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.”[1]

"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.’”[2]

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.”[2]

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!’”

[1] 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.

[2] Taken from XXL magazine, February 2003: Noah Callahan-Bever.
Harris Publications. New York, NY 10010. 2003.

RELATED: Get Rich Or Die Tryin' Ten Years Later: The Q&A

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78 Comments

  • Chris

    50 is worth way more than Wayne. You must be stuck on the bubble gum pop rap that Wayne makes. 50 is worth like 500 million. Wayne is probably worth around 100 million. Wake up and educate yourself, go read about 50 cents 100 million dollar vitamin water deal. 50 is up there with jay-z and diddy while Wayne isn't even in the same bracket or boat. 50 has such a ridiculous array of businesses that are profitable compared to hip pop Wayne .

    • TRUE

      When u don't understand money u don't stand who is making making the most.50 is more releavant then u think he is ,when u can make millions with out putting out an album your releavant .100million at that what album has done those #.THINK AND GROW RICH

  • Anonymous

    Fantastic album. Changed the orientation of Hip-Hop back then. Gangsta rap re-emerged.

  • Anonymous

    50 had back his lyrics suck without aftermath or eminem hed be like jadakiss

  • Rozay

    This nigga 50 is irrelevant. Best thing this nigga can do is rejoin with all these other flops so they can at least get an album out. Lets compare 50 and Rozay catalog. port of miami = great, trilla = great, Teflon Don = classic, GFID = classic GRODT = great, the massacre = average, Curtis = garbage, BISD = garbage. 50 stans keep talkin bout numbers, the music is whats important and Ross has released better shit than 50. Bawse!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Dadude

      God Forgives I Don't = a classic? U been dropped on your head too many times ho

    • THATS LIKE YOUR OPINION, MAN

      keep telling yourself that if it makes you feel better about riding so hard for a fake you think in 2016 anyone is gonna be talking about port of miami like this? ROSS HAS NO CERTIFIED CLASSICS. your boy william will go down in history as the biggest fraud to ever pick up the mic!! CB4 ass nigga!!!

  • Anonymous

    What the FUCK is up with gay ass Konami nerdy video game ads with SOUND on a MUSIC website. FUCK THAT. GET ADS WITHOUT SOUND SO I CAN ENJOY MUSIC

  • eljefe

    This album is not a classic.

  • Anonymous

    For this artical to go up means there is nothing going on in hiphop..

    • Anonymous

      maybe and only cause of patiently waiting we need complex bars

    • Anonymous

      keep telling yourself that this like the 4th GRODT article this week on this site alone. Check out xxl mag website, allhiphop, hes on every hiphop site because its a certified classic!

  • team 50

    So Guess Who Back should have sold a million copies by now.. that crazy that album is a classic to prime 50

  • Bee_u

    One of the most overrated debuts of all time...

    • HEYTHERE

      STFU u idiot u don't anything abt hiphop this album is a classic in every of the word.educate urself you ignorant,stupid ,embecile EAT A DICK

  • Anonymous

    I remember when this album was about to come out, damn everywhere, everybody was on fire to get it, it was an event, like crazy, sorry kids today didn't get to witness such greatness in hip hop, Get Rich Or Die Tryin is the best classic of the decade. 50 Cent is my favorite,

  • bang em smurf

    best album ever

  • Starmani

    This album was an event. I remember playin this in my old cd player for days on days. Its not a classic but its close. For those of u who say its too commercial need to stop hating. I do think he wouldnt have been as big if he hadnt pushed Ja Rule down.

    • Anonymous

      Im not a fan of 50 but back then all them came with bars... its when rap died basically. Their old shit stands up and at the time that album was something you could play front to back and i bumped it in my 80 cutlass for 6 months. That was the only humble just music this dude put out. A long time ago.....

  • Looga

    I would love to hear the story behind "Don't Push Me" with Banks and Eminem. Thats my favorite track on the album.

  • Anonymous

    For one 50 is worth much more than Wayne. A billionaire? I have no clue where that's coming from. Also 50 has one of the greatest albums of all time in GRODT as well as two very good albums in the massacre and power of the dollar. He has launched the careers of several top acts in the rap game and created the modern mix tape. Without 50 there is no Wayne

    • Anonymous

      lol wayne will never be as rich as 50 not just because of 50's business skills but because birdman definitly gets a nice chunk of waynes money.

    • Anonymous

      wayne is not a businessman, he is birdmans little bitch and hes too busy reliving his childhood riding skateboards to do any real business deals apart from a supra shoe or that weak ass trukfit clothing line. 50 got a new cartoon coming up on FOX, SMS boxing promotions, SMS Audio headphones, Street King energy shots, G-unit records, Cheetah vision films, etc.

    • Anonymous

      no fucking way. 50 got so much going on outside of music and all wayne has is trukfit

    • Anonymous

      I bet before Wayne's done he's worth more than 50, and that's just from music. While 50's rise to stardom was impressive, so was his fall. G Unit is gone. Interscope won't let him release an album. He makes STV crap because no studio will let him carry a movie again after GRODT flopped. I think you get the picture. Hop off his nuts already.

    • Anonymous

      dont feed the trolls

  • tariq al sharif

    I remember I was in 7th grade wen dis album came out...I skipped school to go to spec's music shop to go get it...damn da time fly...

  • YOLO

    50 has done the numbers..had one of the best albums in hiphop..and is still in the game having 2 singles on itunes 3 singles on the bilboards for his upcoming album..and niggas still want to talk trash about him..50 is such a dominant force in the game..smh n yall say wayne n those other rappers better?? haha..he might not be as dominant in the rap game as he was before but he is maintaining a reasonably high interest level .will forever be a 50 cent fan/stan etc..fuck everyone who has anything negative to say :D

  • S

    Album was very good but not a classic. Very commercial and a bit ovverated. Am a 50 fan no hater. If it wasnt for Ja 50 would never have blown up. Truth

    • Anonymous

      most people dont even remember ja rule, the beef didnt really play that big a part in 50's come up to the casual hip-hop listener, he was so much bigger than rap music in 2003

  • 80sbaby

    When this album came out the buzz was HUGEEEE and Nobody was hating, even the older generation was into it. I remember skipping school to get this album and I couldn't find it anywhere, it was sold out. but as soon as I got it this album changed my life. it's too bad G-unit went down the way they did. YMCMB is so fucking lame. but yeah all my best memories comes from this epic time period.

  • YESSIR

    men lie women lie numbers don't talking and dissing 50 because Lil Wayne is worth a Billion 50 cent is worth 4 million Wayne has 11 number 1 albums 50 cent has 4 albums with 2 debuting at number 1 Wayne has a total of 23 albums including collaboration albums and compilation albums which are more and way better than 50 cent fuck 50 cent, Wayne king of rap for life

    • MoonMan

      Quality > Quantity

    • Chris

      Uh what world do you live in kid. Other way around. 50 is worth way more than Wayne. You must be stuck on the bubble gum pop rap that Wayne makes. 50 is worth like 500 million. Wayne is probably worth around 100 million. Wake up and educate yourself, go read about 50 cents 100 million dollar vitamin water deal. 50 is up there with jay-z and diddy while Wayne isn't even in the same bracket or boat. 50 has such a ridiculous array of businesses that are profitable compared to little Wayne.

    • PHX

      The real YESSIR hasn't been on this site for months. Sad to see niggas imitating him when we know his punk ass has gone MIA.

    • 80sbaby

      This site really needs a dislike button. YESSIR, shut your 90's baby, wayne loving, faggot ass up

    • Anonymous

      trolls lie too apparently

  • Got Rich And Stopped Trying

    This guy have sold 30 million records worldwide, has 75 awards, 5 books and appeared in 19 movies, yet you people still worship a C.O. turned "rapper".

  • wouzi

    i remember his album when it came out and i was running to the record store to get it. sheesh!! now most of all my big/lil niggas got kids now

  • BLACK

    WHAT'S A TORAE?? IS THAT ONE OF THOSE BLACK WORDS??

  • The Truth

    One of the most overrated rap albums of all time. Most overrated to come out in the past 10 years.

  • Anonymous

    one torae single would kill this whole cd

  • Majcurius

    Nice reading hiphopdx. Probably an article of the month. You should ask some artists how they remember Get Rich back in 03 and if they still bump it today.

  • FH

    They made an error on this about the sales. Marshall Mathers LP was the highest selling debut on a major label in history since soundscan with 1.76 million sold first week.

  • LL

    could of made him a legend..then he fell off its funny cuz hes up there with the biggest fall offs in rap history along with ja rule

    • Anonymous

      50 had 3 good album, he only fell off last album, but he can still come back with a good album

    • wu wear

      The Massacre is dope, yo. Yeah there's a few wack tracks but the majority of it is still ill.

    • Anonymous

      With a first album this big there was really no where left to go but down, especially since people started pirating and stop buying albums. His worst selling albums are still on par with most of todays rappers apart from Lil Wayne, Kanye, Jay-Z and Eminem but because his first album sold 8 million everyone says he fell off.

  • Milehighkid303

    ONE OF THE REALIST TO EVER EVER DO IT. 10 YEARS LATER HE STILL GETS IT IIIIIIIN. HE IS HIP HOP, COVETED BY LEGENDS TAUGHT BY LEGENDS AND RESPECTED BY LEGENDS. YOU FRAUDELENT FANS NEED TO GIVE CREDIT WHERE ITS DUE. 50 WILL ALWAYS BE A BEAST, PERIOD. CRABS...

  • Anonymous

    One of the most overrated albums ever, and I like it

  • Anonymous

    Great Article DX!!!

  • insanemacbeth

    very, VERY BIG!

  • a

    Really interesting article. Great work DX.

  • Anonymous

    fuck this ugly black buck tooth over rated rabbit

  • Anonymous

    em.... i dont care

  • major

    hot album, but 50 fell off lone time ago

  • Yo ME

    Sha seems to take all the credit, leaving out Eminem,Dre and the artist himself 50 cent. Yeah i know alot of hate gonna be under this ( but 50 is real man) i dont agree with some shit he did like dissing jadakiss, I think he misinterpreted jadakiss on New York but fat joe was obviously dissin him.

  • Anonymous

    Nice story! Man i remember 50's blow up in 2003 like it was yesterday. A living legend

  • Chris O

    I care "anonymous". This album is a classis. GGgGGGGgggg Unit "you bitch"

  • Anonymous

    favourite album. dope as fuck

  • Anonymous

    Who cares? Album is not a classic...People just started saying that because Jadakiss said it on the "Shots Fired" diss. No one was praising this album like it was a big deal, before that song came out. No need for a whole article...If you want an article make one for OB4CL or something.

    • werd

      this dude anons a dumbfuck. GRODT was a classic. i dont care for the new 50 material but GR will always be in hiphop history.. and since 50 cent is hiphop is achievements should be reconized whether u think the music is good or not is debatable

    • Anonymous

      Are you fucking serious? Im not even a fan of 50 anymore but this album was a classic! It changed the ENTIRE direction and sound of the game and didnt change bac until Kanye came out. Everybody was on some gangsta shit more once he came out. Commercially it broke all kinds of records, and content wise its just a great piece of work.

    • hollywood

      Who Cares? You You obviously wrote a paragraph about how much your distant from what is obviously a milestone for a culture who really could do without your opinion. So move along Strawberry Shortcake... Stop admitting on the internet how miserable your life is