Originally published in February 2018. Written and reported by Jerry Barrow.
In some ways New York hip-hop is still trying to climb out of the crater that was made when 50 Cent’s debut album dropped in 2003. Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ wasn’t just a mantra tattooed on his producer and partner Sha Money XL’s arm. It was a declaration of war on both a macro and micro level. When it came to peers like Ja Rule, the onslaught was personal and focused, but it was also Curtis Jackson’s wider assault on a music industry that had quite literally left him for dead.
You literally couldn’t make an album like Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ again. 50 Cent’s Lazarian tale of surviving nine shots and being dropped from his label, only fueled his legend in the streets who then devoured his every word and adlib. Then to have the most decorated producer in the game, Dr. Dre, and one of the most pure lyricists the world had seen, Eminem, both anoint him as their next star, you couldn’t script it any better if you tried. The anticipation forGet Rich Or Die Tryin’‘s release was so high that Interscope Records rushed it out five days before its scheduled Feb. 11 date.
It sold over 800K copies in its first week and has since been certified Diamond by the RIAA. But that’s all history. History that people know. What we want to get into is… the rich underbelly involving the secret history of Get Rich Or Die Tryin’.
In The Beginning…
Sha Money XL: I first met 50 when I was going to NYU. I was interning for Def Jam Records and Jam Master Jay took me in. I was mentored by him and he always had me around. [This was] at the office of Def Jam back in 160 Varick days. I want to say this was ‘97 or ‘98. Whenever he was signed to Jam Master Jay that’s when I met him. Because Jay was the one who introduced me to him. The connection was Jay was playing me new Lost Boyz, Onyx, Joe Sinister, Suga (Sweet T) and then playing me this one kid and I was like who is that? And he was like that’s this new kid Boo Boo, 50 Cent. JMJ’s studio was in Rosedale, Queens. He had a studio in a basement over there. He said 50 this is a young hungry producer and y’all should connect.
He was signed to Jay first. He had a 12-inch vinyl called “The Hit” with Jam Master Jay. He was the one that groomed 50 and showed him how to make hooks, when to stop rapping. Then he met The Trackmasters and Corey Rooney in the process and Corey Rooney took him to Trackmasters. Then they put him on this trial. They gave him like 18 days to prove his worth. His exact quote to me was that in these 18 days I’m here I’m gonna do two songs a day so by the time I leave I’m gonna have 36 records. He was gonna leave with 36 Trackmasters tracks. He took full advantage of the opportunity. And at that moment I produced the title track “Power Of The Dollar”. The week before he was supposed to shoot the video with Beyoncé [for “Thug Love”] he got shot. From that May to September he was in full rehabilitation. His mouth was wired shut and he was fucked up.
Darryl “Digga Branch,” producer of “Many Men”: He was in Pennsylvania healing up and he called me. He called my crib and we talked for like two hours and said I got a song I wrote to that track and whenever I get my deal I’mma use that joint. At the time I’m like “Yeah, whatever.” You thinking a rapper getting shot and you got no deal, you thinking it’s over. But then he got his [new] deal and within months out of nowhere he was on the mixtape circuit and doing records and then Sha Money was following up [with me]. He had his studio in Long Island and he’d tell me 50 gotta song to one of your beats, we keeping that. So I just watched it gradually grow. Then he started using some of my other beats like Cam’s “Losin Weight” on their mixtapes. Then I heard Eminem was interested and signed him. Then finally they was like “Who is your lawyer?” We about to get this popping, it’s on the album.
Sha Money XL: The first call I got was in September. He let me know they put Humpty Dumpty back together again. I told him I just bought a crib in Long Island. My first crib and I’m 24. I had my studio in the basement, I’m out the hood. I’m here for you bro, whatever you need. He came with the whole squad and then he stayed in my basement for like two years.
We didn’t start recording tracks until probably June, July of 2002. That’s when the deal was done. We immediately went to work with [Dr.] Dre and Em. There were a few tracks he had prior like “Many Men” and “Poor Lil Rich” already in his stash that he played them that got them excited. “Wattup Gangsta” was already done. “High All The Time” and “21 Questions”. “Wanksta” and “Your Life On” the line were already out.
“In Da Club”
Sha Money XL: Dre sent us back with a beat CD. On that CD was a real skeleton and 50 was able to hear everything he wrote. He made me pull it into ProTools and we recorded it in my basement. If you look at the credits I got engineer credits because I recorded the record. 50 does the whole song, Dre gets it and he loves it. We come back to Cali and he has 50 do some re-records and tighten up some bit to Dre’s quality standards and smashes it out with that “my show, my flow…” and we’re going crazy. Truth be told Lloyd Banks wrote that hook. That whole part was a verse in one of Banks’ songs. “Find me in the club, bottle full of Bubb…” Fifty heard it and knew how to make it a hook and make it hot. “If I Can’t” was about to be the single instead of “In Da Club”. That would have been a whole different trajectory. It would have went too West Coast, too fast. Too different. It wasn’t the “birthday song.” “In Da Club” became the birthday record. You play Stevie Wonder and then you play “In Da Club”.
DeNaun Porter: I think the drum sounds were mine. I was working on “When The Music Stops” in the other room for Em’s album. We were just passing around .zip discs. I know that clap and kick. I was trying to replicate Rockwilder’s “Somehow, Someway” [for Organized Konfusion]. And I think that was on one of the .zip discs. Dre would come in and when he puts his hands on it, it’s like magic. A sound that you might make, he’ll turn it into magic. It was supposed to be a D12 beat. It’s just a delay of the snare hitting on the MPC, you can offset whatever. You resample it so it’s one sound. It was just nerdy producer shit. The thing about 50 is that it didn’t matter… on the boards he had his own way of doing shit. He recorded to some other beats [I made] but I didn’t hear them. Dre had a whole shit load of beats of mine at the time and 50 was eating beats up, going through ‘em like Pac Man.
Sha Money XL: Dre wasn’t with it at first. We did a sit down that I have on video tape. We went through 30 tracks that 50 did. We was at Jimmy Iovine’s house. It was me 50, Lloyd Banks, Chris Lighty (RIP), Paul Rosenberg, Eminem, Dr. Dre. Jimmy, Chris Clancy and Proof (RIP). All in this room. It was like a library with a nice sound system and we all in there playing all the records. Records was getting chopped off. 50 was fighting for stuff. Thanks to Nate Dogg’s manager, Rod McGrew, a real classy OG, he helped me get the Barry White sample cleared. I was having problems getting that cleared. That record almost didn’t make it. So I asked around and Rod said “I know Barry!” This is when Barry is about to pass and this was the last record that he cleared alive, before it would go to his estate. This was the last record he approved.
Sha Money XL: 50 was in touch with Digga because he knew Cam’ron. That was a track where 50 came to the crib with it and he was like I got this joint. He had the whole song and we recorded it in my basement. We took it to Detroit and I spent about a week or two with Eminem and we mixed “Many Men” and “High All The Time” with Em. Em made that mix really tight and put all the sound effects on it. He made it a movie. He’s a really good mix engineer.
Digga: I created the beat probably two or three years before it was released on an album. This was around the time we started putting together Dipset. That was actually one of the first tracks we started working on for the first Dipset album. It had Cam, Jim [Jones] and Juelz [Santana] on it. We made tracks and it didn’t really move so then I tried to get some tracks to Nas. He was working on his album and the Bravehearts album. He picked two tracks and that was one of them. Nas recorded to it and one of the Bravehearts. 50 was in a Nas session and he heard the track and he heard the track and liked it. He got Lenny Nicholson, the A&R at Sony at the time, to give him a copy so he would write to it.
I didn’t even pay attention to who the artist was at the time. I was focused on making beats for the Dipset album. It was just finding the sample and trying to make one of the grimiest New York beats possible. I was always thinking of Havoc and Mobb Deep. Just being dark. I was intentionally not trying to sample the main parts of records.
I heard the final song over the phone. Sha played it for me over the phone and then I heard the final in my lawyer’s office. It was exactly what I wanted it to be, as far as having that gritty, dirty type feeling. Luis Resto was one of Em’s producers and he played the guitars at the very end of the track.
Sha Money XL: That record was done in Detroit. We had like a week with him in the B Room. We was with Banks and Yayo. That’s where “I Smell Pussy” and some other records and “Don’t Push Me” [were made]. That’s how Lloyd Banks got on it. Em loved his shit and 50 Cent was like “go ‘head boy” and gave him his shine. In the other room we were recording “Gotta Make It To Heaven.”
DeNaun Porter: I first heard it when it came out [laughs] because I was on the road. D12’s album had just come out toward the end of 2001 so we were on the end of our promo tour and his album didn’t come out till 2003. The funny part about it is at the time I was working with other producers because Dre said I can’t do it on my own all the time. I didn’t even know the record was happening right away. I think Dre played it over the phone because I was overseas. I heard it and was like ‘OK, I gotta do this and that,’ and he said, ‘Nah, it’s done.’
Dre had mixed it already and the credits were done. He went in maybe a month before and I was like ‘When I get back I’mma go in,’ and 50 was running through shit and nobody knew. Back then liner notes were so important but a lot of that stuff got screwed up because it went so fast. There is another producer named Branden Parrott, that produced on the song, too. When I first knew that the song was coming the credits were already out and 2 million records had been pushed out. I was trying to reach back and help people too early and kind of got burned. So it was a bittersweet thing. It was a hard lesson to learn but I was able to help somebody who didn’t have a chance be a part of something great.
DeNaun Porter: “Heat,” the joint with the guns in it, was a Rakim song. There’s a version with Rakim that was incredible. The only records ever recorded for RA was me and Dre so I was hurt when Dre gave him the song. I learned something that day, he said this is the creative balance. Yes, what Rakim did was incredible, but it just made sense for 50. Ask Dre to play it on Beats 1.
Sha Money XL: That was one of the first songs we did when we got back together. JA Praise gave us that beat and I just looped that shit up and put the bass on it, because it had nothing under it. And then 50 just went and ripped it. We put that shit on a mixtape. No Mercy, No Fear. Track 18. It took off and then Eminem put it on the soundtrack to 8 Mile. We were the first ones taking mixtapes and turning them into albums, breaking real artists.
Sha Money XL: There was another version of “Back Down” and that shit was so brutal even Dre said you gotta change it. He was the OG with the last say so he changed it. I remember recording that in the basement and the way Dre had him doing it over [giving instructions]. Dre loved it though [laughs].
In The End…
Digga: We play around with the word “classic” but it can be considered a classic. People always go back to that album. Any music that can bring you back to a certain time and make you feel a certain way, that’s a classic.
DeNaun Porter: Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ was a monumental thing. That album was perfectly produced. There were no flaws in it. There’s a song for everybody. 50’s work ethic was everything, especially to Dre and Em. The fact that he was smart and hungry. He worked like he was gonna get shot again. He didn’t take no days off. It shifted everybody’s view of music. At the time everybody was trying to be hard and tough and took a route that maybe wasn’t for them. It killed a lot of the corny records. It was OK in the party to wear Timbs at the time. There has been nothing like it.
Sha Money XL: Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ is tatted on my arm. That was my motto as a Haitian American. We lived through a lot of shit that made us strong. We had to figure it out early. I look at this particular guy and seeing the transitions and seeing he really had a story to tell. What a way to take a chance with your life and invest your time, your house, my family upstairs, my kids and risk their safety. You always had to wonder if this was gonna happen again. But I said I’d rather take this chance with someone I truly believe in than work with a million other rappers who don’t want to dedicate their lives [the way he did]. This rap shit is real. It gets real when it comes to the street part. So I think when you think about that title, it’s just as classic as the album. The album came out on my birthday when I was 26. It came out early but the release date was originally the 11, which is my birthday. So that was the best gift to myself as well as all the blessings that came with it.
Jerry Barrow is the founder of NODFACTOR and a veteran journalist with stints at The Source, Scratch Magazine and The Urban Daily. Follow his work (and ours!) on Twitter @JLBarrow.
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