With an essential hip-hop classic under his belt, 50 Cent's impact on the game is undeniable. Is it time to start including Curtis Jackson in the GOAT conversation?
In this series, we'll be making the case for specific rappers to be included in "greatest of all-time" discussions. The more obvious choices (such as André 3000, Lil Wayne, Eminem, Jay-Z, Nas, Biggie, 2Pac) will be ignored in favor of artists who tend to get overlooked these days, for one reason or another. Previously, our writers have made cases for Pusha T, Ice Cube, DJ Quik, Big Boi, DMX, Ghostface Killah, Busta Rhymes, and Dr. Dre. Today, we're holding it down for 50 Cent.
Green Lantern and Gucci Mane may lay claim to the title, but 50 Cent has always been hip-hop’s evil genius. The type of man to smile while pulling the trigger. The type of man to ruin your career without remorse, laughing while you and your family pick scraps from the gutter. With a legacy entrenched in violence, his reputation precedes him; even the average parent can offer an educated guess as to how many times he’s been shot. Formidable, cunning, and cold-hearted, 50 Cent has solidified his place as one of the game’s most charismatic villains.
For there can be no dispute; villainy has always been his modus operandi. Consider his breakout single “How To Rob.” Released in 1999, the Trackmasters produced banger garnered infamy, as the ever-brazen 50 proceeded to rob a cavalcade of prominent rappers. Ostensibly done in the name of good fun, 50 aired out emcees without provocation or discrimination. Jay-Z, Ghostface, Big Pun, Raekwon, Missy Elliott, Lil Kim, Kurupt, Sticky Fingaz, Juvenile and more found themselves robbed on wax.
As this is hip-hop, even the slightest bit of disrespect cannot be tolerated. 50’s brazen single yielded responses from Jigga, who rapped “I’m about the dollar, what the fuck is 50 cent?” Pun’s reply came on his posthumous drop “My Turn,” in which he threatened to “beat his motherfucking ass.” Not unlike Kendrick’s infamous “Control” verse, 50’s introduction to the game managed to put his peers on edge, evoking a potent blend of competition and resentment. Such is his way.
50 Cent - "How To Rob"
In 1996, 50 Cent found himself playing padawan to Jam Master Jay, who instilled young Curtis with the noble art of hook-writing. A hustler’s ambition led to 50 securing an early record deal with Columbia records, where he proceeded to lay down his seminal Power Of The Dollar album. After his near brush with death (and a reported blackballing from American recording studios over lyrical content in “Ghetto Qu’Ran”), 50 made the trek up north to Canada. It was there he proceeded to record the material included on his acclaimed mixtapes Guess Who’s Back and the G-Unit assisted 50 Cent Is The Future.
Far from the most verbose or dexterous rapper, 50 managed to master the nuanced art of brevity, adding weight to even the simplest bars. Not only that, but Jam Master Jay taught him well. Guess Who’s Back opener “Rotten Apple” showcased 50’s melodic aptitude, as he proudly dubs himself the hip-hop villain. The menacing Christmas-Carol aesthetic of “Be A Gentleman” finds 50 masterfully weaving between singsong and expertly delivered bars. While the tape’s production was firmly rooted in the New York trenches, the minor key vibe and eerie, nursery-rhyme melodies were enough to captivate the attention of Eminem.
50 Cent - "Rotten Apple"
And thus, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ was born. To this day, there are many who believe 50’s official studio debut to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. Others even go so far as to say the greatest album period. From the iconic album cover, to the countless bangers from both Dre, Em, and more, to 50’s effortless charisma, Get Rich is a well-rounded journey with plenty of substance. Musically, 50 Cent’s ear for beats mirrors that of his label bosses, and his preference for dark, piano-driven bangers imbued Get Rich with a larger-than-life menace. Sure, Dr. Dre brought his A-Game across the board, but 50 Cent’s masterful use of voice and honest depiction of street life made for a potent combination of New York grit and a sinister sense of inevitability.
50 is a man of many hats. He might be uttering threats with casual indifference. “In the hood summer time is the killing season, it's hot out this bitch that's a good enough reason,” raps Fif, on album highlight “Heat.” Next thing you know, he’s delivering a different take on the existential “Many Men,” reflecting on being the recipient of violence. It’s interesting - in the same way he derives a twisted pleasure from delivering harm unto others, he finds equal strength in being on the receiving end. While his villainous persona remains dominant throughout Get Rich, it would be a disservice to write 50 Cent off as a one-dimensional character; from “21 Questions” to “Back Down,” there’s levels to this shit.
“ I ain't gonna spell it out for you motherfuckers all the time
Are you illiterate, n***a? You can't read between the lines?
In the Bible it says what goes around comes around
"Hommo" shot me, three weeks later he got shot down
Now it's clear that I'm here for a real reason
‘Cause he got hit like I got hit, but he ain't fuckin' breathin'”
- 50 Cent, “Many Men”
With Get Rich in the books as a bonafide hit, it came time for 50 to do right by his crew. G-Unit’s Beg For Mercy found Fif stepping into a natural leadership role, alongside the capable LLoyd Banks and Young Buck (the “Free Yayo” movement was in full swing). Not to be outdone by the homies, 50 continued where Get Rich left off, exuding an exaggerated sense of playful menace and hood experience. Consider that this was era where every big rapper put out an obligatory “crew album.” Eminem had D12’s Devils’ Night. Nelly had St. Lunatic’s Free City. Ludacris had DTP’s eponymous drop. Jay-Z had The Dynasty. Yet Beg For Mercy stands tall above them, a concise and enjoyable listen from front to back.
By the time The Massacre came around, 50 Cent had established himself as a capable hitmaker. With the world still reeling from his contributions to The Game’s classic Documentary, 50’s sophomore project only solidified his revered status. While The Massacre didn’t quite garner the lofty acclaim of its predecessor, it showcased a more confident 50. Singles like “Candy Shop,” “Disco Inferno” and ‘Just A Lil Bit” roved similar territory as Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin”; without dumbing anything down, Fif’s cavalcade of Massacre hits successfully bridge the gap between hip-hop fans and the mainstream audience.
The project also found 50 coming into his own as lyricist. The Eminem laced “I’m Supposed To Die Tonight” is in many ways the perfect encapsulation of 50’s chilling persona; when the haunting instrumental comes on, the same man who callously brushed off Rick Ross’ brush with death seems to float from the speakers. While the project suffered from a little bit of excess bloat, it remains a worthy installment in 50’s discography. Unfortunately, it also marked something of a shift in trajectory; from that moment onward, the once golden boy seemed to fall out of favor with the critics. Despite a riveting sales duel with Kanye West, Curtis was viewed 50’s most inconsistent (and admittedly top-heavy) project to date.
50 Cent - "I'm Supposed To Die Tonight"
Rather than dwelling on musical lows (and let it be known, Curtis and Before I Self Destruct still delivered bangers), it would be remiss to gloss over one of 50’s definitive elements: his seemingly endless list of beef. Evidently, “How To Rob” must have triggered a bloodlust in 50. From that moment, the legendary rapper has tangled with half the game, including The Game. Everybody remembers his notorious feud with Ja Rule, Irv Gotti, and Murda Inc, but the list doesn’t end there. Over the course of his lengthy career, Fif has crossed paths with Fat Joe, Jadakiss, Rick Ross, Diddy, Young Buck, Lil Wayne, Cam’Ron, French Montana, and more.
Does a lengthy shit-list contribute to one’s GOAT status? It’s hard to say. One thing, however, is certain. 50 has always managed to settle his feuds both on and off the mic, clowning his foes through any given medium. For many, his antics have become a quintessential element of his character; from “Officer Ricky” to his merciless diss track “Back Down,” few have mastered the art of war like 50 Cent. Some may feel like his abrasive persona detracts from his legacy, but it simply comes with the territory. Remember, this is a man who was threatened with an ass-beating from the late, great Big Pun.
Don’t let the beefs deceive you. 50’s discography is as respectable as any artist, with one surefire classic under his belt. His mixtape game runs deep, and every single one of his myriad Dr. Dre collaborations is a banger. His hooks are top tier, and while his later productivity may have faltered, 50 Cent’s mark on the game will forever be respected. People remember where they were when they first heard “In Da Club.” Where were you?