50 Cent and The Game both dropped classic debut albums, but which one reigns supreme?
On January 7th, 2003, 50 Cent & Dr. Dre delivered one of hip-hop’s most immediate singles, the timeless “In Da Club.” Over an effortless instrumental from Dr. Dre and Mike Elizondo, 50 introduced his blend of catchy melodies and unapologetic swagger to the world, forever adding “Go Shawty, it’s your birthday,” to our collective lexicon. One month later, a shirtless, ice-cold 50 stared merciless beneath a shattered pane of bulletproof glass as Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ flew off the shelves. With first week sales of 875, 000, 50’s debut studio album was destined to be a commercial success.
Boasting incredible production, raw lyricism, and villainous charisma, Get Rich was critically acclaimed from the jump. Even today, fourteen years later, the album sounds better than ever; the encapsulation early millennium hip-hop, a sort of “golden-era 2.0.” For many, Get Rich became an instant classic, a staple in the emerging canon of timeless essentials.
Fast forward a couple years. It’s January 2005, and 50 is no doubt preparing for the release of his highly anticipated sophomore effort - The Massacre. Meanwhile, a new player has entered the fold, a young Compton emcee by the name of The Game. While Game’s You Know What This Is Vol. 1 mixtape had succeeded in piquing the interest of Diddy, Dre slid in like your favorite uncle and secured a deal of his own. In 2003, Game became the newest member of Dre’s Aftermath label, and dropped his debut The Documentary on January 15th, 2005.
While Game’s leading single “Westside Story” lacked the infectious immediacy of 50’s “In Da Club,” it triumphed in introduction Game’s central goal - continuing where N.W.A. left off, taking the torch from one of the group’s seminal members. While 50’s single managed to secure the clubs, Game’s secured the streets. And while 50’s fingerprints were all over The Documentary, Game’s debut became a classic in its own right. The former collaborators-turned-rivals found themselves pivotal figures in Aftermath’s renaissance, which makes it only right to pit them head-to-head in a friendly competition.
On paper, both albums boast a high-profile roster of the era’s finest beatmakers. Get Rich featured four contributions from Dr. Dre, two from Eminem, Mr. Porter, Sha Money XL, Rockwilder, Megahertz, and more. The Documentary featured five cuts from Dre, Kanye West, Eminem, Timbaland, Hi-Tek, Just Blaze, Cool & Dre, Havoc, Focus...and more.
While scrolling through their respective production credits, it feels like Game’s album has a more wide-ranging scope. Instrumentals from Kanye, Just Blaze, and Timbaland serve to round out the project, adding different sonic roadstops to an unabashedly west coast journey. But while Dre’s contributions on The Documentary are excellent (spawning singles “Westside Story” and “How We Do”), his work on Get Rich stands as some of his modern best. “Heat,” “If I Can’t,” “Back Down,” and “In Da Club” find Dre at his most creative, having perfected art of the dark banger. “Heat” alone would be the best beat on most rapper’s albums.
Yet The Documentary’s expansive cast finds stellar efforts from some of hip-hop’s illest. Kanye’s work on “Dreams” remains one of the last vestiges of a pre-Graduation sample-based aesthetic, and Timbo’s work on Put You On Game electrifies with an unconventional arrangement. The album’s length allows for a few missteps; Em’s instrumental on “We Ain’t” which pales in comparison to the ominous pizzicattos of “Patiently Waiting,” and the feverish, plodding “Runnin’” delivers the opposite of it’s namesake.
Ultimately, while The Documentary’s biggest strength is the musical diversity and ostentatious production roster, Get Rich’s subdued cast blends together to create a haunting sense of atmosphere. The narrative that 50’s debut seeks to peddle is enhanced tenfold by the production, which is often as intimate at it is hard. Consider the deceptively complex “High All The Time,” which opens with crescendoing stringwork before shifting into an eerie, piano driven trip - a near perfect representation of 50’s multifaceted personalities.
There’s no doubt that both 50 and Game are capable writers, with moments of brilliance. In that regard, they share many thematic similarities, and both shine when recounting the harsh narratives of street realities. 50’s closing work on “Many Men,” for example, finds him reflecting on his notorious shooting with a poignant perspective:
“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'”
It’s rare that 50 is recognized for his lyricism, as his most obvious strengths lie in his melodic sense and charismatic delivery. Yet his flippant disregard for well-being and penchant for gallows humor find him littering Get Rich with quotable gems, like “Heat’s” “In the hood summer time is the killing season, it's hot out this bitch that's a good enough reason.” Despite that, 50’s depth seldom goes beyond occasional moments of vulnerability, unlike his compatriot The Game.
While 50 opts for the Jaime Lannister-esque mentality of “there are no men like me - only me,” Game is far more appreciate of his predecessors. Some might even say too appreciative, as Game’s frequent name-drops became somewhat memeified throughout the years. Still, Game’s humility opens the door for a higher emotional ceiling, and songs like “Start From Scratch” find Game pouring his heart out (the track is a notable influence of Kendrick Lamar’s “U.”)
On “Many Men,” 50 emerged from his traumatic brush with death a stronger man, driven by purpose. On “Start From Scratch,” Game is still haunted by his close calls, drunkenly recounting his life story with palpable emotion in his voice:
“Homie if I could rewind the hands of time
I woulda cut off the PS2 at 12:49
N*gga I'm a gangster, I stay on my grind
Who knew 11 minutes later I'd get shot with my own 9
I was two beeps away from a flatline”
Clearly, both men have experienced many parallels in life, which is perhaps why they inevitably found themselves at odds. In short, both albums showcase each rapper’s biggest strength, and while neither are pushing the art of rhyme to anywhere particularly unexplored, Get Rich and The Documentary are excellent introductions to the strongest aspects of 50 and Game’s character.
To this day, both 50 and Game are still present in the game, albeit graduated to veteran status. While 50’s musical output has tapered off, Game’slatest drop The Documentary 2 was seen by many as a return to form. As it stands, it can be argued that Game has dropped a deeper discography than 50, whose latest album Animal Ambition was somewhat of a mixed bag. Yet the impact of Get Rich is still felt to this day, with many people still quoting “In Da Club” or the pick-up-line friendly charm of “21 Questions.”
Both albums stand the test of time, to be sure. As they were released in a pre-streaming era, both albums have a sense of cohesion that music purists can’t help but love. Do yourself a favor, and throw them on front to back to see for yourself. And while the nature of the discussion pits one against the other, both projects can equally serve as companion pieces. But is that really a surprise, considering the once-dominant chemistry seen on “Hate It Or Love It,” and “How We Do?”
Ultimately, our office was divided about the superior project. I tend to lean toward Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ myself. What about you? If you had to pick between these two Aftermath classics, which one are you riding for?