On the first week of 2003, music would change as we know it, and all it would take is a man to get shot nine times.
50 Cent’s “In Da Club”, released on January 7th of that year, would be the lead single from an album that would change hip hop and the pop culture landscapes as we know it. Using a Dr. Dre beat originally meant for Eminem’s group D12, 50 Cent (real name, Curtis Jackson) would take the beat, write the lyrics to one of the best songs of the 2000’s in an hour, and record the lyrics that night into the morning. The song is the lead single from Jackson’s debut album, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, a title which the rapper seemed to take literally.
Jackson first found success in 2000 with a song called “How To Rob”, in which he describes, in detail, how he would rob over two dozen musicians. Months later, he would be shot nine times, including in the fucking face, causing him to spend two weeks in the hospital. Columbia Records, thinking they could capitalize on 50’s antics, signed him to a contract. However, when you sign a man who has spent his pre-rap career selling drugs (Jackson was arrested in 1994 for selling cocaine to an undercover police officer) and spent the early part of his rap career talking about how he would commit crimes, you had to know that Jackson would try and push the limits. It’s just who he is.
50 Cent would be released from his contract with Columbia after one fucking song, the autobiographical “Ghetto Qur’an”, which spoke about his criminal past. When Columbia decided to blacklist Jackson, Run DMC’s Jam Master Jay allegedly attempted to mentor Jackson and attempt to get signed. When Jay was shot in a Queens recording studio in 2002, the rumors began flying that his relationship with Jackson led to his death. 50 Cent is a man whose demons seemed to have impacted everyone.
But no one told Eminem that.
Signing 50 to his Shady label (an offshoot of Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Records which is, itself, an offshoot of Interscope), the real Slim Shady sent Jackson into the studio to make his first album, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. All in all, it was a good decision for all involved. Since its release in 2003, no hip hop artist has had an album sell more copies that Get Rich. Not Jay-Z. Not Kanye. Not Lil’ Wayne. Not even Jackson’s mentor Eminem (who, technically, has a 2005 album with more sales, but it’s a greatest hits album, so it doesn’t really count). How good is this album? 50’s first acting role would be in a movie based off of his story with the same title of the album directed by Jim Fucking Sheridan, a dude who has received six Oscars for films like My Left Foot and In The Name Of The Father.
And it all starts with “In Da Club”, a brilliant song that is easy to sing along to. It’s accessible, it’s catchy, it was beloved by, literally, everyone. For all of 2003 we were both partying and drinking Bicardi like it was our birthday because we did not give a fuck. The combination of 50’s style and Dre’s beat (with help from Mike Elizondo) kept the song at the top of the Billboard 100 for nine weeks.
When The Ringer‘s Shea Serrano and Brandon “Jinx” Jenkins started their podcast “No Skips” about the greatest hip hop albums of all time, their first episode was about Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. And while they talked about their favorite raps and favorite lyrics, they ignored two of my favorite things when talking about this song. So, let’s dive in.
1. The song has a radio edit
To me, there is nothing funnier about this song and the nature of how it was released than the fact that this song has a radio edit. And not an edit where they just bleep out the bad words. I mean, the edit changes the lyrics DRAMATICALLY so that it’s radio-friendly. No longer is 50 talking about the “hoes that wanna fuck”, now he’s saying “you get plenty of groupie love”. Where the chorus first said, “Mami, I got the X if you’re into taking drugs,” the edit now said, “Mama, got what you need if you need to take the buzz”. Jackson even changes the word “weed” to “trees”, which wouldn’t seem like this was a big deal except that, literally, every single before this involved committing crimes. Clearly, Dr. Dre was the mentor 50 needed to learn how to play nice to get on the radio.
2. The song features, literally, the funniest moment in pop music this century
Jackson knows how to be funny in his songs. He’s proven that throughout his entire career as he has seamlessly integrated comedy into very serious topics. So, while I’m not surprised that this song has very funny moments, I am surprised that the funniest moment is an absolute throw-away moment.
Rapping about being shot (which he did not have to edit, showing that radio standards are really fucking weird), Jackson gives us the line, “Been hit with a few shells but I don’t walk with a limp.” This is a very nice bit of business, as here is Jackson saying he does not give a fuck that he was shot nine times, including- and I feel like I need to mention this again- IN THE FUCKING FACE. Some motherfucker Dick Cheney’d him and he is just blowing the whole thing off (later in the album, he would claim to have just spit the bullets back out).
But it’s the moment that comes immediately after that line which gets me every time. If you’re not listening carefully, you might have missed it.
Doing an extra dub track, Jackson is just giving little asides at the end of all of his verses, and right after that line, he just calls out, “I’m aight.” And how he so casually and harmlessly deals with the near end of his life is so fucking funny and so fucking perfect that I will audibly chuckle every time I hear it, even 18 years later, as I was playing the song while writing this article.
It’s easy to see why so many people gave Jackson chances. He’s real, but is also charming and funny about everything he’s done. It’s probably what made him a great drug dealer. It’s definitely what made him one of the best-selling rappers of all time.