Get Rich Or Die Tryin' Ten Years Later: An Oral History
In the first of a two-part retrospective on the 10 year anniversary of 50 Cent's "Get Rich Or Die Tryin'" key participants recall their roles.
On February 11, 2003, 50 Cent was scheduled to release his official, major label debut, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. His previous effort while signed to Columbia Records, Power Of The Dollar, was shelved and never officially released. Online leaks via various peer-to-peer file-sharing sites caused Interscope to push the release date up to February 6. It didn’t matter. Four days after its release, the album sold 872,000 copies and became the highest-selling major label debut since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking record sales in 1991. The sales kept racking up, and 50 eventually released more material via his G-Unit imprint under the Shady/Aftermath/Interscope umbrella. He also went on to score deals with Vitamin Water, Reebok, Ecko and a host of other companies. But there were a ripple of larger cultural effects stemming from the release of Get Rich Or Die Tryin’.
Through his tutelage under Jam Master Jay and Dr. Dre, 50’s name will forever be linked to both N.W.A. and Run-DMC’s legacies. From both a technical and marketing perspective, what 50 Cent and Sha Money XL did in terms of the mixtape game is still being implemented today. The way artists use beef as a promotional tool in conjunction with more marketable singles, our concept of authenticity and how we view an emcee’s endorsement deals were all at least slightly altered by events that happened after Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ was released 10 years ago today.
HipHopDX interviewed as many of the direct participants and witnesses as we could from 2003 for this oral history. And everyone included is listed with his or her job title from 10 years ago.
Say, "Hi" To The Bad Guy: The Emergence Of 50 Cent
In the years leading up to Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, 50 Cent was accumulating enemies both in and outside of the industry. He gained national recognition with the inflammatory single, “How To Rob” and had at least 36 songs under his belt as part of a $65,000 production deal with Columbia Records. According to 50, a friend of his robbed fellow Queens rapper Ja Rule for a chain. The robbery caused friction between the two, and they fought, with their respective crews in tow, on at least two separate occasions. Outside of music, being on Columbia Records’ backburner was bad for 50’s pockets. Unbeknownst to the top brass at Columbia, 50 Cent aggressively reentered the drug game, and in the process angered two older rival dealers who he refers to as Kyle and Sonny. He is shot nine times at close range, survives, and signs a $250,000 publishing deal with Columbia. He checks himself out of the hospital after a 13-day stay, and due to what he feels is a lack of support, later secures a release from Columbia.
Michael “Sha Money XL” Clervoix
Freelance / JMJ Records Producer, Former Def Jam Intern
Sha Money XL: “When 50 [Cent] got shot, he didn’t trust no one after that. I kept calling his grandmother and calling him, and then, finally he called me. He was like, ‘Yo, they put Humpty Dumpty back together again.’ About a month after he got shot, I bought my own house. That was my very first house, and I was 24 years old. I told 50, ‘Yo, I’m out the hood,’ because we had both lived in Queens. I told him, ‘I’m out the hood, and I’m in Long Island now. I got a studio in my basement. Come fuck with me.’ He came there in 2001, and he stayed there until 2003 when Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ came out. He never spent the night, but he worked there everyday.”
Pro Tools: The Infancy Of G-Unit Records In A Long Island Basement
Sha Money XL: “I heard about this new version of Pro Tools that was cheap—we all could use it, and we could afford it. It ended up being $1,200. So I went to Sam Ash [Music Store], and I saw that it was called Digi 01. I bought it that day with the hard drive that matched it, and I still have the hard drive that has all those original songs on it. I also bought a computer—a Macintosh—that day.”
Rob “Reef” Tewlow
A&R, Atlantic Records/Producer
Rob “Reef” Tewlow: “Sha Money XL was the first person I knew who bought Pro Tools Digi 01, which was like the first home, Pro Tools setup. That set in motion the death of the big studios, because you could essentially record in your basement—which is basically what they were doing.”
Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson
Drug Dealer/Unsigned Rapper
50 Cent: “I started working on music, putting it out on mixtapes. The only business model I had was from selling drugs, so that’s how I marketed my product. I knew that the only way to get into any market is to give out free samples. I had to build up clientele before I could see a profit. I had to invest in my brand.”
"Guess Who’s Back?" From Mixtape Afterthoughts To Shady/Aftermath
After contributing to various mixtapes for DJ Clue, DJ KaySlay, DJ Absolut and others, 50 Cent and Sha Money XL take the process into their own hands. One of the more notable mixtapes was entitled “Guess Who’s Back?” Fans, fellow artists and executives begin to take note. A bidding war to sign 50 Cent ensues.
Sha Money XL: “I used to always know Bob [Perry] from Landspeed Records [via] working with Cormega and all of the indie material that I was putting out. I said, ‘Yo, I’m working with this kid. He’s got some records that I feel need to come out. Some of them were on his album, but they never officially came out. Let’s do some underground shit, and just put it out.’ He told me he was with it. I went and told 50 about the Landspeed deal, and he was like, ‘Alright. Whatever. Those songs are old. I don’t give a fuck!’ So, I went to Landspeed, and boom. I made a deal and worked it out with Bob, and when that shit dropped it scanned like 800,000 copies.”
Rob “Reef” Tewlow: “I was doing A&R at Atlantic Records. So my original intent was to sign him. That’s where the principle meeting took place with Sha Money XL. I specifically remember having the SkyTel at that time, and I told Sha, ‘The minute he gets his release from Columbia, call me because I wanna meet with him.’”
Kevin “Dirty Swift” Risto
Producer, Midi Mafia
Dirty Swift: “We ended up connecting through an A&R that was trying to sign him. Dino [Delvaille] was at Universal [Records] at the time, but 50 [Cent] had about three or four different labels trying to sign him because of all the buzz from the mixtape and whatnot. Dino was one of the first A&Rs I met. We became friends, and I used to go up to the Universal offices and hang out with [fellow Midi Mafia member] Bruce [Waynne]. We all met in Brooklyn, and it was a cool situation we had with him at the time. So we ended up doing a few things with Dino. He was really working on signing 50 at the time, so I just gave him everything I had as far as beats. And then he kind of introduced all of us.”
Sha Money XL: “I basically took every meeting. I would drive 50 to the city, and we would roll out together. We had a crew with us, and we’d go to every office with the guns in the car—wildin’. We had the soldiers on deck, just in case we’d meet someone that we don’t like in the industry…we was ready. They were scared of us. I remember going to one meeting when a guy’s leg was shaking as he met with us. I won’t say his name.”
Marshall “Eminem” Mathers
Rapper/Producer/Co-Founder, Shady Records
Eminem: “Right before The Eminem Show dropped, I said to a few different people that I was in a little bit of a slump as far as Hip Hop was concerned. I was just bored. It was like the same artists were doing it consistently and nobody new was coming up. Then, right at the same time, my manager started pushing me like, ‘You gotta hear 50’s new shit...you gotta hear 50’s new shit.’ But when I’m in album mode, I can’t really listen to other people’s shit. So once I finished the record, I really sat down and listened to Guess Who’s Back. That and the first G-Unit [mixtape]. I started bumping them and they became my shit. But first I went to Dre with it. Dre heard it, thought it was crazy, so we were just like, ‘Let’s fly him out.’”
Andre “Dr. Dre” Young
Rapper/Producer/Co-Founder, N.W.A., Death Row Records, Aftermath Entertainment
Dr. Dre: “I’d heard him a long time ago with ‘Your Life’s On The Line.’ So Em called me up to see if I was interested and said, ‘Let’s at least sit down and talk about it.’ We all met at this spot in Hollywood and talked for about 15 minutes and I said I was with it and that was it.”
Behind The Beats: Selected Stories From Get Rich Or Die Tryin'
In June of 2002, 50 Cent signs with Shady/Aftermath/Interscope as part of a joint venture. A portion of what would become Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ was recorded at least one year earlier in Sha Money XL’s Long Island basement on his Pro Tools setup.
“21 Questions” (Produced by Dirty Swift of Midi Mafia)
Dirty Swift: “I remember making the track and thinking, ‘Man, this would be dope.’ I didn’t know who it would be dope for, but I just knew it was gonna go. It was just one of those tracks I had a feeling about. It kind of sat around for a while, and two different people had it on beat CDs. This was about a year before they signed the deal with Shady, but they were really excited about it. When he did the Shady deal and Dre got a hold of it, they ended up putting Nate Dogg on it. It took me a while to get used to that version, because I was so used to the one with 50 singing the hook. It was actually kind of a dream come true to have Nate Dogg sing a hook on a track I made. What producer wouldn’t want that? That was real big for us.”
“Poor Lil Rich” (Produced by Sha Money XL, Co-produced by Eminem)
Sha Money XL: “I had bought every album that ever came out, including stuff by Dr. Dre and Eminem. So to hear them say they really love it, and the fact that they love what I did already and wanted me to move forward was the illest. That was my intro to the game, if you ask me. There’s only two records on Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ that had the vocals recorded on ADATs, and those were “Many Men” and “U Not Like Me.” The first record I ever recorded on my Digi 01 was “What Up Gangsta.” A little secret people don’t know is that I had a guy come do a quick, live tutorial on how to record for Pro Tools.”
“What Up Gangsta” (Produced by Reef)
Rob “Reef” Tewlow: “I was able to be with [50 Cent] in the studio at a certain point. It was cool to see him work, because he was all business. Once a track was done—bang, bang, bang—it was on to the next. What ended up being the final version isn’t what was originally recorded. There were some glitches in the software, and maybe he didn’t save something right. The original vocals didn’t save properly, and at the time we were saying, ‘Oh shit! I can’t believe we lost these vocals. What are we gonna do?’ I guess 50 tried to redo them a couple times, but simultaneously 'Wanksta' took off. So 50 is doing two or three shows a night, and his voice kind of changed a little bit. So 50 went back a couple more times and tried to get it to sound as close to the original as possible. But if you listen to most artists, they don’t stay exactly the same over a period of time. But it’s no big deal in the grand scheme of things. I’m sure Sha and 50 have that original two-track version, and I have one somewhere in storage.”
The Aftermath: The Commercial Success Of Get Rich Or Die Tryin'
Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ sold 872,000 copies in four days. The album has gone on to sell over 8 million copies in the US alone. Additionally, the singles “In Da Club,” “P.I.M.P.” and “21 Questions” have been certified as gold singles in standard, digital and mastertone formats.
Sha Money XL: “The biggest part of that, was that the album came out on my birthday. To have the biggest reward of your life happen on your birthday, I was in awe. I was on cloud nine. I think I made a baby that month. I actually did…seriously. It was crazy, and I was in bliss. The [SoundScan] number for the second week was almost the same as the first week. We did 800,000 and change, and then it was another 800 and change. It went from like 870,000 down to 820,000 in the second week. And I’m just looking at 50 Cent like, ‘Man…I told you, motherfucker!’”
 Taken from From Pieces to Weight: Once Upon a Time in Southside Queens by 50 Cent With Kris Ex
MTV Books/Pocket Books. New York, NY 10020. 2005.
 Taken from XXL magazine, February 2003: Noah Callahan-Bever.
Harris Publications. New York, NY 10010. 2003.