Record Time is a recurring feature written by Flip Rushmore's Alex Smith. Comment with your favorite memories of Get Rich or Die Tryin' at the bottom of the story, and check out Flip Rushmore's latest release on Spotify.
On a weekday afternoon in a suburban Minneapolis dining room, a pair of elementary school kids tried to determine what 50 Cent was saying.
“Go … Charlie?”
We pressed the “back” button on the stereo over and over until we reached our conclusion. My friend’s older sister agreed. It was, “Go Charlie / it’s your birthday.” ...
Curtis Jackson’s word in question, of course, was “shawty.” In our defense, he’s never won an award for clearest pronunciation. But, yeah, the word was foreign, just like almost all of the themes of “In da Club”: million-dollar contracts, ecstasy use, bringing 20 firearms into a place of business, etc. Nevertheless, it became a staple in my young life. Had any rapper made a pop record like 50? The production was killer. He delivered us to the choruses quickly. And those hooks were extremely hooky. “21 Questions.” “Wanksta.” “If I Can’t.” “P.I.M.P.” “Many Men (Wish Death Upon Me).” Virtually every other song on the record had a straightforward appeal to it. It didn’t trend as hardcore as Dr. Dre’s 1999 or Eminem’s first three albums. It was ear candy.
And 50 Cent was cool. He’d been shot! Nine times! And he was from Jamaica, Queens! Which sounded so exotic. This was what was going through my 10-year-old mind. No real context in place. I hadn’t even heard records from those aforementioned benefactors, Dre and Eminem. Let alone had any sort of understanding of New York hip-hop history (for a while, my only point of reference to Wu-Tang Clan was ‘Chappelle’s Show’). But Minneapolis’ mainstream pop station, KDWB, played a lot of Get Rich or Die Tryin’. It played the hell out of 50’s later singles. And it played the hellllll out of G-Unit.
In 2003, “In da Club” was the No. 1 song of the year on the Billboard 100. The top four songs were all hip-hop or R&B (in order, they were R. Kelly’s “Ignition,” Sean Paul’s “Get Busy,” and Jay-Z & Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love,” which was later named the No. 1 song of the entire decade by Rolling Stone). Black musicians dominated the chart, and 50 Cent was the most prolific artist of all; he also placed “21 Questions” (No. 14), a feature on Lil’ Kim’s “Magic Stick” (No. 20), “P.I.M.P.” (No. 21), and “Wanksta” (No. 63).
From about 2003-2004, I’d lie awake at night with KDWB on my Walkman radio, headphones in. And the hits were flowing. Outkast. Chingy. Usher. Mario Winans. Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz. Beyoncé. Nelly. Ludacris. Lil’ Kim. Jay-Z. Snoop Dogg. Ying Yang Twins. Akon. Twista. J-Kwon! Petey Pablo!!
In a twist that few ‘90s critics had seen coming, hip-hop—a new breed of it, pushed to the forefront by artists from every region of the country—had come to dominate pop radio. Almost everything had more in-your-face energy and a quicker tempo. “Freek-a-Leek” was not “Return of the Mack.” The club had hit a new gear. (Of course, the club would soon be co-opted by EDM, and the charts by white musicians—but we'll save that for another day.)
While much of the chart-topping stuff wasn't necessarily critically acclaimed, it represented a victory lap for the genre's finest. Dre, still in the afterglow of his own multiplatinum album, was living large off of Eminem's launch into the stratosphere, and 50's arrival was another unbelievable cash cow. Jay-Z had the best chart success of his career up to that point. Outkast cashed in on a legendary back catalogue with Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Snoop reached a new generation with "Drop It Like It's Hot." A lot of old heads were getting their due from the pop machine.
The early-to-mid 2000s was a unique time in American pop history to be 10, 11, 12 years old. Hip-hop and R&B were front and center in my formative years, and shaped my understanding of what a song was supposed to be.
Few of those albums were as gigantic as Get Rich or Die Tryin’. And few pangs of nostalgia are as sweet as those opening words of “In da Club.”