One of my favorite albums is 50 Cent’s behemoth of a debut LP “Get Rich or Die Tryin”
I can guarantee you 50 didn’t make this record for me.
This album was everywhere, though, so in one way it was made for me as much as anyone else. It was perfect for me in how wrong it was for me. But in 2003 I was a quiet, unassuming high school kid leading a quiet, unassuming life in a quiet, unassuming city in the middle of quiet, unassuming Canada.
It’s weird to look back on now, but at the time it was impossible to distance 50-Cent-the-rapper from 50-Cent-the-real-life-movie-hero. 50 Cent might be rap’s ultimate protagonist figure, and as much as his brash, charismatic flow and detail-oriented oozing-with-street-personality pen game had to do with creating that persona, the real-life drama surrounding 50’s entry to the game was inescapable.
“Shell hit my jaw, I ain’t wait for Doc to get it out /
hit my wisdom tooth I *hawk too* spit it out”
-50 Cent, “U Not Like Me”
I think we all know the first-act setup by now. The initiating incident on Curtis Jackson’s eventual hero journey. Cliff’s Notes: It’s 2000, 50 Cent is sitting in a friend’s car, someone walks up beside the car and puts nine bullets into him, including one in his chest and one in the side of his face.
And not only did 50 survive, 50 came back stronger than ever.
And three weeks later the shooter turned up dead in an abandoned lot.
“They say I walk around like I got an S on my chest /
nah, that’s a semi-auto and a vest on my chest”
-50 Cent, “What Up Gangsta”
Dog, you gotta realize, for a shy kid from Canada who had never even been in the same room as a firearm before, this shit was fucking crazy. Unfathomable. You don’t get shot 9 times and live, that just wasn’t something that even existed in my worldview. 50 Cent was a comic book character as far as I was concerned: Queens, NYC’s answer to Frank fucking Castle – the black-hoodie’d anti-hero riding through the city with vests, and guns, and an absolutely bulletproof fucking swagger.
“You got me feelin’ real bulletproof up in this motherfucker,
Cuz my windows on my motherfuckin’ Benz is bulletproof
Cuz my motherfuckin’ vest is bulletproof
Cuz my motherfuckin’ hat is bulletproof” -50 Cent, “Heat”
And the music. Oh god the fucking music. Some of these beats could be the theatrical score to a snuff film. But not like some dingy 8mm Mobb Deep style snuff film. I’m talking about if James Cameron decided to film someone getting shot in the temple at close range on ultra high-rez 3D or something, he’d want these beats playing in the background. The Curtis Jackson Story is both gutter and glamorous and rather than dividing the difference to some healthy middle-ground his production team cranks both dials all the way to eleven at the same damn time. These beats are blood-spattered champagne-yellow crystal chandeliers swinging drunkenly over-top the entire record, throwing shadows every direction. The most decadent and luxurious mansion interiors are still just as capable of being utterly riddled with thousands of bullet holes in a split-second. This shit fucking BANGS, dog.
But it’s 50’s assertive, audacious swag, brazen writing, and confidently-in-the-pocket flow that give the record its transformational super-powers.
“I came into rap humble, I don’t give a fuck now /
I’ll serve anybody like niggas who hustle uptown”
-50 Cent, “Life’s On the Line”
Because a fucked up thing happened. The more I listened to 50 Cent, the less I felt like that quiet Canadian kid. The more I listened to 50 Cent the more bulletproof I started to feel in my own skin. The more confident I was in sticking my chest out, holding my head up, turning my swag on.
People who only knew me in 2001 usually don’t recognize me when they see me on the street today.
But I still recognize them. They are still living very recognizable lives wearing very recognizable roles and very recognizable personas and faces and expressions.
And sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly bulletproof I’ll approach one of them. And just be like.
Daaaaamn homie…. In high school you was the maaaaaaaan homie….
What the fuck happened to you?