50 Cent’s ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’ Made an Enduring Mark on UK Rap
Or, why so many rising UK rappers I've recently spoken to have mentioned the impact of 50's debut.
In the early 2000s, Wiley emerged from the corners of east London’s Roman Road and indelibly stamped the harsh, icy tones of eskibeat onto British music. Today, you can hear echoes of grime’s godfather in Stormzy’s fierce independent spirit, and in the self-belief of his protege Skepta – but his influence is also not unparalleled. Across the Atlantic, on the streets of Queens in New York, 50 Cent changed rap in a way that’s still reverberating years later and now resonates with a new crop of Brits.
Whether for this website or elsewhere, almost every non-grime British MC I’ve interviewed in the past couple of years has mentioned how they would sit in front of the box and watch 50 Cent videos when growing up. For people of a certain age bracket, the release of Get Rich or Die Tryin’ coincided with those years when music can start to sew the seeds of future aspirations. “ Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ was the first album I ever bought,” 21-year-old Yxng Bane, of last year’s smash “Rihanna”, tells me for this piece. As he puts it: “50 Cent was like a breath of fresh air… he came through with such aggressiveness and combined it with melodic raps and catchy hooks. He was a beast.”
50’s debut album Get Rich or Die Tryin’ smashed its way into the Billboard Charts in 2003, arriving with an infamous narrative in tow (he had been shot nine times, and lived to tell the tale) and – more importantly – an impressive selection of radio-ready hooks that went as hard and were as memorable as the many quotable punchlines scattered across the record. Under the guidance of Dr Dre, 50 achieved the commercial success of his label mate Eminem while bringing a new flavour onto the airwaves – one that represented an ex-gangster having the time of his life “In Da Club”, smiling that pearly white grin while comfortably switching between relatively heartfelt sentiments and reminders that between all the champagne he’d still have no problem popping his glock nine.
Then the best-selling rap album of all time (and to date, six times platinum), Get Rich or Die Tryin’ opened the genre up and paved the way for luminaries such as Young Jeezy, Rick Ross and Fiddy’s wingman The Game. And though 50 Cent’s public persona has taken a battering in recent years – beaten down by bankruptcy and downright foolishness – it remains a fact that, at one time, he was untouchable. So, just as Wiley had an influence on British rap, the unavoidable presence of 50 Cent across music television in the UK means he’s also impacted the genre in his own way – something we’re only really seeing now on the record’s 15th anniversary, with the new rise of MCs.
Perhaps the most prominent, successful act to be influenced by 50 Cent is J Hus, who earned the childhood nickname ‘50 Pence’ due to the supermarket snacks he would sell at school. One of his early freestyles on Link Up TV features a line from the Get Rich or Die Tryin’ track “Wanksta” and when we spoke last year for an interview he mentioned that alongside the afrobeats his mum played around the house, he would seek out American hip-hop – specifically drawing out 50 Cent as a name. Last month that came full-circle when Hus performed a rendition of “21 Questions” on the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge, blessing the track with his own inimitable style and “aaauhah hustla baby” ad-libs.
Where grime primarily focused on harsh instrumentals and quickfire bars-upon-bars, 50 Cent presented a sound that – at least initially, before the questionable “Sunglasses At Night” grime switch-up – had more mainstream aspirations. Tracks like “21 Questions” (which, error: does not feature a full 21 questions) were as catchy as an Australian flu outbreak and included punchlines that were easily remembered by anyone with a working prefrontal cortex. Years later, “I love you like a fat kid love cake / You know my style I say anything to make you smile” remains a distinct stand-out on that track.
But as much as he came through with delectable radio smashes, proving it was possible to be yourself and be on the radio, 50’s ambition as a hustler also had an impact. “The way he brought his whole team in, G-Unit, and made hit-records with them was great,” says rapper 23 over the phone, before touching on 50’s initial status – at least in some magazines and television programmes – as the early 2000s extension of Tupac’s Thug Life ethos. “Seeing him coming from the streets and talking about his life, portraying it through music and allowing people to understand it made things a lot easier.”
While it would be an exaggeration and certainly hard to quantify whether or not the current crop of British MCs – Dave, Not3s, Mist et al – would be doing what they were doing if Get Rich or Die Tryin’ hadn’t been released, it certainly acted as source food for the more radio-ready rap we’re hearing coming out of the UK. Take someone like Ramz, who tweeted last year that 50 Cent is “somebody [he’s] always wanted to make a song with”. Though his stand-out track “Barking” shares tonality with the British music scene, all sparse yet sparkling instrumentals, its melody shares a common ground that sits somewhere between Drake’s biggest hits and the hooks on Get Rich Or Die Tryin’.
50 Cent’s reign ended long ago – having been dethroned in the mid-2000s by Kanye West in an infamous chart battle for their respective third LPs. But his influence continues to seep into the musical landscape. Of course, the impact the likes of Wiley and later Skepta have had on British music can’t be negated, but the fact remains that 50 Cent’s style has also bled into the colourful and chart-beating landscape that currently makes up the British rap scene. It’s something that hasn’t been talked about much; hometown heroes always come first, after all. And obviously it would be impossible to grab every single rapper in the UK for five minutes on the phone to declare the importance of Get Rich or Die Tryin’. However I would wager shares (I have yet to purchase!) in Vitamin Water that it played an important part in their childhood. Fifteen years after its release, it’s still ready to be pulled out, the hooks to its singles etched into the collective brain of a generation.
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