50 Cent: Get Rich or Die Tryin'

50 Cent
Get Rich or Die Tryin'
Shady Records

Ignorance may be bliss, but for 50 Cent, it's chic, too. Not only is his knife-toting, X-dealing testimony Get Rich or Die Tryin' one of the fastest-selling debuts in pop music history, 50 has also become an instant icon whose unabashed thuggery is far sexier than that of his linen-suited, gator-booted peers. After all, this is a rapper who sports designer gun holsters and bulletproof vests like Nelly rocks a Band-Aid.

The main difference between the two icons is that Nelly's trying to look cute, whereas 50 has more pragmatic reasons for his defensive gear. Though his rise to fame was partially fueled by his endless string of underground mixtapes and boosted by Eminem and Dr. Dre's support (he's signed to Eminem's Shady Records and produced by Dre), 50's gotten the most attention for the nine bullet wounds pocketing his lanky frame. In hip hop's authenticity-obsessed culture, 50's hard-knock history is as heralded as Biggie's and Jay-Z's crack-dealing pasts. His ongoing verbal warfare with Ja Rule, Benzino, and others has only elevated his stature as a reckless wildcard who could care less if he's in someone else's crosshairs.

Yet, what makes 50 Cent so marvelously charismatic is how he knowingly works his thug cred. Eminem plays up his own moral turpitude with a snickering, defiant attitude, but his protégé is less sneering and more swaggering. On "Heat," Dre loops up the sound of a gun cocking and switches the snare drum with the pistol shot--a brilliant, brazen sonic trick augmented by 50 crooning, "I do what I got to do/I don't care if I get caught/The DA can play this motherfuckin' tape in court/I'll kill you, I ain't playin'/Hear what I'm sayin', homie, I ain't playin'." Get Rich is stocked with similar missives celebrating a life of amoral excess. Though the disc could afford to lose a few filler tracks, 50's magnanimous presence creates consistency on an otherwise uneven effort.

On paper, he may sound pathological, but on record, you can tell that 50's not taking himself too seriously. He's the antithesis of the over-earnest, wanna-be hustlers like Clipse, who are mostly funny by accident. 50 has real scars to bare, but also a sense of frivolity in talking about them. He may be armed with a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth, but look closer, and you'll notice he's slyly grinning with them.

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