriety that year, it's obvious that it's easier to like a very underground and much better written album, but most of them have become very obsolete, whereas in my opinion Get Rich or Die Tryin' still vibrates to this day.