Four years and six months ago, music history was made. Over seven days in February 2003, the man born Curtis Jackson III sold 872,000 copies of his inaugural set, Get Rich or Die Tryin’—the biggest debut week for a debut album ever. Not bad for a former crack slinger who had been dropped, three years earlier, from Columbia Records after surviving a nine-shot fusillade outside his grandmother’s crib in South Jamaica, Queens.
He came at the music industry with a strategy worthy of a G8 summit. Backed by his G-Unit crew and a seemingly endless supply of raw, catchy mixtape cuts, 50 pimped the controversy that surrounded him and landed an elusive million-dollar deal with Shady Records/Aftermath Entertainment. Led by the irresistible bounce of “In Da Club,” Get Rich premiered at No. 1, on its way to sending seven singles into national radio rotation and a grand total of over seven million albums sold. (The magazine you’re holding in your hands, though, rated the album an XL when it came out—a notch below the “classic” status denoted by an XXL. There were subsequent discussions.)
He’s pretty much dominated the rap game since. Today, 50 takes a step back and reflects on his record-setting rookie year.
What was 2003 like for you?
It was definitely the biggest point for me. Like, the most energy around me. I remember being on the tour bus and reflecting on the situation myself and saying, Damn, I ain’t never going to feel like this again. I was smart enough to feel that way, ’cause it ain’t never been the same.
What was the transition like going from mixtape rapper to international superstar?
It was almost a natural progression. From the mixtape circuit, the interest I was generating, the consistency I developed, is missing from a lot of the new artists now. After me coming from the mixtape circuit, I feel like it’s been like a traffic jam. It’s been so many artists trying to utilize the same blueprint and footsteps that I came in. It’s so common that people don’t even listen to an artist’s full mixtape anymore. You know, you got to develop in different ways.
How long was the recording process for Get Rich or Die Tryin’?
Well, I worked on that in pieces, that album. I was steady putting material out on the street, and I kept the pieces I felt like were supposed to stay on the album.
Were you comfortable with all the records?
I threw “Wanksta” away. “Wanksta” came out on No Mercy No Fear [the mixtape], and it just connected. And with the radio, they started playing it on mixshows, and then it just started spinning. Paul [Rosenberg, the owner of Shady Records] and them wanted to actually stop “Wanksta” from playing and replace it with “Places to Go.”
XXL Staff Picks
Songs of the Year:
“In Da Club,” 50 Cent
“Get Low,” Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz
“Right Thurr,” Chingy
“Magic Stick,” Lil’ Kim featuring 50 Cent
“P.I.M.P.,” 50 Cent
“Beautiful,” Snoop Dogg featuring Pharrell
“Never Scared,” Bone Crusher featuring Killer Mike & T.I.
“Like a Pimp,” David Banner
“Pump It Up,” Joe Budden
Albums of the Year:
Get Rich or Die Tryin’, 50 Cent
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, OutKast
Beg for Mercy, G-Unit
The Black Album, Jay-Z