G-Unit / Shady / Aftermath, 2003
In 2003, 50 Cent was very expected, probably as much as Snoop Dogg in 1993 or Nas in 1994. The young rapper comes from the street, with a past as a drug dealer. He started dealing drugs at the age of 12. We can say that he had a hard time to get out of it but nevertheless his passion of the rap always animated him. Even when he was a drug kingpin and dipping into shady stories in Queens neighborhoods, 50 Cent was practicing his rapping skills. And even back then he had talent, but he had to find a way out of drugs and with 50 cents in his pocket, that was a tall order.
He met Jam Master Jay of the group Run DMC in 1996 with whom he recorded a few tracks that were never released. Later, he appears on the tracks React of Onyx released in 1998 on the album Shut Em Down. That’s how he beginnings in rap music.
In 1999, 50 Cent signed with a big production company through Trackmasters, Columbia Records. This same house that produced big rap stars and well beyond, as Nas, Fugees, AC/DC, Mariah Carey, the list is long. 50 Cent recorded a first album Power Of The Dollar planned for the year 2000. The production puts lots of ressources and big names are in the production as Tackmasters, Erick Sermon or L.E.S, but also in featurings as Destiny’s Child, Bun B or Noreaga. The cocktail seems to be perfect to ensure the success of the young rapper with a good mix between hits and street credibility.
His first single How To Rob is a success. Unfortunately, jealousy attracts covetousness. 50 Cent is always in his stories of drugs and gang, some of which do not want to let him go. A few months before the release of Power Of The Dollar, 50 Cent is shot nine times. He spends thirteen days in the hospital. Miracle, 50 Cent survives his wounds. Unfortunately, following the incident, Columbia suspended the release of Power Of The Dollar and 50 Cent was fired from the record company. Back to square one.
Surrounded by his crew, G-Unit, composed of Tony Yayo, Young Buck and Lloyd Banks, the rapper from Queens released several mixtapes in 2002, including Guess Who’s Back and 50 Cent Is The Future. Spotted by Eminem, the latter immediately introduced him to Dr. Dre to sign him on his label, Shady Records, and indirectly on Afthermath. He makes a first track surrounded by his new managers, Wanksta, which will be released on the soundtrack 8 Mile.
Interscope offers him his own label in 2003, shortly before the release of Get Rich Or Die Tryin, on which he signs the members of his own group, G-Unit. Surrounded by Eminem and Dr. Dre, expectations are high. The popularity of 50 reached its peak, one side adored and idolized, the other hated and discredited.
The imprint of Dr. Dre is felt on the entire album. The duo Eminem/Dr Dre will come to correct the weakness of certain productions of the previous achievements of 50 Cent. The duet is found on the majority of the titles. The productions are very street, with New York sound of the years 2000, but with a rhythmic side, it holds very well in breath. The album is marked by big powerful bass and muffled noises, accompanied by synth, with sometimes a little clubbing side, especially on the hit In Da Club. The addition of sounds of weapons and bullets in the prods add to the Gangsta side, very present on Heat.
50 Cent puts gangsta rap back in the spotlight, but in a very different style from his predecessors, more modern. Here, he feeds the fantasy of Gangsta: glamorous, dangerous, extravagant, respected, violent, ruthless. 50 Cent is a bling bling gangster, a party gangster, but his street credibility is not to be proven. The flow of 50 is sometimes a little flat on the length, which is cut by his excellent ability to make singing passages that catch, like Many Men or 21 Questions that he shares with Nate Dogg. Countless big hits will litter the album like the incredible Patiently Waiting with Eminem or the underrated Back Down. However, some tracks seem below expectations and are dispensable.
Between ruthless gangsta storytelling, dark stories and club singles, Get Rich Or Die Tryin is a calculated album, calculated like a Hollywood blockbuster production. But it works very well. Dr. Dre and Eminem rolled out the red carpet to make him the new star of New York, allowing Dr. Dre to revive gangsta rap once again. Even though he is very well accompanied, 50 Cent is not to be outdone, he is a street icon, able to create emotion with his gloomy stories. Gang stories have always been attractive to the public, it works.
Considered by some as a classic of the 2000s, by others as an ultra-commercial album, Get Rich is indeed very commercial, very calculated, but it is of a high quality, very well produced and very well-orchestrated. It marked its time. G-Unit dominated rap for a period. An album that introduced a whole generation to rap, including myself. G-Unit is a brand, a style of dress, the prototype of the gangsta rapper. The Afthermath/Shady/G-Unit era was underway.