Last week, 50 announced that with his upcoming sixth studio album release, Street King Immortal, he’ll be hanging up his hat on an illustrious 18-year career to pursue other endeavors. I can’t help but get a little misty-eyed thinking about Hip Hop without Fiddy. We live in such a “what have you done for me lately” world, that we forget the significance of people’s past accomplishments. While he’s likened to a bench player lately, let us not forget his early 2000s gangsta’ rap dominance, two all-time Hip Hop album contributions, and undeniably substantial impact. 50 birthed an era, ran it up Hip Hop’s flagpole, fought tooth and nail for its preservation, and is now making peace with his and its dissolution. Hip Hop has evolved under his tutelage, and so have I.
The summer of 2007 was special for me. I had just finished one of the most insecure academic years of my life as a high school freshman (being a prepubescent 14-year-old sharing a locker room with the varsity football players didn’t exactly boost my confidence), I got high for the first time using classic rudimentary means (good looks, Poland Spring water bottles), and my cousin and I watched 50 Cent’s rookie film, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ , at least four times in a week’s span—BET must’ve been running a marathon promoting his then upcoming self-titled album, Curtis.
For about four consecutive summers, from 2005-2008, my cousin and I would trade off spending two weeks at our respective homes together—we’d be in Rochester for a couple of weeks, and then we’d round out the month at my New Jersey home. It was an awesome, liberating time. The absence of worries, responsibilities and stress melted the world’s insurmountable presence into a malleable ball of clay—it was ours for the taking. So what did we do with life at our fingertips? Well, we got high and repeatedly watched Get Rich or Die Tryin’. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I reflect on that week’s surplus of weed and 50 with a smile; it was special. I began my pothead exploration—the destination remains undiscovered, but I’m still avidly searching—and I developed a sincere appreciation for 50 Cent outside of his music. Instead of just being “that guy I envied in the ‘P.I.M.P.’ music video,” 50 grew into a larger than life, multi-dimensional figure. Was he a good actor? God, no—his acting is like watching porn without the fucking. But in his film debut, he compensated for his lacking theatrics by inserting a presence and raw edge that conveyed the biopic’s grittiness, and contextualized his life through a visual medium. I learned more about his difficult upbringing, how those harsh circumstances affect a young man’s development, his incessant hustle, and I watched 50 personify his life tagline: get rich, or die trying. He presented an admirable no fucks given mentality that resonated with me; it encouraged me to tackle my own issues with confidence.
As my cousin and I exhaled the smoke from our poorly rolled joint into his basement fireplace during the fourth and final Get Rich or Die Tryin’ viewing, life’s crushing reality overtook my mind. That summer marked the two-month purgatory period before my parents forcefully relocated me from my beloved public high school—where I made great friends and felt emasculated in the football locker room—to a daunting, weird, dress code enforcing private school. They wanted me to achieve my academic potential; I was content with complacency. You could say I was bitterly angry.
I woke up for the first day at my new school petrified. Shrouded in fear, I apathetically pushed my tie knot towards my constricting collar, looked in the mirror, saw my crinkled forehead from my furrowed brow, and told myself, “You’re going to get through this.” Pump-up talks can be helpful, but it was recalling 50’s no fucks given mentality that unstarched my brow.
“Many Men” muted the world as I walked into this academic hell. I could feel 50 talking to me, saying, “Zach, all these people wish death upon you. Don’t let them interfere with what you’re destined to be”; I thought back on his poorly recited iconic Get Rich or Die Tryin’ line, “I’m a gangsta’ grandpa and I’m proud of it!” It felt reassuring; I felt okay. I held my backpack straps close to my body, stared down students and administrators, and said to myself, “You see this bag of fucks? You’re not getting any of them.” As a short babyfaced chubster, I could feel everyone trembling from my piercing stare.
Adopting Curtis’ unaffected disposition allowed me to walk into that first day with my head held high. It made me feel comfortable and safe; it put a chip on my shoulder. It did for me what Christina Aguilera’s “You Are Beautiful” does for every insecure soul: instilled confidence. Unfortunately, my private school experience was not positive, but with 50’s help, I weathered the storm.
I assembled my own “21 Questions” for my parents the first time I got caught cheating (Can I count on you to still support me financially?); “Outta Control” gave me a thirst for blood before lacrosse games; “Ryder Music” bumped the first time I cut school to smoke a blunt; “High All The Time” played in my head as I sat in class ripped. For every quintessential high school right of passage, 50 had a track to fit the context. It’s a testament to his breadth and depth. Sure, he’ll definitely go down as a (maybe the) gangsta’ rapper, but that doesn't restrict his content.
“21 Questions” is a love song showing 50 seeking reassurance from his significant other that she’ll remain loyal while he serves his sentence. “Outta Control” is an upbeat, blood-pumping anthem that is a caffeine IV drip. “Ryder Music” has a chill, confident aura, detailing his gripping control over the streets and life, and how he’s realizing his winning predestination. “High All The Time” takes his foot off the gangster gas pedal to enjoy that other type of gas (although this was later proven to be a ruse). Four different songs; four different contexts; one incredible rapper.
Parting ways with 50 Cent the rapper is bittersweet. His last great album came out 11-years ago, signifying that it might be time to unplug his mic. But this lapse in relevancy doesn’t suggest that he’ll be forgotten; on the contrary, his decade-exceeding musical drought proves his resounding Hip Hop influence that we will always feel.
Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (both the album and movie) and The Massacre helped me conquer a difficult time in my life. They made an awkward, angry kid find comfort in a distressing setting; they replaced my insecurity with confidence. In a timespan of uncertainty, those albums’ impact on my life remained constant. Curtis Jackson might be redirecting his focus towards business endeavors, but he’ll always be remembered as that menacing hustler, who conquered his life goal: to get rich, or die trying.